Ever wonder why ESPN and other networks got caught off guard by cord cutting? According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, many of the executives were in denial.
According to the report, in 2014, ESPN’s research department presented data arguing that cord cutting was unlikely to become widespread. One former ESPN executive went so far as to call the researchers “flat-earthers” for their cord cutting denial.
This confidence led to ESPN agreeing to deals like tripling the fees they would pay and spending big on talent in an effort to fight back growing competition.
By 2015 it was clear that ESPN’s research team had guessed wrong as subscriber losses accelerated beyond their projections. This led to Disney adjusting their financial guidance, which led to a stock sell-off that saw more than $20 billion of Disney’s market value vanishing in a single week.
Now ESPN is said to be losing as many as 17,000 subscribers every single day with no end in sight, and the blame game is starting. According to The Wall Street Journal, many of these losses come from ESPN’s stance on politics. Others are blaming cord cutting. Yet they are both right and both wrong.
Rarely can you point to a single reason for something going so badly so quickly for a giant like ESPN. The truth is both politics and cord cutting likely played big roles. In today’s politically sensitive ESPN walked into several very sensitive political topics. Cord cutting is also growing faster and has to be included in a list of reasons behind ESPN’s downfall.
Yet many seem to be glossing over ESPN’s leadership in the early 2010s. The writing was on the wall that some lean years were ahead. But ESPN’s leadership spent big without considering the possibility that new competition and a decline in subscribers could happen to ESPN.
Trying to find a single reason for ESPN’s failure is an effort to try and ignore the truth. Many issues have impacted ESPN, but the failure of ESPN’s leadership to react to what was happening around them is likely the real cause of ESPN’s failure. Failing to quickly find solutions to cord cutting and the current political environment are part of what happened; however, they are only part of the issue.
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