At its upfront, ESPN president John Skipper addressed the sports giant's issues with falling cable subscribers, which have led to lower profit growth and recent layoffs.
Sports is about optimism, but “the current environment forces us to be realists as well as optimists,” Skipper told media buyers. “So let me be upfront at this upfront. ESPN is responding to change, and we are making changes from the most dramatic position of strength.”
Skipper told advertisers they could put their trust in ESPN at a time when digital advertising is coming under question and faith in ESPN’s invulnerability is being undermined by changes in the television business environment.
ESPN’s parent, the Walt Disney Co., earlier this month said that the drop in ESPN’s subscriber count accelerated during the calendar first quarter. The network also laid off about 100 people, many of them either on-air personalities or writers on ESPN websites.
During the upfront, ESPN brought out dozens of its on-air anchors and commentators to show it was still a force to be reckoned with.
Skipper called ESPN indispensable for both fans and for distributors, noting that ESPN is in all of the new digital bundles, including Sling, Sony PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now, Hulu and YouTube TV.
And he noted that ESPN is accessed not just on TV but in huge numbers online and via mobile devices.
“Where ever our fans access ESPN, they expect the highest quality of content, including an unmatched commitment to journalism,” Skpper said.
“ESPN is the primary source for sports fans for news and information. And SportsCenter is central to that. Fans understand the distinction between just getting the score, just seeing a highlight, and getting it on ESPN with personality and authority.”
ESPN has been revamping its SportsCenter franchise, creating more distinctive hours tailored to stronger personalities.
“ESPN everywhere is good for fans and for your brands. In the end, high-end quality content matters. Brand matters. And of course, live matters. And that, my friends, is the upfront truth,” he concluded.