WSJ: How ESPN got torn apart by politics

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This feature-length article came out last thursday and is worth reading, they have a lot of stories and anecdotes, both on-the-record and off, that probably haven't surfaced before. Skipper berating both Jemele Hill and Linda Cohn, Bob Ley complaining about balanced viewpoints, and lots of data on ESPN's long-term financial trajectory.

Edit: some snippets:

John Skipper was furious.

One of his star anchors, Jemele Hill, had sent a tweet calling President Donald Trump a “white supremacist.” Mr. Trump’s supporters called for her to be fired. Prominent black athletes defended the anchor, who is African-American.

Sitting in his office last September, Mr. Skipper, then ESPN’s president, lit into Ms. Hill, according to people familiar with the meeting. If I punish you, he told her, I’d open us up to protests and come off as racist. If I do nothing, that will fuel a narrative among conservatives—and a faction within ESPN—that the network had become too liberal.

Mr. Skipper chose to spare Ms. Hill. Mr. Trump weighed in on Twitter : “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers.”

The president’s tweet was hyperbolic, but it tapped into real anxiety at ESPN. What was the way forward for a company shaken to its foundations by the cord-cutting revolution?

Linda Cohn, one of ESPN’s most prominent female anchors, in April 2017 gave a radio interview opining that ESPN’s politics were pushing away viewers and the network had overpaid for NBA rights. Mr. Skipper called to berate her on both counts, people familiar with the call said.

Why ESPN found itself torn up by the nation’s partisan politics traces back to its fundamental business challenge. Its status as cable TV’s most expensive channel had become a liability. As consumers grew fed up with their monthly cable prices, big cable distributors began offering discounted packages that didn’t include the network. Many consumers opted for those offers, while others cut the cord entirely, leading ESPN to shed 16 million subscribers over seven years.

At the same time, costs have ballooned, especially for vital live sports rights. Average annual payments tied to ESPN’s four biggest, long-term rights deals have more than doubled since 2013 to $4.7 billion. After years of growth, ESPN’s profit declined in the fiscal year that ended in September 2017, people familiar with its finances said. Declines have continued for the two ensuing quarters. ESPN has laid off some 600 employees over the past several years, including well-known hosts, though it has hired in areas such as technology and data.

(...)
Turmoil in the sports powerhouse’s business traces back to a spring day in 2014. Disney had invited about 100 analysts and investors to ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Conn., to hobnob with talent including tennis legend John McEnroe and show off ESPN’s new, $150-million-plus production facility.

In an unusual move, Disney gave long-term financial guidance for its cable networks division, largely powered by ESPN. It was rosy. ESPN’s research department presented data arguing cord-cutting was unlikely to become widespread, according to attendees.

“They were flat-earthers,” said one former ESPN executive.

At the same time, ESPN was spending aggressively. The company agreed to triple the fees it would pay the NBA, which it believes is growing in popularity. On the talent side, Mr. Skipper closely managed negotiations, desiring to beat back rivals like Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports. Agents, former ESPN executives and hosts said that led him to overpay for several on-air personalities.

By 2015, it became clear the research staff was off base, as ESPN’s subscriber losses accelerated beyond internal projections. That August, Mr. Iger lowered the company’s earlier financial guidance, causing a stock selloff that lopped more than $20 billion off Disney’s market value that week.

(...)
Some current and former employees said bloated contracts for talent weighed the company down and led to layoffs. ESPN is still paying many hosts, including former NFL reporter Ed Werder, who were on multiyear contracts when they were laid off more than a year ago.

Lots more if you check out Domer's link below, which should get around the paywall.
 
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Van Everyman

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I don’t know, the “stick to sports” angle seemed a little forced and shoehorned in to a narrative that is simply about changing tastes and demographics, which has been known for a while. Sure, the ESPY stuff is a bit gratuitous. But how is ESPN supposed to cover the NFL without talking about the anthem stuff? Or Ray Rice before it? And, the idea that viewers (much less the young and casual viewers Pitaro is targeting) are looking to ESPN for analysis and insight is ridiculous.

