Skipper: ESPN Not Straying From Sports Brand Despite FiveThirtyEight Acquisition - Broadcasting & Cable

Skipper: ESPN Not Straying From Sports Brand Despite FiveThirtyEight Acquisition

Maintains that network's 'material business' will always be sports
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Despite being the owner of political website FiveThirtyEight — which will launch its new version early next year — ESPN President John Skipper said this doesn't signal a new shift in network strategy.

"Not very much," Skipper told AllThingsD's Peter Kafka, when asked how far away from sports ESPN plans to attach itself to. "The material business of ESPN is going to be in sports."

During a discussion with FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver, which was moderated by Kafka, at the first day of the Paley Center's International Council Summit on Thursday, Skipper explained that buying FiveThirtyEight represented a special opportunity for ESPN.

He shared the same sentiment about the pop culture/sports site Grantland run by popular sportswriter and TV personality Bill Simmons. "If there are other unique opportunities we will look at them," he said. "But this is not a significant new [initiative]."

Skipper also explained that even though these new websites that are not entirely about sports are under the ESPN umbrella, they don't carry the ESPN brand. "Grantland is not 'ESPN Grantland;' it's Grantland. FiveThirtyEight.com is FiveThirtyEight.com."

"We have a news operation, it's called ABC News," he quipped.

ESPN and Silver are taking a longterm approach with FiveThirtyEight, noting that they won't be paying attention to how many page views a singular story may get, but rather that they are growing the brand overall.

"I don't spend a lot of time looking at statistics for individual stories," said Silver, who mentioned how websites that use SEO-generated headlines just to get clicks can "undermine" their brand. "Our metric is longterm how many consumers do we draw in."

Silver has said on multiple occasions that his new version of FiveThirtyEight will employ a similar strategy as Grantland; he explained, like the pop culture site, he wants FiveThirtyEight to be about more than just him. "Grantland has become at its best in the past year and half and or so, where it's no longer seen as just Bill Simmons' site."

Silver argued that because there are so few players in his data-driven, political journalism space means that FiveThirtyEight has more room for trial and error. "We think it's a space that's undersupplied in the market so we can probably make some mistakes."

Skipper was also asked about a variety of other topics pertaining to ESPN's overall business. A few highlights:

On ESPN's vulnerability to disruption:

"Our intention is to be both the leader and to be the most nimble, relative to innovation and adopting new technology," said Skipper. "Big companies get disrupted when they are defensive or when they are concerned with protecting what they have as opposed to building new things and doing new things."

On ESPN's thinking process when they don't buy rights to a certain sports league:

"There are lots of people who want to be in sports," he said. "We have never felt that we didn't have to prioritize the things we buy."

On cord-cutting's potential impact to ESPN's business:

"We are going to look and see where there is a significant shift," he said. "We think sports live rights are the most valuable content in media."