The Nielsen estimates revealed that ESPN lost 555,000 subscribers during the last month.In other words, ESPN essentially lost the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This, coming on the heels of last month, the worst month in ESPN history, where the network lost 621,000 subscribers.
In the last two months, ESPN has lost 1,176,000 subscribers, a subscriber loss nearly the size of the city of Dallas, Texas. ESPN currently has just over 88 million domestic subscribers. In 2013, a mere three years ago, ESPN had 99 million subscribers. That’s right, in the last three years, ESPN lost somewhere in the neighborhood of ten million subscribers, the rough equivalent of the combined populations of New York City and Phoenix.
Now, in fairness, ESPN has contested the subscriber estimates that Nielsen put forth, citing the omission of multiple factors, including streaming services and digital device numbers. However, if the Nielsen numbers even remotely approximate the true subscriber loss, it means ESPN has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue over the last three years alone and if the trend continues, is well on its way to collapse.
Certainly, the chord cutting phenomenon that has hit networks across cable television has a definite impact on ESPN. Though, that’s not the entire explanation for the network’s cratering subscriber base. ESPN Ombudsman Jim Brady, admitted that the network lurched way too far to the left in recent years, alienating many viewers.
There’s also evidence of that in these numbers. According to Deadline Hollywood, “Disney’s other sports channels fared better. ESPNU had 71 million subs, down 1.4%. ESPNEWS and SEC Network — not measured by Nielsen — were flat based on December data from SNL Kagan. The former had 70 million subs and the latter had 62 million.”
What do ESPNU, ESPNEWS, and the SEC Network all have in common? They are, by far, the least opinion-driven and ideological of all the ESPN channels. ESPN’s slate of uber-opinionated, radically leftist programs such as Around the Horn, First Take, Pardon the Interruption, His & Hers, and others all appear on ESPN or ESPN2, the channels which have seen the greatest decline.
ESPNU, ESPNEWS, and the SEC Network primarily feature sporting events, simulcast radio shows, or straight news reporting with very little opinion, or, at least very little political opinion. Those channels have either marginally declined or stayed flat.
Something tells me there’s a message there.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn