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Old 04-26-17, 08:42 PM
Sykotyk Sykotyk is offline
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Join Date: 10-12-06
Location: Lowellville, OH
Posts: 4,435
Sykotyk will become famous soon enough
ESPN has had a problem for years. And it is entirely self-inflicted. It was only a matter of when they'd have to do something about it.

ESPN doesn't exist in a vacuum. Nor, was its creation. Cable networks existed primarily on carrier fees, paid by every subscriber based on 'tiers'. You were either basic cable, extended cable, or a subscription. ESPN was started in the same manner as a lot of now well known stations: MTV, CNN, etc. A cheap station to cater to a particular topic. Stations that got included in almost every 'basic' tier. Which meant everyone paid for it, whether they watched it or not.

This is how cable operated. Primarily because the ability to segregate channels for each subscriber was near impossible. Which is why the premium channels cost what they did. But, ESPN didn't have a lot in the way of 'live' major broadcasts. They aired Americas Cup yacht racing, olympic sports, and oddball sports. And focused almost entirely on highlights. The problem with this 'business model' the cable companies had created, was it created artificial scarcity.

Either you had 'x channel' or you didn't. And the more 'in demand' channels could force themselves into the basic tier, which meant more subscribers paid. And providers paid for it, because with dish (before the smaller dishes became a thing) was still a distant possibility as competition.

ESPN, though, realizing their carriage contracts were rather limited in price increases (yearly adjustments were usually limited by contract or statute of the area being served), so they thought up the bright idea to create ESPN2. And then split games and shows between the two networks. Even if it was stuck in the extended tier, it still added more money for something they basically didn't pay rights fees.

This worked, until ESPN began to usurp network and regional channels for content. Cable commercials rates were skyrocketing as the networks diminished, and using their considerable clout to take on major rights fees. At the same time, ESPN did things such as buy Classic Sports and spun it into ESPN Classic, and also had created ESPNEWS. Which was essentially (or so they aimed), 24-hour SportsCenter. All to get more rights fees from providers.

And this is where the problem with viewership started to hit. ESPN isn't going to compete against themselves. As they monopolized cable sports broadcasting, there was no use putting a major game on one network to compete with the flagship station. As a viewer, you weren't getting more content. You were getting the same content repackaged and repurposed. One game would now air on two or three channels (With ESPNU in the mix after they realized ESPN Classic was a dud given their avoidance of truly using it to air classic sports). And when they weren't airing 'their' main game, they'd spend the rest of the day, week, month talking about that upcoming event or its aftermath.

They inadvertently limited their own audience. Instead of covering a wide breadth of sport, they laser focused it into one or two things at a time, which spun off their audience to things like NFL Network, MLB TV, NHL Network, Big Ten Network, etc. Basically forcing fans away to get the content they wanted if it wasn't the current 'marquee' event ESPN was airing. And god forbid a major sporting event was happening outside the ESPN networks. Their sudden disdain of the NHL was exhibit A in how blatant ESPN was when they low-balled the content and it went to Outdoor Life Network (which became Versus and eventually morphed into NBC's attempt at a cable sports network: NBCSN).

Now, all this consolidation of major events to ESPN had a two-fold effect. They were paying ridiculous sums to get content because their unwitting unwatching subscriber base was still paying their annual price increases. Right now, ESPN collects almost $10/mo from every cable subscriber in the country for all of their channels.

That's offloading the cost of John Q Sportsfan onto the general population. A general population that may watch a sporting event from time-to-time, but it is not appointment viewing to them. And even then, will probably be a local broadcast of a local team if anything.

This ploy works as long as the non-sports fan keeps cable and keeps ESPN's carriage fees stable. It hasn't. Cord-cutting has become a huge problem for ESPN. Because they're limited to how much they can raise their rates annually, they're actually bringing in far less each year thanks to Cord-cutters. And losing that base means even higher rates. Which means even more cord-cutters.

It's a vicious cycle. And it's actually just picking up steam.

Someone earlier up said that they can't wait for a la carte programming? Never going to happen. Primarily because content providers such as ESPN have their contracts strictly worded. It's available to ALL subscribers as part of the basic cable package. Any attempt to segregate it to a higher tier or a la carte means they lose it entirely. And despite the cord-cutters being a major thorn in their side, there's still an ardent number of viewers who will bail on their local cable provider the moment they lose ESPN channels.

Those are who the cable companies cater to when they saddle everyone else with ESPN's carriage fees. Because those numbers would bankrupt basically any local market's ability to provide cable service. For as much as broadband has become the de facto content of a cable company, it still itself is subsidized by the television customers paying monthly subscriptions into the hundreds of dollars to make you think $60 for broadband is the 'true cost'. Without hooking up house after house in a town for television, the cost to maintain and service broadband is not much different than telephone providers losing it when cell phones began to take over landlines as our preferred method of communication and that put DSL squarely in the crosshairs. It became an unneeded extra.

Having said all that, the bigger culprit in all of this will be the four major leagues and the big college conferences. After decades of building up fan bases, they've basically began harvesting that fandom for as much money as they can squeeze out of their addicted fans. This is limiting the ability for NEW fans to get involved. The casual fan. The young fan that will never step foot inside a major sports venue. Without easy and free (or believed free) access on television, those fans simply won't watch.

Why would a casual fan pay big money to get ESPN for one game they might casually channel surf through during a night? They won't. Instead, they will simply go on without ever crossing paths with that game. Those kids who will only be viewers, and nothing more, may never get involved at a young age because their parents never had sports on television. Because the cost, when spelled out specifically, just wasn't worth it. To the point the child doesn't even realize they'd want to watch Lakers-Clippers on a Thursday night.

That's where this is all headed. Instead of cultivating and continuing this fandom over decades, they've decided this is the end. They've built their fan base. And have decided their fan base still has more money available to give them. Their future fan base be damned.
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