ESPN wants to make Sportscenter social media-friendly
▶ Sportscenter, the flagship highlights show, is retooling itself ▶ “They didn’t have a plan for this whole next generation of stuff”
When Ultimate Fighting Championship star Ronda Rousey was viciously knocked out by Holly Holm in a bout in November, the clip seemed like the perfect highlight to feature on ESPN’S Sportscenter. Yet by the time the program showed footage, many fans had already followed the fight live on Twitter and seen the clip on Reddit.
That’s a challenge for ESPN and Sportscenter, the flagship show introduced to pay-tv audiences 35 years ago. ESPN is the dominant sports outlet on TV and the Web, especially for livesports telecasts, and the single biggest profit contributor to parent Walt Disney. But competition from social media and other channels is eating into its audience for news and highlights, Sportscenter’s bread and butter.
“ESPN is so valuable because they have the most valuable live- sports
content,” says Liam Boluk, a media strategist at Jason Hirschhorn’s Redef, a media industry newsletter. “But the rest of their programming is under the same pressures as the rest of the industry.” So the network is revamping Sportscenter for mobile viewing and online sharing, as well as rolling out new editions.
In February, ESPN will present a 7 a.m. EST edition of Sportscenter to try to encourage viewers to watch on mobile devices on their way out the door, says Rob King, ESPN’S senior vice president for news. “Our producers have spent a lot of time working with our talent to really think about which audience we’re seeing through the course of the day,” he says. The show is still relevant, he says, and fans want to watch—“it’s a matter of where they are and how they consume it.”
In September, Scott Van Pelt, a longtime ESPN anchor, began hosting a new midnight edition of Sportscenter to try to compete with late night talkshow hosts such as Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. The show is experimenting with new segments, including one for bettors. A recent ad urging fans to “end your day on a highlight” shows a college student watching Sportscenter on a tablet from a fraternity house rooftop.
In a recent note to clients, Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG Research, wrote that it’s hard to fathom fans tuning in to Sportscenter to watch highlights when scores and footage are readily available online throughout the day. The sports leagues themselves increasingly have eaten into