Tag Archives: ESPN

ESPN Cuts Costs–Will Sports Fans Cut The Cord?

The ‘Worldwide Leader in Sports,’ ESPN, is headed toward a future that will feature its cable channels unbundled from the current cable/telco model. At least that’s what a large majority of millennials assume…

espn_topsearchThe financial model that encompasses ESPN’s array of content and its marketability has evolved immensely in just the past decade. While ESPN is the ‘Worldwide Leader’ when it comes to cutting-edge ideas, content production, timely and breaking sports reporting, marketing, and acquisition of talented media personalities — all which are critical to viewership in the sports medium — they are not viewed as the ‘Worldwide Leader’ when it comes to their offerings that can be categorized as ‘cord cut content.’

ESPN COST CUTTING = INEVITABLE UNBUNDLING?

Recently ESPN has been receiving attention for a reason it would prefer not to, cost-cutting.

Just last month, the ‘Worldwide Leader’ laid off 300 employees, and while those layoffs were dressed by Disney and ESPN President John Skipper as a consequence of rising rights costs — specifically their nine-year $24 billion dollar deal with the NBA — multiple sources made sure to indicate that the impact of ‘cord-cutting’ cannot go overlooked either.

Along with laying off 300 employees ESPN has also received more attention for its cost-cutting by parting ways with a number of their highly-recognizable/highly-paid personalities. Most notably their former mid-morning shock-jock Colin Cowherd, former Grantland.com editor-in-chief Bill Simmons, as well as the provocative host of ‘Olbermann,’ Keith Olbermann. All of whom had long, respected, and storied ESPN careers before their dismissal this past summer.

Former ESPN Ombudsman Robert Lipsyte wrote about the shutting down of Simmons’ former passion project, Grantland, at TheNation.com and provided an insider’s perspective into the dynamics that revolved around its closing.

While there are multiple sources that have indicated the impact of ‘cord-cutting’ for ESPN, there is quite possibly no voice (or in this case, written word), short of their President John Skipper that could have come from a more respectable and profound voice than that of their former ombudsman Lipsyte (since dismissing Lipsyte in December of 2014 ESPN has not hired a replacement).

In his article for TheNation.com Lipsyte remarked;

“ESPN is currently besieged by the rising cost of buying the rights to show sports events, the declining profits in audience fees and advertising revenue as people cut their cable cords, and Disney-ordered budget cuts.” (Lipsyte, The Nation, Nov. 2015)

ESPN’S SHARE OF YOUR CABLE BILL…

PayPerPersonTo fully understand the impact of ‘cord-cutting’ on the ‘Worldwide Leader’ it is critical to know the share of consumer’s cable bill that ESPN currently occupies. According to a digitaltrends.com article from July, which cites a Wall Street Journal report, cable providers are by far paying more to offer their subscribers ESPN than any other network. $6.04 is the going rate for ESPN within a cable bundle, $4.56 more than the next closest cable network, TNT.

This gross cost burden to cable companies bundles, along with an emergence of options to view the Worldwide Leader without ‘the cord,’ has made the conversations about ESPN ‘cutting their cord’ plentiful and consistent. However, pontifications — predominantly from millennials — have gone as far to assume that ESPN will have no other choice than to ‘cut their cord’ sooner than later if they wish to remain feasible in today’s climate of sports content offerings. This line of thinking is not completely incorrect, however, it is reckless to assume that a cable channel with as much, and sometimes more, exposure and ratings than the likes of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC would suddenly feel inclined to completely ‘cut their cord’ and depart from traditional cable.

Disney CEO Bob Iger has acknowledged dropping cable subscription numbers for ESPN, and even went as far to tell CNBC’s Squawk Box that he sees ESPN as a media property that could eventually be sold a la carte, much like HBO, but, that will not happen in the next five years.

Iger went on to say while appearing on the popular CNBC show;

“Technology is the most disruptive force that so-called traditional media … is facing.” [But] we decided to view technology as a friend, not a foe, to bring better customer experiences across all of our businesses from making media look crisper on HD televisions to mobile and online viewing apps to enhanced attractions at theme parks.” (Iger, CNBC’s Squawk Box, July 2015)

ESPN’S FUTURE… DESTINED TO ‘UNBUNDLE?’ (SPECULATION & ANALYSIS)

When evaluating comments by Disney CEO Bob Iger and ESPN President John Skipper, along with taking into consideration their continually strong cable ratings in relation to their competitors I find it hard to believe the train of thought that predominately comes from my millennial peers that ESPN is destined to ‘cut their cord’ or die.

