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ESPN addresses cable viewership decline

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With plunging stock prices, declining viewership and company-wide layoffs, these have been Not Top Ten times for ESPN.

Last week a survey revealed that 56 percent of consumers would give up ESPN if they could save $8 on their cable bill. If The Worldwide Leader in Sports were to move to an ala carte approach—as many other networks are—their offerings could cost as much as $30 per month, something 85 percent of the survey’s respondents balked at.

ESPN president John Skipper addressed some of the concerns in a lengthy interview with The Wall Street Journal:

WSJ: What has been the biggest reason for ESPN’s subscriber declines?

Mr. Skipper: People trading down to lighter cable packages. That impact hasn’t leaked into ad revenue, nor has it leaked into ratings. The people who’ve traded down have tended to not be sports fans, and have tended to be older and less affluent. We still see people coming into pay TV. It remains the widest spread household service in the country after heat and electricity.

WSJ: Would it be feasible to offer the entire ESPN network online to cord-cutters? Some analysts estimate you’d need to charge $30 a month.

Mr. Skipper: We are still engaged in the most successful business model in the history of media, and see no reason to abandon it. We’re going to be delivering our content through the traditional cable bundle, through a lighter bundle, through Dish’s Sling TV, through new over-the-top distributors, and through some content that is direct-to-consumer.

So, while it sounds as if ESPN, like so many other media outlets, is suffering from the democratization of technology, unfortunately we likely won’t be free of Chris Berman for some time.