Once an indispensable sports powerhouse, cable TV network ESPN has gone from must-see-TV for millions of sports fans to financial boondoggle for owner Disney with the network losing up to 10,000 subscribers a day, a report says.
“A floundering ESPN, with rising costs and declining viewership, continued to sink Disney’s DIS, +0.24% financial results during its fiscal first quarter,” MarketWatch.com reported.
With the impact of the flailing sports network, Disney’s revenue fell 3 percent, and its profits sank 14 percent, the financial site reported.
As to ESPN itself, the network lost subscribers, found its average viewership crater, and experienced falling advertising rates even as its programming costs climbed. And this fall from grace continued even after Disney insisted that ESPN had reached its bottom after the previous quarter came to an end.
Disney CEO Bob Iger, though, is still putting a sunny face on this quarter after quarter failure saying he still “believes” in the network.
“We believe that the best approach to doing well in a world that is disruptive, in a world that has far more digital distribution, is to have great content and tell great stories. And that includes ESPN, by the way,” Iger said during a recent conference call. “But I can tell you that it is our full intent to go out there aggressively with digital offerings direct to the consumer for ESPN and other Disney-branded properties.”
Despite Iger’s happy talk, ESPN has lost about 12 million subscribers, down to 88 million from its 100 million subscriber high from back in 2011. That lost revenue amounts to about $7 per subscriber, according to The Wrap.
ESPN’s operating costs are also negatively impacting its finances, especially the $7.3 billion it has to pay out to the various sports leagues for access to game broadcasting. But, according to at least one analyst, ESPN’s political lurch to the left has also led to its massive loss.
Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis recently slammed ESPN as the “social justice warrior network” saying, “ESPN decided to become a social justice warrior network, treating all liberal opinion makers as those worthy of promotion and casting aside all those who had the gall to challenge the new Disney world order…I’m not saying that ESPN should just stick to sports, but I am saying that if you decide to allow political opinions to flourish from your network’s stars that you shouldn’t neuter all conservative opinion and allow liberal political opinion to advance unchecked….Those with liberal opinions are rewarded and allowed to speak freely, those with conservative opinions are told to keep their mouths shut…”
Indeed, even ESPN itself seemed to walk up right to the edge of admitting it has gone too far to the political left with a piece by the network’s ombudsman exploring the problem. A long piece back in November by ESPN ombudsman Jim Brady presents evidence that complaints have resonated, even inside its executive boardroom, that they have become far too liberal.
In his piece, Brady grapples with charges of the network’s emerging and extreme left-wing bias and suggests ways to address that perception. But, Brady spends much time insisting there is no left-wing bias at ESPN even as he argues that the network hasn’t done enough to assure customers and sports fans that the network welcomes all political views.
Unfortunately, even as Brady comes close to admitting that conservatives are quashed and liberals given free reign, he doesn’t quite admit to what millions of fans see with their own eyes.
The experience of former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, though, belies Brady’s claim that ESPN is balanced and allows on-air talent to come to the support of conservative political ideals. Schilling was repeatedly punished by ESPN and eventually fired or his conservative statements.
Others have spoken out about the leftward tilt, too. Ryan Russillo, co-host of ESPN’s “Russillo and Kanell,” recently noted how weary he is of the network’s liberalism, the Inquisitor reported.
“I don’t know what the job is anymore…If I were doing the anti-Trump show three days a week, would I have 90% support from co-workers? Because that’s what it feels like right now,” Russillo said.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at email@example.com.