In my mind, the proof is in the pudding that there will always be ESPN channels available to cable subscribers as long as there is cable television. ESPN has made tremendous strides in their digital platform offerings, enough so that consumers that prefer to not have traditional cable can get their fill of sports content through ‘Watch ESPN,’ the ESPN mobile app, ESPN.com and other digital offerings from the Worldwide Leader.

Could there be a ESPN app available for purchase for those without a cable subscription in a half-decade, similar to Time Warner’s HBO Now endeavor? Sure. For the reasons I hashed out in this blog such as the rising costs of content rights and the gradual decline of cable subscribers. That said, indications are clear that the Worldwide Leader is still a ways off from needing to ‘cut their cord’ to sustain and thrive in today’s ever-changing media climate.

Cole Bair

The Future of the Megacast

You watched that megacast of the College Football championship game the last two years right? Pretty cool huh? TWELVE WAYS to watch a single game on all the different ESPN channels!

Or was it over the top? It could definitely have been too much. We just need the regular traditional broadcast, with two announcers and a sideline reporter, right? Well whatever you think, we will dive into the answers right here.

ESPN MegacastSo, this is what the CFB championship game looked like the last two years. This was really the first broadcast of its kind. It was very cool to see ESPN pioneering something like this that no network had ever tried before. And it was successful. The championship game delivered the largest viewing audience in cable history. At just under 35 million viewers, it topped the previous record by just under 5 million viewers! To go deeper into the numbers, you can check out this link, here.

Now, with the major success of this megacast, it begs the question, will other major sporting events move to a megacast? It’s a very interesting question.

When you think about major sporting events like the Super Bowl, for example, a lot of money that is made from the game is the advertising. For the 2015 Super Bowl, a thirty-second ad went for $4.5 million.

Megacast ChartThis graph only goes up to 2013, but as you can see from the 2015 numbers above, the price just keeps skyrocketing.

So would it be a good idea for a network to go to something like this and spread out the advertising over multiple channels? It certainly looks that way. If the game got moved over to multiple different channels for a variety of different viewing experiences the network could possibly make even more money from advertising. The network would still be able to charge companies a great amount for their main broadcast and tell the companies that it still still their “A” package and it will have the most viewership.

They could also get companies that maybe aren’t quite willing to pay an amount like $4.5 million and say, and for a slightly lower price, they could have a thirty second ad on a different channel with the game. Obviously the traditional broadcast is going to have the highest viewership because that would be the one that all the viewers are comfortable with. But I’m sure there would be quite a few people curious about the other broadcasts available for the game, and be checking those out.

And moving away from the Super Bowl, I would also be curious to see if the MLB with the World Series, or the NBA with the NBA Finals, would contemplate moving to a megacast. The problems that arise with these games are a little bit different than the problems with advertising and the Super Bowl.

The biggest problem would be that these are both seven game series. Because they are seven game series, it would cost the network a lot more money and man-hours to have several different broadcasts of the games. The numbers on the left side of this article tell the story. Those numbers right there basically prove how insane of a thought it would be to produce multiple games as megacasts.

All in all I think it would be something very cool to see. More broadcasts of the biggest games of the year? Yes please. So let me know what you think. Could they do it? Would it be smart to do it? I know I hope so.

Elliott Eggleston

Jason Whitlock: Controversial columnist and radio commentator chosen to lead ESPN’s ‘Black Grantland’

To the dismay of some of his peers Jason Whitlock will (hopefully) be to ESPN’s new web venture, theundefeated.com, what Bill Simmons is to web-hit grantland.com. The web page pictured below was launched on February 12th. It is the homepage of ESPN’s new web venture theundefeated.com. The website that former Fox, AOL Sports and FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock was chosen to lead. This homepage arrives 17 months after Whitlock was brought back to ‘The Mothership (ESPN)’ (as former employee Dan Patrick routinely calls the sports conglomerate) and states in regards to its launch, “coming summer 2015.”

theundefeated.comAlong with some notable stops as a columnist, Whitlock has held employment for years as a radio commentator, and in both his written and spoken words there is a permanent record of the never-ending narrative of the intersection of race, culture, and sports.

