Rather shocking to see news of all the laid-off ESPNers coming out today-has sort of a 'newspapers in 2009' tipping-point feel for cable TV.
— Mark Coddington (@markcoddington) April 26, 2017
Today, ESPN laid off ~100 people, most of those being on-air talent and/or writers. Other than the extremely wealthy and/or a wealthy member of the Trump administration, I don’t wish losing a job on anyone.
For me, it was a hard day. For better or worse, ESPN is a huge part of my life; it has been for as long as it’s been around. I genuinely feel like people like Jayson Stark and Ed Werder have been in my living room talking about baseball and football respecively for a long time. They wouldn’t know me if I fell on them, but they have been a real presence in my life. More recently, people like Jaymee Sire have been a regular part of my media diet. Many of the people who were laid off today have added tremendous value to my life over the years.
Lots of ink and pixels are being used to explain why this happened, but it’s not that complicated. The media landscape is changing dramatically and ESPN is not immune. They spent ungodly amounts of money for broadcasting rights and bet the farm on rights fees. The latter are disappearing as more and more people cut the cord on cable TV and rely on other media for their content. ESPN, as massive a media empire as they are, wasn’t able to foresee this, and now they’re having to adjust. I think Deadspin is spot on in their assessment:
The memo released this morning by ESPN president John Skipper is instructive. It was hollow and buzzword-laden in the precise way that is meant to speak to Disney investors who want to be assured that ESPN is still capable of “navigating changes in technology and fan behavior in order to continue to deliver quality, breakthrough content.” That’s what today appears to have been really about—assuring Disney stakeholders that ESPN is taking things very seriously and is prepared to keep itself lean and competitive. Don’t think too much about how we’re going to continue to pay rights fees with sustained subscriber loss! We’re making cuts! We have a handle on things!
And that’s where Mark Coddington’s tweet comes in. It’s hard not to see what happened today at ESPN as a huge indicator of a sea change for media.
For me, it’s hard not to extend this to other parts of our economy and our society. If you read as much as I read about automation and what that means for jobs and the economy, it’s hard not to get a real feeling of doom.
But, at least we have a president who is a “populist” who cares deeply about the American worker, even at his own personal financial expense, #amirite?