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April 26, 2017

ESPN, Two Weeks Ago: Like It Or Not, ESPN Is Not "Sticking to Sports"

"How'd it go?," asks @omni_ceren as he retweets this bit of corporate dick-wagging.

Their "Public Editor" (or ombudsman; the NYT is the only prominent outlet tat calls the position "Public Editor," which gives you a clue into what ESPN considers its model of journ0lism) says ESPN is doubling down on Social Justice Warrioring.

NB: He is writing specifically about ESPN's website talking more about politics -- and while that's what he's specifically addressing, everyone knows that the ESPN's main product, its repetitive and meatheaded television channel of regurgitated clips and pre-chewed sports "wisdom" -- is just as guilty.

"Hey, ESPN: Stick to sports."

I've read thousands of social media posts and reader emails about ESPN over the past 15 months. If there's one phrase that tends to surface most frequently, it's that chestnut suggesting the network’s only proper place is in the athletics lane.

Yes, when it comes to ESPN -- the self-proclaimed "Worldwide Leader in Sports" -- the concern of many fans is that it's no longer focused enough on sports. Some complain too much focus has been placed on culture and politics, with the most fire directed at FiveThirtyEight, The Undefeated, the new SC6 show and even one of the network's graybeards, Outside the Lines, the title of which describes exactly the coverage some would like to see less of.

As I wrote in November, the desire to draw a boundary between sports, culture and politics is a fool's errand. Sports has always intersected with culture and politics...

ESPN, in fact, just removed any question about the sports-politics-culture intersection when it released new political guidelines that loosen the restraints on commentary about politics and culture, though stressing that such discussion should connect to sports whenever possible.

Whatever one thinks of the revised guidelines, one thing appears beyond dispute: The volume of non-sports content within ESPN's empire has increased significantly in recent years....

The existence of these sites might seem odd to those who pine for the days of ESPN being all sports all the time. But media is growing more disaggregated by the day, leading more and more cable subscribers to cut the cord, a trend that has significantly affected ESPN's once-impenetrable broadcast business....

ESPN President John Skipper has endorsed these efforts....


One thing is clear: Those of you who have not held your tongue about ESPN's move away from an all-sports-all-the-time mantra also should not hold your breath waiting for a change.

ESPN has made it clear: It's not sticking to sports.

I bolded that one part because it jibes with a comment offered by TheJamesMadison, who said ESPN was already beginning to fail as a business model even before the all-SJW-all-the-time format, and that this emphasis on SJW leftwingery is not the cause of the problem so much as it is ESPN's effort to fix the problem.

He didn't explain, but here's my guess as to his thinking:

In the old says, a big hit show was one that garnered a 30% market share. 30% of all TVs in America in use would be turned to MASH or All in the Family.

In an age of increasing market fragmentation, no one even thinks about a 30% market share. Now a tv show is a hit if it has something like a 6% or 8% market share.

Now add into that the increasing partisanship of the country: Bush proved -- through most of his term -- that you didn't need all of the country to support you if 40% of the country strongly supported you, and 10% were indifferent. (At the end of his term, when the financial crisis hit, he also proved you definitely needed more than 29% support.)

Obama took that lesson and ran with it. Obama was the most divisive and partisan president in several lifetimes -- Nixonian in his scheming, Carteresque in competency -- and spent the bulk of his presidency in the 44-46% approval range.

But the bulk of that approval was strong approval from intense partisans, who saw them as their avatar in the unending Culture Wars, and quite possibly an actual Messiah or Buddha sent down by Heaven to redeem that part of humanity that lived in the better zip codes of at least a dozen coastal US cities.

In an age where more people are tuning out ESPN's main product, they may have decided they don't need viewers so much as they need emotionally-invested political supporters

FoxNews is the biggest cable news channel -- but most of the country doesn't watch it, or outright hates it. But that doesn't matter -- you don't need all of the people, you just need a lot of the people to be strong supporters who will tune in just out of a sense of loyalty.

ESPN may have looked into its future, a future filled with bloated, paid-way-too-much-for-way-too-little loss leader costs for broadcast rights to sports, at the same time its subscriber base was falling every single year (and usually -- every single month), and may have decided that at some point they will have to jack up the mandatory cable subscription rates through the roof to cover costs, and to get the cable channels to agree to that, they're gonna need a lot of intensely-loyal Obama-style partisans telling cable companies "Yes, by all means, agree on $15/month for the right to carry ESPN."

We may be in the age where our commercial television entertainments must be turned into Cultural/Political/Quasi-Religious Crusades in order to hold on to a small number of nigh-religiously-devoted zealots to have any kind of market viability at all.

Given that, ESPN may have decided that it would gladly alienate all the conservative men its audience -- a larger chunk of its audience, or at least a larger chunk of its previous audience -- in order to secure the passionate partisan followership of a smaller but louder audience that will bully cable companies into mandating that anyone who wants cable has to pay $15 per month to ESPN, or else they'll cry "Racism!"

ESPN's positioning of itself as Black Lives Matter/Social Justice Warrior central may be some clever maneuvering to play the Racism! card when they start seeking higher rents from more unwilling citizens.

This may be ESPN's cynical effort at creating a devoted followership that will permit it to achieve the dream of every socialist enterprise -- simple rent-seeking, compelling unwilling citizens to pay a tax to subsidize you in your dream-quests to reshape humanity.

And you know what?

It just might work.

Unless a nearly equally furious revolt develops that demands that they be allowed to choose which services and which speech they wish to subsidize with their money.

The left and right have always been engaged in an asymmetrical type of warfare -- the left is always demanding the right subsidize it, and the right does not make any equal demand that the left subsidize it. At most, we simply object to being made to subsdize the left, which is not an equal-and-opposite reaction. When the left demands they take a dollar from you and put it into their own pockets, that's a net gain for the left.

The right tends to merely argue against such schemes -- at best, we'll come out net zero in the battle. At best, the left comes out +$1 and you come out -$1; but at best, the right comes out at +$0 to either party.

And we don't even come out of things at that net zero level, because we're just not vigorous enough in defending our own interests. We don't even think about taking money from the left to put into our own pet projects, and we barely even fuss ourselves about the left's effort to take our money to fund theirs.

They demand they take a dollar from us to devote to a leftwing cause; we compromise, and give them fifty cents.

Every time.

We need to make the right more aware of this dynamic and more insistent -- much more insistent, including mass boycotts -- that we have had it up to our necks with it and simply will not give a single slim dime more.

And then maybe we can start making our own demands of wealth-transfers from the left into our own pockets and see how they like walking in those shoes for a long frog-march through the institutions.

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posted by Ace at 03:07 PM

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