Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SI Swims in a High Tide

It has become an annual February event, but not even the Groundhog gets this much media attention. The new Sports Illustrated cover model has been announced, and on David Letterman, no less. What started as a relatively innocuous photo shoot in 1964 has become a worldwide media phenomenon.

There are obviously different ways to look at this. On a sociological level, women's groups (among many others) continue to decry the sexual objectification, although with everything else out there, including soft-core outlets like Maxim and FHM, it's hard to single out SI as somehow different or worse. Certainly one could argue that Maxim and FHM don't pretend to be something they are not, and that SI could just as well leave the cheesecake to others.

But the franchise is too successful and SI is simply making too much money at this point to turn away. From the very narrow perspective of media, what started as a way to fill a few pages during a slow sports month has now become a multi-platform money machine including magazines, videos and online sites. SI's success is also a testament to its ability to brand; there are a lot of similar swimsuit sites out there, but SI remains the icon and the leader. (Google "swimsuit models" and see how many sites are related to SI). Getting there first helped, but it doesn't keep you on top.

You may hate it; you might love it. But either way, get used to it. The SI swimsuit issue is not going away.


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