Bottom line: ESPN isn’t suffering because of Donald Trump’s tweets or John Skipper’s limousine liberal tastes – it’s suffering because people have alternatives to sports highlight shows on bloated cable packages and because live sports viewership is, at best, flat while the cost of broadcast rights is soaring. Politics really is the least of their problems.
 

Soxfan in Fla

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I don’t know, the “stick to sports” angle seemed a little forced and shoehorned in to a narrative that is simply about changing tastes and demographics, which has been known for a while. Sure, the ESPY stuff is a bit gratuitous. But how is ESPN supposed to cover the NFL without talking about the anthem stuff? Or Ray Rice before it? And, the idea that viewers (much less the young and casual viewers Pitaro is targeting) are looking to ESPN for analysis and insight is ridiculous.

Bottom line: ESPN isn’t suffering because of Donald Trump’s tweets or John Skipper’s limousine liberal tastes – it’s suffering because people have alternatives to sports highlight shows on bloated cable packages and because live sports viewership is, at best, flat while the cost of broadcast rights is soaring. Politics really is the least of their problems.
ESPN is suffering because they have focused too much on crap like First Take. That style has infiltrated SC far too much. I want to see highlights and analysis, not the hot take opinions of morons like Screaming A, Skip Bayless, etc.
 

Van Everyman

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The other piece I would add: Sportscenter used to be must-see TV. When I was in college, the talent they had in SC was incredible -- and the show was creative, fun and entertaining as hell. You never got the sense that what you were watching was anything more than sports. Now, they pretty much only have SVP, who I always loved but more as an ensemble guy -- I'm not sure he's quite unique enough to hang your brand on. I'm also not sure you could recreate a world that had Olberman/SVP/Patrick/Scott/etc. today -- and if it would be successful even if you could.
 

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The other piece I would add: Sportscenter used to be must-see TV. When I was in college, the talent they had in SC was incredible -- and the show was creative, fun and entertaining as hell. You never got the sense that what you were watching was anything more than sports. Now, they pretty much only have SVP, who I always loved but more as an ensemble guy -- I'm not sure he's quite unique enough to hang your brand on. I'm also not sure you could recreate a world that had Olberman/SVP/Patrick/Scott/etc. today -- and if it would be successful even if you could.
It wasn't the talent, it was the internet. In the 80s and 90s, you could never see highlights of out of town teams on a daily basis. Sportscenter changed that and it was awesome and revolutionary.

Now, you can see anything you want almost anywhere on the internet, making Sportscenter definitely NOT must see TV.
 

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ESPN is suffering because they have focused too much on crap like First Take. That style has infiltrated SC far too much. I want to see highlights and analysis, not the hot take opinions of morons like Screaming A, Skip Bayless, etc.
The Internet is better at highlights and First Take is analysis, just a form of analysis you do not like.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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The other piece I would add: Sportscenter used to be must-see TV. When I was in college, the talent they had in SC was incredible -- and the show was creative, fun and entertaining as hell. You never got the sense that what you were watching was anything more than sports. Now, they pretty much only have SVP, who I always loved but more as an ensemble guy -- I'm not sure he's quite unique enough to hang your brand on. I'm also not sure you could recreate a world that had Olberman/SVP/Patrick/Scott/etc. today -- and if it would be successful even if you could.
Sportscenter was must see because it was new and original and there was nothing like it. Being able to see more than 30 seconds of games around the country was revolutionary. And a lot of the hijinks that went on was to fill that sixty minutes of time.

Now, however, people can get better analysis and highlights from the internet.

ESPN's problem is that it was great in a world before sports were 24/7 and hasn't adapted to the new world.
 

Van Everyman

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As I said, I'm not sure SC could be successful in today's market matter how good the talent is.

But don't underestimate how fucking entertaining SC was back then. Yes, it had access to content no one else did. But it was also a ridiculously creative enterprise that turned sports clips from games none of us saw played by teams none of us cared about into a goddamned art form.
 

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It wasn't the talent, it was the internet. In the 80s and 90s, you could never see highlights of out of town teams on a daily basis. Sportscenter changed that and it was awesome and revolutionary.

