ESPN Retools `SportsCenter' Programming for Mobile Viewers
(Bloomberg) -- Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, battling falling ad sales and a shrinking subscriber base, is rejiggering its news programs, adding more airtime and online reports from the network’s most popular correspondents.
Mike Greenberg, co-host of the network’s “Mike & Mike” radio program, will debut a new show on the network from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. New York time starting in January. Sage Steele, who has hosted “NBA Countdown” and “SportsCenter On The Road,” will anchor “SportsCenter ” most weekdays mornings on the company’s ESPN 2 channel, while feature reporter Kenny Mayne will return to anchoring the network’s flagship 11 p.m. “SportsCenter” along with Steve Levy, John Anderson and John Buccigross.
The on-air personalities will also host short, “fast-paced” news segments called “SportsCenter Right Now” that run during ESPN’s daytime commentary programming and during halftime in games, the network announced Monday. They’ll contribute spots designed for mobile viewing that run multiple times per hour on the website and app.
“We plan to be essential when fans awaken, exhaustive whenever fans need a highlight, score or news update, and entertaining pregame, in-game and postgame,” Rob King, ESPN’s senior vice president for SportsCenter and news, said in a statement. “As our audience and its needs change, we change to serve those fans and meet their needs.”
One of the biggest profit contributors for parent Disney, ESPN is seeing an erosion of traditional customers, along with the rest of the pay-TV industry. Fans can now go online for highlights and scores without watching news shows recapping the day’s events. As one response to this trend, ESPN is devoting more time to commentary shows filmed in the studio and less to reports from the field, reducing the need for correspondents. The network has long employed reporters who followed each of the major teams.
Disney’s media networks division reported a 3 percent decline in operating income in the company’s second fiscal quarter, due in part to a drop at ESPN. The network, which charges the highest subscriber fees in basic cable, has been coping with a $600 million increase in programming costs related to a new National Basketball Association rights contract. Advertising revenue would have been down 1 percent if not for three additional college football games in the quarter.
“People have less time they’re willing to devote to an hour of sports news,” said Ed Desser, a sports TV consultant based in Santa Monica, California. “If you can give them the story in 10 or so minutes they’ll watch it.”
Rival Fox Sports 1 unveiled its own new morning show featuring former ESPN contributor and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Cris Carter and ex-radio host Nick Wright. That program adds to a lineup of former ESPN personalities that already includes Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd.
“We’ve made a very clear bet on opinion-based programming, against news and information shows,” Jamie Horowitz, president of Fox Sports’ national networks, said in an interview Tuesday.
ESPN eliminated about 100 jobs late last month, including some on-air staff. In some cases, the new anchors replace people let go in that round of cuts. The network also cut jobs in 2013 and 2015.
Disney has gotten ESPN on the majority of the new online TV packages, such as Dish Network Corp.’s Sling TV and Sony Corp.’s PlayStation Vue. Almost 80 percent of the people who connect with ESPN each month do so on mobile devices, the company said. ESPN plans to launch an online-only subscription product later this year that will offer content not on its TV networks.
ESPN already handed over the midnight SportsCenter to Scott Van Pelt, an acerbic host with a knack for accents. The 6 p.m. show is hosted by Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, who starred on the popular “His & Hers” program on ESPN2.
“We were the first test balloon,” Van Pelt said at an ESPN presentation to advertisers Tuesday. “And now everyone apparently gets a show.”