The economic climate has deteriorated so much that sports media, often viewed as the last bastion of insulation, now finds itself battling the force of its blustery winds. Indeed, even industry kingpin ESPN is enduring softness in the ad market. "It’s tough locally, it’s tough nationally, it’s tough everywhere," said Fox Sports Nets pres Bob Thompson at Sports Business Journal’s FSA Sports Media & Tech Conference. As a result, industry players are tapping non-linear platforms to provide additional value to advertisers and content owners alike. "Technology will allow us to emerge [relatively unscathed] out the other side" of the downturn, said ESPN evp, sales and marketing Sean Bratches. This focus on Web and mobile initiatives, as well as intertwining them with linear offerings, has helped ESPN remain aggressive as money pools dry up. Indeed, the comprehensive "ESPN ecosystem has a lot of value," said Accrue Sports & Ent Ventures managing dir Doug Perlman, who added that’s a key reason ESPN was able to land BCS and national title games. There’s absolutely "a value proposition to buy across platforms," said CBS College Sports evp/gm Steve Herbst. But smaller nets might also offer a similar proposition. "We’re able to charge advertisers less," said Versus pres Jamie Davis. "We have not seen the bottom fall out in the 4th quarter… we’re seeing more and more new advertisers coming in." Also helping is cable’s business model. "Cable networks are a great business and will continue to prosper," said Pali analyst Richard Greenfield, while adding that it’s difficult to "understand what local TV will be" going forward. Fox’s locally-focused RSNs are feeling the pinch, said Thompson, but remain buoyed by the fact that three-quarters of their rev stems from sub fees. "The two-revenue stream model is a very good model these days," he said. But even so, Bratches said "you’ve got to be aggressive, but also very smart in this economy… The price-value relationship must always be strengthened." Bratches also said the current climate offers an "opportunity to do a better job collectively as an industry." Enter Canoe Ventures and other industry initiatives, which have gained importance because the ad market is "running out of people that can pick up the slack" for the auto and financial industries, said Greenfield. A new year’s approaching, but it’s almost certain not to be a happy one.

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