Now, you can see anything you want almost anywhere on the internet, making Sportscenter definitely NOT must see TV.
Yeah, at this point, ESPN needs sports content. If you turn on ESPN after noon, it needs to be the place you go to watch sports, not dudes sitting at a desk. Don't spend $25 million on a dumbass morning show. Don't outbid for "personalities". Don't spend insane amounts on gaudy sets. Just get sports. The recent deal with UFC is a good step in that direction, but it's like a decade late. It has the kind of content you can put at any time, such as Ultimate Fighter or their 24/7-like show setting up events.
 

joe dokes

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The Internet is better at highlights and First Take is analysis, just a form of analysis you do not like.
I'm not sure it fits *any* definition of analysis. But the "do not like" part is accurate.

As for the article, I think the WSJ would *like* it to be about politics, but this is little more than suggesting that the demise of the Concord Coach company was driven by New Hampshire's opposition to The Harrison Act in 1914* and ignoring the rise of the automobile. Given the technological changes in how people "watch television," ESPN (and everyone else) was bound to take a hit.

*(making cocaine illegal; I have no idea if NH actually opposed it)
 

steveluck7

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As mentioned, epsn was great when it was the only game in town. Now, even putting aside the internet, RSNs are so prevalent that if people want in depth analysis of their local teams, they're going to watch NESN, YES, MASN, MSG, or NBC sports XYZ City, etc.
They're also star-centric. They spend far too much time analyzing and covering the "stars" that they don't have time to et through a good set of highlights from around the leagues.
 

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As I said, I'm not sure SC could be successful in today's market matter how good the talent is.

But don't underestimate how fucking entertaining SC was back then. Yes, it had access to content no one else did. But it was also a ridiculously creative enterprise that turned sports clips from games none of us saw played by teams none of us cared about into a goddamned art form.
Plus, anyone who wants to curate their own morning show doesn't have to forgo ESPN content.

I've seen millenials develop a rhythm of, for example: watch the compressed Celtics game if they missed it or highlights if they saw it, maybe highlights of a specific player (these are already available on youtube by next morning), then watch unedited portions of the players they want to see in postgame conference, then cruise a couple of famous people and shows for the current "takes" but only the segments you want to see.

That could be done entirely with ESPN content, but without watching any of the channel. Indeed, it's more efficient than watching the channel and, interestingly given the critiques of attention span, has more long form and focused contents just not commercials.

An ESPN show can't compete against a curated show that features its own content.

I'm not sure it fits *any* definition of analysis. But the "do not like" part is accurate.

As for the article, I think the WSJ would *like* it to be about politics, but this is little more than suggesting that the demise of the Concord Coach company was driven by New Hampshire's opposition to The Harrison Act in 1914* and ignoring the rise of the automobile. Given the technological changes in how people "watch television," ESPN (and everyone else) was bound to take a hit.

*(making cocaine illegal; I have no idea if NH actually opposed it)
I think it's no accident that the new guy Disney has brought in has the mission of developing streaming.
 

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ESPN is suffering because they have focused too much on crap like First Take. That style has infiltrated SC far too much. I want to see highlights and analysis, not the hot take opinions of morons like Screaming A, Skip Bayless, etc.
The problem is that the specialized networks ((or various on demand internet options)for each sport can do it better thanESPN. I cannot begrudge their turn towards water cooler hot tales because thats seems to me as their more viable strategy even though i am persknally nir ceazy about it either.

I also do know i am watching moe nba tv and i am bot sure its espns fault.
 

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It's been said before, but when was the last time you watched ESPN for highlights? Maybe if you're in a hotel and your Wi-Fi sucks or if you need to have something on in the background while you get dressed. Maybe at the gym? But here's the thing, I don't think that ESPN thinks that SC should be about highlights.

During the winter I go to the gym to run in the morning and SportsCenter is on, and there are barely any highlights. I should amend that, because there are highlights from a big game and then 15 minutes of discussion of said game. ESPN isn't in the highlight business any more but that's because most other outlets learned from them and do it better.

