The price of becoming political
Sports and entertainment channels that push a liberal agenda lose viewers
It was a bruising political season. My Facebook page became cluttered with my friends’ civic-oriented rants — instead of their children’s birthdays and other celebrations — online egg-trolls attacked by Twitter feed, and between writing daily columns tackling Hillary Clinton’s corruption, or defending Donald Trump’s actions, I was politically exhausted.
To decompress, late at night, after everyone was to bed, I’d flip on NBC’s Bravo — to watch the petty drama, glitz, heels, and designer duds on its “Real Housewives” series. I watch them all — whichever city was on (and they’re on all the time).
You can judge, the show is a bit trashy. But I don’t care — because never once did anyone of my housewives talk about Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton, or any of the ups and downs of the political season. They didn’t judge.
The biggest drama in Beverly Hills was when a housewife admitted to shopping at discounter TJ Maxx for her purses — and well — they were ugly.
If my husband were only so lucky.
His political detox channel was ESPN
— until its commentators started discussing more than the daily sports vine. Not only was the Seattle Seahawks on its menu, but so were Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, and presidential picks.
He tuned out this year, and he wasn’t the only one.
ESPN has lost 1.18 million subscribers in the last two months alone, according to Nielsen. In comparison, the Golf Channel added 2.26 million subscribers even though it’s the beginning of the U.S. PGA Tour season and the European and LPGA Tours had their final tournaments.
In fiscal 2016, ESPN lost 2 million viewers total, with 90 million households signing up for its programming, compared to nearly 100 million in 2013. It blames cord-cutting for the losses, but not everyone is convinced.
In November, Jim Brady, the channel’s public editor, acknowledged some of the subscriber losses could be attributed to the channel dedicating much of its programming to the presidential contest.
“Internally, there’s a feeling among many staffers — both liberal and conservative — that the company’s perceived move leftward has had a stifling effect on discourse inside the company and has affected its public-facing products,” Mr. Brady wrote on Nov. 27. “Consumers have sensed that same leftward movement, alienating some.”
Mr. Brady then went on to defend the company, saying ESPN aims to be tolerant and diverse — and that’s the reason it gave Caitlyn Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, and was the motivation behind its decision to move its ESPY Celebrity Golf Classic from Mr. Trump’s Trump National Golf Club to another course. And blah, blah, blah, blah.
None of it matters, in business, only the bottom line does. And the bottom line isn’t looking so good for ESPN.
Its parent-company Disney had a rare earnings stumble in the fourth-quarter, with its overall profit hurt by a 13 percent drop in advertising revenue from ESPN, its main cable money-maker. The channel has been a drag on Disney all year.
The NFL didn’t help. It too is hemorrhaging viewers and money after allowing its players to take a knee during the national anthem in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. According to a Rasmussen survey done in October, nearly one-third of Americans chose to boycott the NFL this year because of the political brouhaha.
Not only has ESPN and the NFL willfully entered into the political fray, so did Anheuser-Busch InBev — to the same detrimental results.
After the beer company aired an advertisement featuring comedians Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen this October that was preachy, unfunny, and political, Bud Light sales were destroyed. The ad featured the duo forming their own political party that pushed a liberal agenda. How fun. The ad was quickly axed. So what’s the lesson here?
If you’re in the entertainment business, perhaps it’s best not to offend the 44 percent of the country, which according to Gallup, is Republican or leans Republican. Or maybe just lay-off Mr. Trump’s 60 million voters with your political rants.
Just give us sports, beer — and for me — beguiling mansions and fancy hairdos, all uninterrupted by politics.
At least Bravo gets it. Comcast’s cable networks — which includes the channel — has had a 4.3 percent revenue growth this year. That excludes its Olympic coverage, which put it at a whopping 10 percent.