When ESPN didn’t crumble

Oh, dear ESPN. I’ve been picking on you for nearly a decade. It’s not because you’re useless. It’s because you cost so much. At various times, I’ve heard that as much as $20 of your average pay-TV bill goes straight to them. That irks me, and I don’t mind telling you about it.

It was 5 years ago that I full-on forecast ESPN’s demise, and like most of my bold predictions, it didn’t happen. I do think things slowed a little for ESPN, and at least that’s something.

How bad was it for ESPN in 2020?

Their own estimate in mid-last year says a lot. They said they expected to lose $12 billion in revenue because of the pandemic. Billion with a B, that’s a lot of money there.

All in all I think it’s fair to say Disney didn’t have a good year. Despite doing well with Disney+ (another prediction that didn’t go my way), the company on the whole had a truly tragic year. It’s not surprising for a company who deals in theme parks, televised sports, cruises, and movies. There weren’t a lot of takers for those things last year. Let’s hope this year is better.

But don’t cry big tears for Disney.

According to their most recently available financials, the company came pretty close to breaking even last quarter. Give some credit to Disney+, Hulu, and even ESPN for that. We all watched a lot of TV last year, and while there weren’t quite enough televised sports, there were more toward the end of the year than we expected. NFL, NBA, and even the end of MLB all contributed to a strong showing for the sports channels.

Remember that Disney doesn’t just rely on theme park income or even movie theater income. The same organization owns ABC as well as several other cable content providers. They may not be the largest entertainment company in the world (supposedly Comcast is bigger) but they are close. in the last few decades, they’ve expanded from a primarily mouse-based income stream to one that touches people of all ages. Let’s not forget the massive success of the MCU movies, and that must have left them with a decent sized chunk of change as they came into this most challenging year. Chances are they had an easier time making it through 2020 than you did.

A path forward for ESPN?

Anti-ESPN fever seems to have peaked in 2015, as we all found other things to complain about. Since then we’ve just learned to accept our fate, I suppose. And yet there’s still a ton of handwringing about how expensive cable and satellite still is. I recently read that the average subscriber who isn’t using a double or triple play plan pays about $130 a month for cable or satellite. That’s a hard number to swallow, and we don’t seem to mind exactly how much of it goes to the Disney-Industrial complex.

Or at least you all don’t mind. Me, I’m still as cranky about it as I was when I wrote that 2016 article. Why aren’t you?

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.