What has killed ESPN isn't the politics or the hot take shows but that for a long time they were the leader in sports entertainment. They've gotten lapped by a number of outlets and they did nothing to combat that. They're the Toys R Us (or Borders or whatever your favorite brick and mortar store that has been put out of business by Amazon) of cable networks now. Tomorrow, they could hire Keith Olberman and Dan Patrick to anchor the 11:00 SportsCenter and bring Craig Kilborne to host the 2:00 am SC and it won't matter any more.

Saying that politics is the reason why ESPN sucks is an interesting and sexy theory, but it's wrong. ESPN is dead because they didn't adapt. They didn't evolve*.

* TBH I'm not sure how they could evolve, BTW. Maybe everything just has a shelf life and ESPN is finding that there's is up.
 

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The problem is that the specialized networks ((or various on demand internet options)for each sport can do it better thanESPN. I cannot begrudge their turn towards water cooler hot tales because thats seems to me as their more viable strategy even though i am persknally nir ceazy about it either.

I also do know i am watching moe nba tv and i am bot sure its espns fault.
No offense, but this post needs to be burned at the stake of The Gods of Spelling.
 

Mr Mulliner

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It's been said before, but when was the last time you watched ESPN for highlights? Maybe if you're in a hotel and your Wi-Fi sucks or if you need to have something on in the background while you get dressed. Maybe at the gym? But here's the thing, I don't think that ESPN thinks that SC should be about highlights.

During the winter I go to the gym to run in the morning and SportsCenter is on, and there are barely any highlights. I should amend that, because there are highlights from a big game and then 15 minutes of discussion of said game. ESPN isn't in the highlight business any more but that's because most other outlets learned from them and do it better.

What has killed ESPN isn't the politics or the hot take shows but that for a long time they were the leader in sports entertainment. They've gotten lapped by a number of outlets and they did nothing to combat that. They're the Toys R Us (or Borders or whatever your favorite brick and mortar store that has been put out of business by Amazon) of cable networks now. Tomorrow, they could hire Keith Olberman and Dan Patrick to anchor the 11:00 SportsCenter and bring Craig Kilborne to host the 2:00 am SC and it won't matter any more.

Saying that politics is the reason why ESPN sucks is an interesting and sexy theory, but it's wrong. ESPN is dead because they didn't adapt. They didn't evolve*.

* TBH I'm not sure how they could evolve, BTW. Maybe everything just has a shelf life and ESPN is finding that there's is up.
Maybe I'm old, but I don't think that the highlights niche, as we seem to be discussing here, is actually being filled by regional networks, league networks, the internet, or anything else.

The beauty of SportsCenter in its heyday was that you could see, in 30 or 60 minutes, all the significant plays from all the games. I don't see that anywhere now, and I miss it. Local networks cover the local teams, but then spend 90% of the time trading hot takes about things that are barely tangentially related to the on-the-field stuff. League networks show highlights, but it never seems to be happening when I'm able to watch, and it just doesn't flow in a way that keeps my attention.

For example, this time of year, you could watch SportsCenter and catch up on nearly every baseball game - just a minute or two of highlights, a simplified box score, some mentions about standings...entertainingly delivered. To get that now I'd need to spend 30-60 minutes clicking every game on the MLB app on my phone or on MLB.com to see a couple 15 second highlights, interrupted by 15 seconds of ads, with nothing but in-game announcer commentary. Then I'd have to go do that for the NBA game, etc., etc..

Everyone seems to claim that the highlights are somewhere else, but, at least for me (dude in his 40s), they aren't anywhere convenient enough for me to catch them. And certainly not while I'm doing anything else.

Obviously people who know a lot more about this than me have determined that there's not a market for the old format, but I remain surprised that's the case. And kind of sad too - I don't have nearly the connection to sports, and particularly baseball (outside of the Sox) that I used to, and in large part that's because I don't get to see the home run Trout hit last night, or the 12 K's that Verlander had, or whatever else went on because I don't have the time or inclination to go dig it all up from the 40-50 places I'd need to visit to see it.
 

