The Number of Hardcore ESPN Viewers Will Shock You






There’s likely a big reason why Charter Communications’ Spectrum and Disney came to an agreement hours before Monday Night Football kicked off, and it may have to do with just how popular ESPN is (or isn’t).

Charter might have been sitting in a good bargaining position because the number of passionate ESPN viewers is shockingly low. That’s according to Lightshed Partners analyst Rich Greenfield, who crunched the numbers and said in a research note (login required) that only 20% of all US households watch six hours or more of the sports network in a month during peak times, and less than half that amount in an average month. He said that just 40% of US households watch 3 hours of ESPN in a peak month, with less than half that time during a normal stretch.

The numbers reflect the sobering reality that ESPN, considered the crown jewel of cable TV and one of the reasons why the pay-TV model still persists, isn’t anywhere near as popular as you would think. If the numbers are valid, it would’ve served as a catalyst to get Disney to strike a deal with Charter faster.

A spokeswoman for ESPN noted that ratings for the network are at record levels despite accelerated cord cutting. ESPN ratings were up 1% in the first quarter vs. a year ago and it also ranked as the most-viewed cable network in total day and primetime among viewers aged 18 to 49.

Greenfield’s stats offer a different perspective from Disney’s own numbers, which claimed that 71% of Charter subscribers tune into a Disney broadcast station or cable network in the average month. The analyst noted that the term “watch” can be manipulated, since the definition of the amount of time spent actually watching is a little murky.

After the deal was announced, Greenfield said on X (formerly Twitter) it was a smart move by Disney since “the risk of permanent blackout was simply too high for the future of ESPN.”

The deal will give Spectrum subscribers free access to the ad tier of Disney+, with the cable company dropping eight of Disney’s cable networks.

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