According to Whitlock, “Through the lens of sports, The Undefeated will be the premier platform for intelligent analysis and celebration of black culture and the African-American struggle for equality. The Undefeated will challenge, engage and advocate for people of color in a manner consistent with the black-press pioneers, such as Sam Lacy, who led the charge for Jackie Robinson’s civil rights-sparking baseball career.”

As a former columnist and radio commentator, Jason Whitlock has understandably built a reputation for himself that isn’t without controversy. When he departed ESPN.com’s ‘Page 2’ column for AOL Sports, Whitlock had been unafraid for some time to call it like he saw it, even if that meant consequences. On his way out the door at ESPN Whitlock defined fellow ‘Sports Reporters’ co-host Mike Lupica as ‘an insecure, mean-spirited busybody,’ and Scoop Jackson — an african-american ESPN.com writer, as a “clown.” Whitlock added that Jackson’s ‘ghetto posturing’ in his articles that published on ESPN.com were ‘an insult to black intelligence.” In 2007, after radio shock jock Don Imus made racially insensitive remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team Whitlock made it a point to quell the media backlash in regards to Imus’ comments, saying the shock jock’s remarks were ‘insignificant’ among other vivacious hot-takes in regards to black culture.

Needless to say, the network known for employing fans—ESPN—knew they had quite possibly one of, if not the most preeminent voice of sports and black culture under their umbrella. Well, not until Whitlock made those remarks about colleagues Mike Lupica and Scoop Jackson. ESPN does not take too kindly to in-fighting and the company completely pulled the plug on Whitlock in his 2006 move to AOL Sports, after initially displaying the want to keep Whitlock doing television appearances on their networks.

theEDshowNot quite a year after joining AOL Sports Whitlock made the move to Fox Sports in August of 2007. What is now the infamous (at least in Fox Sports 1’s eyes) ‘move before the move’ back to ESPN. After writing—with much success—about the intersection of sports and African-American culture for Fox Sports for five years, Whitlock did not show interest in playing an eminent role in the new Fox Sports 1 television network by upping his TV appearances, fearing his writing would fall off as a result.

That’s when the call came from ESPN President John Skipper.

With ESPN fully aware of the burgeoning Fox Sports 1 television channel an arms-race of talent-seeking/acquiring broke out between the two networks. And as soon as Whitlock lost his clear view of a future at Fox Sports, ESPN president John Skipper was able to woo the longtime columnist back to the Worldwide Leader with the promise of his very own website.

Bill Simmons, a former ESPN.com Page 2 columnist himself has a successful ESPN website grantland.com, therefore it’s only right that Whitlock get his, right? Wrong. Well, at least to some it is wrong. Namely Greg Howard of Deadspin.com who wrote a scathing expose—or so he thought—of the longtime race/culture/sports columnist.

Whitlock was reported to be in some stage of discussions with Hoard when a Deadspin article, entitled ‘Can Jason Whitlock Save ESPN’s “Black Grantland” from himself,’ was released. Some of that article reading verbatim; “At least a dozen of Whitlock’s black colleagues have “accused him of attacking black culture generally and young black men and women specifically for personal profit and career advancement,” Howard reported. “What struck me was how many of them outright referred to Whitlock as an ‘Uncle Tom,’” wrote Howard, who had been in talks to work for black Grantland before his prospective mentor accused him of betrayal.

As capitalnewyork.com’s Nicole Levy pointed out, Whitlock characterized the majority of Howard’s article as a “total fabrication and lie, provable by the writer’s emails, text messages and phone messages” to him.

Nonetheless, in spite of the critics who point out Whitlock’s shortcomings, or ESPN’s dragging of their feet to launch the site (now 18 months after Whitlock’s hiring) the ‘Worldwide Leader’ likely has another web juggernaut on their hands. While Stephen A. Smith is considered the sports industry leader of the radio and sports television talk show discussion of african-american culture and sports — Jason Whitlock undoubtedly leads the in-print discussion of african-american culture and sports. And if Jesse Washington’s 9,000 word piece on Charles Barkley’s Alabama upbringing, entitled ‘Up From Leeds,’ is an indication of what’s to come at theundefeated.com, that ‘likely web juggernaut,’ will be a ‘can’t-miss web juggernaut.’

So what are your thoughts on the new partnership between ESPN and Jason Whitlock? Is Whitlock the right guy for “Black Grantland?”

Cole Bair