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I'm not sure there was anyway for ESPN to adapt once regional sports networks became the norm, never mind the internet. Most people care about their own teams first and foremost so the regional networks are far superior to ESPN for them. They also didn't do themselves any favors by regulating shows like Baseball Tonight to 15 minutes or as a part of SC. They got away from specialized shows or threw them on ESPN2 or some other ESPN channel. NBA Tonight, Baseball Tonight, NHL Tonight. Of course, the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL networks didn't help either.
 

bosox79

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It's been so long since I watched anything other than live sports on ESPN that I'm not even sure the "____ Tonight" shows even exist anymore.
 

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Maybe I'm old, but I don't think that the highlights niche, as we seem to be discussing here, is actually being filled by regional networks, league networks, the internet, or anything else.

The beauty of SportsCenter in its heyday was that you could see, in 30 or 60 minutes, all the significant plays from all the games. I don't see that anywhere now, and I miss it. Local networks cover the local teams, but then spend 90% of the time trading hot takes about things that are barely tangentially related to the on-the-field stuff. League networks show highlights, but it never seems to be happening when I'm able to watch, and it just doesn't flow in a way that keeps my attention.

For example, this time of year, you could watch SportsCenter and catch up on nearly every baseball game - just a minute or two of highlights, a simplified box score, some mentions about standings...entertainingly delivered. To get that now I'd need to spend 30-60 minutes clicking every game on the MLB app on my phone or on MLB.com to see a couple 15 second highlights, interrupted by 15 seconds of ads, with nothing but in-game announcer commentary. Then I'd have to go do that for the NBA game, etc., etc..
I agree completely with this.

I would love it if there was some way to easily just fire up a 20-30 minute video with a 1-2 minute recap of each MLB game, which would be similar to the old sportscenter style.

It's really tough to keep up with all the other teams outside the Sox at this point without having to exert some effort clicking around looking for things (which I don't really have time for generally).
 

Reverend

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Maybe I'm old, but I don't think that the highlights niche, as we seem to be discussing here, is actually being filled by regional networks, league networks, the internet, or anything else.

The beauty of SportsCenter in its heyday was that you could see, in 30 or 60 minutes, all the significant plays from all the games. I don't see that anywhere now, and I miss it. Local networks cover the local teams, but then spend 90% of the time trading hot takes about things that are barely tangentially related to the on-the-field stuff. League networks show highlights, but it never seems to be happening when I'm able to watch, and it just doesn't flow in a way that keeps my attention.

For example, this time of year, you could watch SportsCenter and catch up on nearly every baseball game - just a minute or two of highlights, a simplified box score, some mentions about standings...entertainingly delivered. To get that now I'd need to spend 30-60 minutes clicking every game on the MLB app on my phone or on MLB.com to see a couple 15 second highlights, interrupted by 15 seconds of ads, with nothing but in-game announcer commentary. Then I'd have to go do that for the NBA game, etc., etc..

Everyone seems to claim that the highlights are somewhere else, but, at least for me (dude in his 40s), they aren't anywhere convenient enough for me to catch them. And certainly not while I'm doing anything else.

Obviously people who know a lot more about this than me have determined that there's not a market for the old format, but I remain surprised that's the case. And kind of sad too - I don't have nearly the connection to sports, and particularly baseball (outside of the Sox) that I used to, and in large part that's because I don't get to see the home run Trout hit last night, or the 12 K's that Verlander had, or whatever else went on because I don't have the time or inclination to go dig it all up from the 40-50 places I'd need to visit to see it.
First of all: You're old. But you may not be wrong.

I think the problem is the ESPN types got whipsawed by a radical change in their target demographics in terms of how they consumed media. Like, the stuff you describe as onerous, a millenial just boots up five videos he knows how to find in advance and has exactly the experience you're looking for, i.e. a stream of steady content they want. But they just know how to load it up in a way that you--and I--do not.

I think ESPN suffered from the model of pursuing "the median viewer" that has dominated these fields. Like, find the content that will appeal most broadly and scoop up as much as you can. The tech has created a bifurcation (at least) in the market where, really, the people should be treated as two different markets. Like, completely different.

