HOW ESPN HAS WEATHERED THE STORM

NO MILLENNIALS WATCH! ESPN MAY CUT CORD ON BASEBALL!

By Jack Ryan

ESPN has tough choices to make.

Is giving up baseball one of them?

According to Barron’s, BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield wonders whether ESPN is “trying to understand the impact of giving up rights to MLB to help it maintain NFL programming.” (Disney-owned ESPN will see both its Major League Baseball and National Football League contracts contracts expire in 2021.)

New data suggest baseball is less watched by younger viewers.

The survey asked respondents whether they preferred watching games on national or regional networks, and whether they remembered seeing a specific ESPN baseball ad.

Greenfield questions whether viewers “know or even care what network sports air on” as TV platforms make it easier to search for programming via voice commands. This is “particularly relevant for baseball with games on so many different networks,” he notes.

Major League Baseball markets its own Internet streaming package called MLB.tv, which offers every game in a quality that rivals or surpasses cable quality. In deference to local TV contracts, MLB.tv blocks viewers from watching their hometown teams.

Expect sports content to get ever more expensive, as tech companies get more serious about streaming content and compete for sports rights. Amazon.com, Facebook, and Twitter already stream live sports, and even Apple could enter the conversation.

The survey raises another concern for Greenfield: “The fact that ESPN has to ask how much ESPN you watch and your [demographics] shows how little it knows about viewers,” he wrote. To him, this suggests that Disney should acquire a company with “direct-to-consumer relationships via mobile devices,” such as Twitter or Spotify.

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