The fact ESPN lost subscribers in April is not necessarily a surprise.
But how many they lost was stunning.
ESPN is now seen in approximately 86 million households, a 14 percent drop from its peak subscriber base of 2011.
Considering ESPN receives the highest rate per subscriber of any cable network — roughly $8 per signup — a drop of 500,000 subscribers is a loss of $4 million in revenue for April alone.
The timing of the large drop is somewhat strange. Going back to February of last year, the network has lost approximately 1.6 million subscribers, so to lose roughly a third of those in one month must be more than just a coincidence.
And the network’s biggest programming launch in recent memory, the weekday morning news and gab program “Get Up,” made its debut in April. ESPN invested $50 million into the program between promotion, staff, set construction and salaries for on-air talent.
The result? The show’s ratings in its first month were 20 percent lower than the episodes of “SportsCenter” that aired in the same time period a year ago.
Is there a bright spot in all of this doom and gloom for ESPN? Actually, there is. While the network lost a large number of subscribers last month, some other sports networks lost even more.
ESPN: -500K households
FS1: -328K households
Golf Channel: -505K
NFLN: -842K (Comcast kicked it up a tier with the Fox TNF news)
— SportsTVRatings (@SportsTVRatings) April 30, 2018
The NFL Network took the biggest hit, losing more than 840,000 subscribers. One reason is likely the fact Comcast changed what programming tier NFLN was made available on for its customers.
Meanwhile, NBC SportsNet and Golf Channel — both owned by Comcast — saw subscriber drops larger than ESPN. And Fox Sports 1, which has tried to offer programming similar to that of ESPN and has even hired away some ESPN personalities, saw a drop of nearly 330,000 subscribers. On a percentage of households basis, that drop is larger than ESPN’s.
ESPN has cut at least one of its openly left-leaning programs, “SC:6,” the 6 p.m. Eastern program hosted by Jamelle Hill, who called President Donald Trump a white supremacist” and Michael Smith, who has been a vocal supporter of former NFL quarterback and anthem kneeler Colin Kaepernick. The network boasted this week that its ratings for the 6 p.m. hour since Hill and Smith’s departure were up 9 percent from a year ago.
But with ESPN paying nearly $1.4 billion per year for the rights to NBA games, the network devotes a lot of programming time to highlight the league’s top personalities, such as LeBron James, Steph Curry, and even San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich — all vocal critics of President Donald Trump.
So while cord cutting shows no signs of slowing down among cable and satellite customers, each lost subscriber hurts ESPN’s bottom line more than its competitors. If ESPN wants to slow the tide of its subscriber losses, more talk about sports and less about politics would almost certainly be a step in the right direction.
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