Put out content for people who consume it this way, and put the content out another way for people who consume it that way. Red fish, blue fish.


I'm not sure there was anyway for ESPN to adapt once regional sports networks became the norm, never mind the internet. Most people care about their own teams first and foremost so the regional networks are far superior to ESPN for them. They also didn't do themselves any favors by regulating shows like Baseball Tonight to 15 minutes or as a part of SC. They got away from specialized shows or threw them on ESPN2 or some other ESPN channel. NBA Tonight, Baseball Tonight, NHL Tonight. Of course, the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL networks didn't help either.
ESPN was actually ahead of the curve in terms of the regional coverage angle and had their own kind of "Beta project" with it for the regional specific sites for big markets. But they didn't change HOW they covered things along with the same trends that were leading to the shifts, I think.
 

axx

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It's totally cord cutting and nothing else. I'm sure every cable network is feeling it, even the regional sports networks. At the same time though, I could see ESPN (and really sports in general) being the last thing keeping people from cutting the cord. If you don't care for ESPN for whatever reason, why spend $200 a month on something you won't use?

Even if they offered the ESPN networks (as it is) streaming for lets say $9/month I am not sure people would jump on that.
 

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It feels like a lot of people need to check out ESPNNews. Most of every single day, they show a 20-30 minute loop of top highlights and condensed versions of the biggest SC stories.
 

Devizier

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It's totally cord cutting and nothing else. I'm sure every cable network is feeling it, even the regional sports networks. At the same time though, I could see ESPN (and really sports in general) being the last thing keeping people from cutting the cord. If you don't care for ESPN for whatever reason, why spend $200 a month on something you won't use?
200/month? Holy shit. I spend 50/month of Internet only.
 

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I agree completely with this.

I would love it if there was some way to easily just fire up a 20-30 minute video with a 1-2 minute recap of each MLB game, which would be similar to the old sportscenter style.

It's really tough to keep up with all the other teams outside the Sox at this point without having to exert some effort clicking around looking for things (which I don't really have time for generally).

Wasn't there a show on the NBC Sports network channel (or whatever it's called nowadays) that did exactly this. I seem to remember a 30 minute show that aired from 6 to 9 am consisting simply of highlights and voice over narration. The narrator was never seen on screen. I actually liked the show and was sorry to see it go.
 

mcpickl

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Maybe I'm old, but I don't think that the highlights niche, as we seem to be discussing here, is actually being filled by regional networks, league networks, the internet, or anything else.
It's Twitter. Anything remotely interesting that happens in any game can be seen on Twitter within a minute of it happening.
 

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It's Twitter. Anything remotely interesting that happens in any game can be seen on Twitter within a minute of it happening.
I find it easier to scan playoff game threads here for the tweets of great replays even than to find them myself.

People who are good at social media (far better than I) have things (e.g. apps, sites to check, bookmarks, etc.) arranged such that the replays they want come to them. But that means they are only consuming a fraction of the content produced that they want--news programs traditionally have tended to operate on the general and making everyone watch everything to get the part that each wants.
 

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I agree completely with this.

I would love it if there was some way to easily just fire up a 20-30 minute video with a 1-2 minute recap of each MLB game, which would be similar to the old sportscenter style.

It's really tough to keep up with all the other teams outside the Sox at this point without having to exert some effort clicking around looking for things (which I don't really have time for generally).

Wasn't there a show on the NBC Sports network channel (or whatever it's called nowadays) that did exactly this. I seem to remember a 30 minute show that aired from 6 to 9 am consisting simply of highlights and voice over narration. The narrator was never seen on screen. I actually liked the show and was sorry to see it go.
MLB.tv has recaps but not all in one video, you can watch them on Youtube. I watch them sometimes in the morning, directly through google, just google "MLB scores" in the morning and each score has a recap video clickable right next to each score.

