Cable television has been struggling for some time now, and the 2020 pandemic only accelerated the decline it seems. And now, it’s the worldwide leader in sports that’s suffering.
ESPN announced this week the elimination of 500 positions across the company, a reduction of about 10% of current staff, according to a report shared by Market Watch. 300 current employees are being released and another 200 open positions now won’t be filled. The move, the company says, is an effort to free up resources to focus more on digital and streaming.
Turning attention to “direct to consumer” content in the form of ESPN+ is something the company had plans to do anyway given consumers’ mass exodus from cable, but COVID-19 accelerated things. “Given the incredible success of Disney+ and our plans to accelerate our direct-to-consumer business, we are strategically positioning our Company to more effectively support our growth strategy and increase shareholder value,” said CEO Bob Chapek last month.
The streaming service has a current subscriber base of about 8.5 million people.
For decades, ESPN has feasted on fees they charge cable providers for the privilege of carrying their content. But as more and more people cut cable, that money has started to dry up. And when you account for the other side – ever-rising fees that ESPN has to pay to sports leagues like the NFL and MLB (billions of dollars a year per league), it’s not hard to see that something had to give.
Viewers shouldn’t notice any major effects from these cutbacks for now, as on-air talent likely won’t be impacted. But ESPN did ask their on-air personalities to take pay cuts earlier in the year, so they’re not escaping trouble completely.
The most obvious changes will come in how content looks. Instead of sending full crews to games, content will now be produced remotely, saving significantly on travel costs. Instead of announcers calling a game on-site, they might watch a live feed and announce the action from far away. “A return to full-priced travel and remotes,” a company spokesperson said, “probably isn’t returning any time soon.”
If this tells us anything, it’s that viewing habits are changing yet again. People simply aren’t watching cable anymore, and it’s up to companies to adjust if they want to stay around.