Skip to comments.ESPN To Cut Back Baseball/Hockey (More Original Programming,Less Sports)
Posted on 06/22/2005 9:55:22 AM PDT by My Favorite Headache
ESPN gets less sports-centered Cabler to broaden its field with more series, telepix
By JOHN DEMPSEY
Less hockey and baseball. More original movies and series. That's one big equation on the mind of Mark Shapiro, executive VP of programming and production for ESPN, who's gung ho about broadening the audience for ESPN by reaching beyond the stereotypical potbellied sports nut, stretched out in his undershirt on a Barcalounger with a can of beer in one hand and a remote in the other.
ESPN and ESPN2 aimed the National Hockey League games it carried from 1999 through 2004 squarely at this viewer, but Shapiro says the NHL's ratings had fallen to such a depressed state by the 2003-04 season (a labor dispute obliterated the 2004-05 schedule) that he won't pay cash license fees anymore.
And Shapiro is negotiating a new contract with Major League Baseball but says, "I'm not interested in carrying five games a week unless I get full network exclusivity," a concession baseball seems unwilling to grant except for the traditional ESPN game of the week on Sunday night.
And that's where scripted programming comes in. Shapiro says one of the reasons ESPN's scripted series about Las Vegas poker players "Tilt" failed to find an audience earlier this year is that the only free night not saturated with live sports commitments was Thursday, where, at 9 p.m., the show had to go up against such strong series as "CSI" on CBS, "Will & Grace" on NBC and "Extreme Makeover" on ABC. Against those odds, "Tilt" never really had a chance.
By contrast, ESPN's other scripted series "Playmakers," a warts-and-all look at the members of a fictional pro-football team, fared much better with audiences in 2003's late summer and fall because the network was able to carve out a weekly primetime slot on Tuesday, where the competition was not so fierce.
Despite solid ratings, "Playmakers" got a reluctant cancellation notice after its first 13-episode season, falling victim to the hostility of the National Football League, most of whose owners hated the portrayal of some athletes as drug users, wife beaters and other unsavory types.
The mistakes ESPN made in shepherding "Playmakers" and "Tilt" onto the schedule have only reinforced Shapiro's goal of coming up with one or two hit series in the next few years and with at least four highly exploitable original movies a year, starting in 2006.
The man who created "Playmakers," John Eisendrath, is working on an untitled drama pilot set in the world of boxing, which is slated as ESPN's next series.
Shapiro says he has 30 movie projects in the works, with two in production: "Four Minutes," a docudrama about Roger Bannister, the first athlete to run the four-minute mile, and "The Code Breakers," a script based on the 1951 West Point scandal in which the school expelled 83 Army cadets, including most of the football team, for cheating.
Sports-media consultant Kevin O'Malley applauds Shapiro's push to get ESPN into scripted movies and series.
"These shows are already getting more women and younger men to watch the network," O'Malley says.
Getting different kinds of people to watch ESPN, says Neal Pilson, a sports consultant and former president of CBS Sports, will help to pump up the network's advertising revenues.
Kagan Research says ESPN already harvests more ad revenues than any other cable network, projecting a record $869.2 million in 2005, a 9% gain over those of last year.
ESPN should look at the example of MTV, says David Carter, a principal with the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group.
"MTV became an integral part of the pop culture," he says, "by morphing from a musicvideo network to a channel carrying a wide range of programming."
However, Mike Trager, former head of Clear Channel Entertainment, says ESPN "has to walk a fine line between reaching out for new viewers and alienating its core audience."
Or, as another sports analyst puts it: "Women may watch an episode of one of the series, but that doesn't mean they're going to abandon Lifetime to become devotees of the NFL and the NBA on ESPN."
Give me 1982 ESPN any day of the week over the crap they push now.
The new ESPN - 1 hour of sports news, 3 hours of sports, and 20 hours of "reality" television programming.
I wish they would just close down so I don't have to pay 5 bucks a month for a station that I don't watch.
More bad sports movies.
But we ARE their audience. You're right, they're going to MTV this thing until the "entertainment" and "sports" are nowhere to be found.
"Kagan Research says ESPN already harvests more ad revenues than any other cable network, projecting a record $869.2 million in 2005, a 9% gain over those of last year."
Doing what they're doing now.So, lets mess it up.
Sigh. MTV model is right. They aren't going to improve their ratings; they're going to push away loyal viewers in exchange for fickle ones. I want to watch a ballgame on ESPN, not a soap opera about the players' wives. I cannot understand specialty cable networks abandoning their raison d'etre.
I think more bio pics would work, but please leave the original series and movies behind. I'd rather watch 24 hours of Stump The Schwab than a series about poker players.
Maybe Tilt didn't find an audience because it sucked. Watched half an episode and was bored to death.
I can see his point though, with labor disputes in NHL NBA and MLB, sinking ratings in the NHL, lack of exclusivity with MLB, and the NFL keeping a lot of stuff for their own network, ESPN is now big enough to want revenue that's safe from the leagues.
They can do with ESPN what they did with MTV ... cut out sports, like they cut out music ... but, when the start messing with CSPAN's formula, well, let's just say a man can only take so much!
I ping VERY begrudgingly.
I cancelled my satellite service, as all the sat/cable channels are getting just as bad as broadcast TV. What's the point?
What's next, The Movie Channel, stop showing movies?
Politically, this will mean a further shift to the left on ESPN.
The bio-pics should be left on ESPN Classic imo with a showing once maybe twice on the major network or ESPN 2. ESPN ruled in the 80s.
About $3 of your cable bill goes to CNN and will continue to do so until 2008, IIRC.
So, by putting the crap on the "flagship", they force cable (and satellite) to take that station as well as the ones people really want. Just like MTV. Gotta go a la carte. I don't think any cable or satellite company should negotiate fees with any commercial station.
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