Weekends are for sports and ESPN, the sports junkie’s go-to network for all things athletic. But right now, America’s favorite media player in the sports game is on a distinct losing trend, as subscriptions go down, rights fees go up, and more and more sports fans are preferring to obtain their sports coverage via cable-cutting options –and mobile devices.
Long the most expensive item on the cable services network channel line up (by a huge margin) ESPN is losing subscribers as more alternatives to cable arise and newer technologies (streaming in particular) make cable a more-expensive-and-less-desirable media channel. Cable TV is ESPN’s plan A; they don’t currently have a Plan B and that can be an economic problem. Bloomberg.com delivers a thorough (but long) analysis of why the game might be winding down at ESPN.
Like most things in sports today, the World Wide Leader’s problems begin with money. Live game/sports programming is expensive to buy and expensive to produce (Verne Lundquist is not cheap, nor is a digital production truck that can handle 10 or more cameras) and so increasingly the network is feeding its’ subscribers a constant series of sports talk shows (which is precisely what sports radio offers up for most of its programming) with varying degrees of success. This format has problems–not the least of which is you can hear it in other places, i.e. it’s not unique–but one of the most ironic is that if the program makes stars out of the announcers, their salaries and contracts rise and the very thing designed to reduce costs (a low-cost, one-set talk show) ends up increasing them (have to pay the help). If ESPN doesn’t pay the help, the help leaves for another network who will and–goes the thought process–takes the audience with them.
Left behind is a b-team of talk show hosts and conductors, hoping to rebuild an audience. Tricky stuff and really, haven’t we had enough of bombastic, over-enunciated, semi-big-word sports types with opinions that are like Russian foreign policy–i.e. the very opposite of what everyone thinks (the theory: controversy builds viewers; on the other hand, controversy could just be a PITA to the viewers). In the beginning, ESPN filled air time with re-runs of last weekends’s games but times have changed. Still–it’s not a bad option to be reconsidered.
There are some shows on ESPN that are absolute classics: who can imagine a fall football weekend without ESPN Game Day? Or a big time college basketball showdown without Dickie V and his unique take on things? Or morning sports talk without Mike & Mike? Or a replacement of 30 for 30? Each of these programming elements has crossed the line from show to tradition to classic. ESPN’s problem is two-fold: building the next round of classics while making the irrevocable decision of which delivery channel(s) to concentrate on. Not an easy set of decisions and if you’ve got some new thoughts, Bob Iger, at Disney (ESPN’s parent) might want to have a cup of coffee or two with you.
No one who loves sports wants ESPN to fall. On reflection, it’s obvious that ESPN–the world’s television sports leader–has to do what all great winning teams have to do from time to time: change their game so they can keep winning.
Check out the terrific piece from our friends at Bloomberg.com on ESPN. And enjoy this weekend’s big sports events, however you get them.
The Fine Print: Article link to Bloomberg.Com. We thank them for sharing. Image courtesy of our friends at Getty Images, who have the 20th and 21st Century’s photographic history on file. If you’re running a non-profit blog, they are your go-to source for the right image for the times. Article produced by Perception Engineering and The Media Bunker.