When Holly Holm delivered her vicious knockout against UFC champion Ronda Rousey last month, the highlight seemed perfect for ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
Yet by the time the sports network’s flagship news program showed images of the fight, many had already seen the clip on Reddit and commented on Twitter.
That’s the dilemma for ESPN and “SportsCenter,” the news and highlights show the network introduced to pay-TV audiences 35 years ago. While ESPN remains the dominant sports outlet on TV and the Web, and the single biggest profit contributor at Walt Disney Co., competition is eating into its audience. To adapt, the company is reinventing “SportsCenter” for mobile viewing and online sharing, adding new late and early morning editions.
“Our producers have spent a lot of time working with our talent to really think about which audience we’re seeing through the course of the day,” Rob King, ESPN’s senior vice president for news, said in an interview. The show “is still relevant and meaningful to people. It’s a matter of where they are and how they consume it.”
One big change is set for February, when ESPN introduces a 7 a.m. edition of “SportsCenter.” The network will try to attract viewers on their way to school or work by encouraging them to watch on mobile devices, King said.
In September, Scott Van Pelt took over as anchor of a new late edition of “SportsCenter.” Van Pelt can compete with talk-show hosts like Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, King said, and his show is experimenting with new segments, including one that shows highlights of plays that would be of keen interest to bettors. A recent ad urging fans to “end your day on a highlight” included a spot with a college student watching late at night on his tablet from the roof of a frat house.
Disney itself cast a light on the troubles at ESPN in August when the company cut its profit outlook, citing a drop in the homes that get the sports network. The announcement renewed investor concerns that consumers are dropping or cutting back on pay-TV services and sent media stocks tumbling.
ESPN’s ratings are another sign of the changes rattling the TV industry.
Live editions of “SportsCenter” are down 10 percent this year in total viewers, according to ESPN, while the Sunday pregame show “NFL Countdown” is down 13 percent. Overall, viewership has fallen 10 percent in 2015, though network executives say that’s really 4 percent excluding World Cup and NASCAR events that didn’t air this year.
Meanwhile, audiences are growing at the Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN, which are up 14 percent and 25 percent in prime-time, respectively, though both networks draw only a fraction of ESPN’s viewers, according to Nielsen data. For NFL games this season, ESPN’s ratings are down 3 percent while two broadcast networks, NBC and CBS, have gained, according to data supplied by the programmers. ESPN says that’s largely because it has aired one fewer Monday Night Football matchup.
Bristol, Connecticut-based ESPN has been in a belt-tightening mode. In October, the network eliminated about 300 positions worldwide. Over the past year, it has parted with several prominent personalities, including Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons, who says the number of people canceling pay-TV service caught ESPN by surprise.
“I don’t think they ever saw it coming. I really don’t,” Simmons said on his podcast last month. “They didn’t have a plan for this whole next generation of stuff.”
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Poll Data Shows Tepid Response To Tom Brady Joining FOX
“A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.”
FOX Sports reportedly signed Tom Brady to a 10-year deal worth $375 million to make the seven-time Super Bowl champion the new lead analyst for its top NFL broadcast once his playing career is over.
A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.
The poll said 2 in 5 NFL fans have a better opinion of FOX Sports following the deal, with 41% of NFL fans being at least somewhat more likely to watch a game with Brady as an analyst.
Data shows one-third of NFL fans think the deal Brady reportedly agreed to is worth about the same as its reported value.
That reaction could probably be described as “tepid”. That may be exactly what FOX expects and maybe all it wants.
Last week, Domonique Foxworth of ESPN suggested that the paycheck is less about what the network thinks Tom Brady means to viewers and more about showing the NFL that the network values its product.
FOX Not Interested In Joining Streaming Sports Wars
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take?”
The CEO of FOX doesn’t plan on forking over billions of dollars to be people’s last choice for paid streaming services.
Lachlan Murdoch said at a time when more than 80% of American homes already have some kind of paid streaming service, it’s not worthwhile to jump on that train.
Amazon, Netflix and Disney+ typically account for the average streaming presence in a household.
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take,” Murdoch said at a tech conference earlier this year. “And so the billions of dollars that’s being spent by multiple aspirants is all for that last position. And so we are extraordinarily — I want to say that — we’re happy to be sort of sitting on the sidelines.”
Murdoch told Benjamin Swinburne that when it comes to the NFL, FOX’s media rights are the same as CBS, NBC and ESPN. The main focus for the company remains on keeping games on TV.
“We don’t believe it helps us to put those rights under a streaming service or free on over-the-air. We think it’s very important that those rights remain exclusive to the broadcast environment,” Murdoch said.
FOX does stream games through its app, but it is only the games it is also carrying on its broadcast network or FS1.
NBA Draft To Get Simulcast From ESPN & ABC
“This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.”
ESPN is set for the 2022 NBA Draft coming up on June 23 at 8 p.m. from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The network announced Wednesday the crews that will handle coverage on both ESPN and ABC.
ABC will broadcast the first round in primetime. Kevin Negandhi will host and will be joined by Stephen A. Smith, Chiney Ogwumike and Jalen Rose. Monica McNutt will be reporting and interviewing draftees.
This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.
Malika Andrews will host both rounds for ESPN. Jay Bilas, Kendrick Perkins and Adrian Wojnarowski will share the set. Analysts Bobby Marks and Mike Schmitz will contribute.
“We’re thrilled that Malika Andrews will host this year’s ESPN presentation as she brings her well-documented, widespread skillset to our main set,” said David Roberts, head of NBA and Studio Production for ESPN. “The event will showcase the scope and depth of our NBA and college basketball talent roster with accomplished journalists and high-profile personalities across ESPN, ABC and ESPN Radio.”
ESPN will air a pre-draft red carpet show hosted by Cassidy Hubbarth from 5-6 p.m. Perkins and Richard Jefferson will also make appearances.