Also ESPN has a bunch of different SportCenters on multiple formats. in the ESPN app and on ESPN+, and on Twitter and Snapchat. 3 minute, 20 minute, and the regular one.
https://finance.yahoo.com/news/behind-scenes-sportscenters-new-era-espn-115104874.html
 

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Just watch Quick Pitch on MLBN. It's an hour but basically that's what it is.
This. Quick Pitch is to me what Sportscenter was 20 years ago...a continuous loop of yesterday's highlights. Doesn't matter if you jump in 20 minutes into the show, if you watch for an hour, you see everything just like the old days.

Can't remember the last time that could be said of Sportscenter. I haven't watched it in a very very long time, but I recall the last time I did, I had it on for a good two hours and they flat out ignored some of the games from the previous day. Like instead of showing 30 seconds of Brewers-Rockies or Mariners-A's highlights, they spent the time yelling about some Lebron thing or Kobe thing or NFL thing...in freaking July.
 

DrewDawg

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I just go to MLB.com, click scoreboard, and each game is there--they all have a 2 minute recap and then highlights of specific plays. It doesn't take any specific internet training to do this.
 

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I just go to MLB.com, click scoreboard, and each game is there--they all have a 2 minute recap and then highlights of specific plays. It doesn't take any specific internet training to do this.
Also, if you AppleTV and go to the MLB app, you can do the same thing.

Finding highlights is easier now than ever.
 

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Wasn't there a show on the NBC Sports network channel (or whatever it's called nowadays) that did exactly this. I seem to remember a 30 minute show that aired from 6 to 9 am consisting simply of highlights and voice over narration. The narrator was never seen on screen. I actually liked the show and was sorry to see it go.
The Lights?
 

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I don’t know, the “stick to sports” angle seemed a little forced and shoehorned in to a narrative that is simply about changing tastes and demographics, which has been known for a while. Sure, the ESPY stuff is a bit gratuitous. But how is ESPN supposed to cover the NFL without talking about the anthem stuff? Or Ray Rice before it? And, the idea that viewers (much less the young and casual viewers Pitaro is targeting) are looking to ESPN for analysis and insight is ridiculous.

Bottom line: ESPN isn’t suffering because of Donald Trump’s tweets or John Skipper’s limousine liberal tastes – it’s suffering because people have alternatives to sports highlight shows on bloated cable packages and because live sports viewership is, at best, flat while the cost of broadcast rights is soaring. Politics really is the least of their problems.
I think you're way too quick to dismiss the political angle.

Two different studies showed ESPN losing significant viewership among Republicans

http://www.deeprootanalytics.com/2017/04/27/as-espn-got-more-political-in-2016-it-lost-republican-viewers/

https://www.outkickthecoverage.com/analysis-espn-lost-republican-viewers-across-country-2016/

While I'm sure ESPN has other problems as well, the perception (right or wrong) that they are a liberal mouthpiece definitely seems to be hurting them. And as for how they're supposed to cover differently, why don't they take a look at any other major sports network? FS1, the official league networks like MLBN, NFLN, NBATV, etc. I haven't heard the same complaint about liberal bias from those networks, though I don't spend much time in Trump supporter circles so I wouldn't know
 

Joe Sixpack

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I think you're way too quick to dismiss the political angle.

Two different studies showed ESPN losing significant viewership among Republicans

http://www.deeprootanalytics.com/2017/04/27/as-espn-got-more-political-in-2016-it-lost-republican-viewers/

https://www.outkickthecoverage.com/analysis-espn-lost-republican-viewers-across-country-2016/

While I'm sure ESPN has other problems as well, the perception (right or wrong) that they are a liberal mouthpiece definitely seems to be hurting them. And as for how they're supposed to cover differently, why don't they take a look at any other major sports network? FS1, the official league networks like MLBN, NFLN, NBATV, etc. I haven't heard the same complaint about liberal bias from those networks, though I don't spend much time in Trump supporter circles so I wouldn't know
Losing viewers vs losing subscribers are different things. ESPN has lost both to some degree but that doesn't mean the relationship/causes are the same between both of them.

Maybe Republican viewers aren't watching as many ESPN shows, but they are still subscribing so they can get ESPNU (based on the first link you posted).