Media Post-Trump; PTI Future: Media Mailbag

Another great week of questions for the OutKick Media Mailbag. Thanks to all the readers who sent in.

Here we go:

"Will certain people in news media benefit from the post-Trump years?"

Great question. Undoubtedly, yes.

There are personalities who are draws as individuals, not for the topics they discuss. Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow, Ben Shapiro, and Dan Bongino are some notable names. But as the media grows more fragmented with alternatives online and growing niche interests, there's an increasing number of viewers who latch onto a personality merely because of a topic. That host then builds a brand around said topic and covers it daily from all angles.

Obviously, for the past four years, President Donald Trump has been it.

Several personalities in the cable news space, who weren't household names before, pivoted entirely to a pro-Trump or anti-Trump brand. In both cases, it worked and made talents a lot of money.

While Trump isn't going away, the widespread interest and coverage will not compare to his presidency. If he runs again, the interest won't resemble the past four years until 2023 when the race heats up.

It's far from certain the talents who are in demand for commentary on Trump will resonate with the top story over the next two or three years, whatever it ends up being.

There will be an opening in the industry for different news personalities to elevate.

"Mailbag question: I am a big fan of PTI. Where do you see PTI's future given overall lagging ratings and with Tony getting closer to his mid-70s? Love your work Bobby and glad to see increased popularity for everyone at OutKick!"

While First Take generates more buzz online, PTI is still the biggest, most influential sports show on TV. Monday, PTI drew 836,000 viewers. By comparison, First Take had only 463,000.

First Take's headlines are a result of media bloggers looking for content during its airtime. When PTI begins at 5:30 p.m. ET, the writers are getting off work.

Two years ago, Michael Wilbon told me in an interview that he plans to continue hosting PTI after Tony Kornheiser retires, whenever that may be. He said the conversations are not active, he doesn't think about potential co-hosts, and he doesn't know if ESPN would want to keep him. The answer to that last point, though, seems like an obvious yes.

I doubt ESPN and PTI's creator Erik Rydholm have a replacement plan, as both will dread replacing a legend in a no-win situation. With an unknown timetable, I can only look at the best option today — and that's Scott Van Pelt.

Van Pelt is ESPN's second most important on-air talent after Stephen A. Smith. He just moved to the DC studio that broadcasts PTI. He's familiar with Wilbon and frequently interviews him on SportsCenter after playoff NBA games. Stylistically, Van Pelt fits PTI's witty, friendly banter.

Van Pelt also wouldn't have to give up his blue-chip SportsCenter completely. He could continue Sunday nights during the football season and after Monday Night Football and select marquee NBA and college football games.

That said, the best answer isn't necessarily the likeliest. ESPN continues to make poor, politically-driven programming decisions. And while Rydholm's resume with PTI is admirable, recent decisions made on his other shows are among ESPN's worst. Around the Horn's rotation gets worse by the year. High Noon was an all-time disaster, failing in two time slots before cancellation. And with its latest iteration, Highly Questionable is ESPN's weakest show. It features Dan Le Batard trying to build up a bunch of woke hosts who can't draw audiences on their own.

PTI is ESPN's best, but I fear it won't stay that way come decision time.

"Who do you think will replace Le Batard if ESPN does replace him?"

Two weeks ago, I reported that industry sources say Bart Scott is a name to watch. ESPN executives are high on him, and they were impressed when he filled in on the morning radio show. 

Much will depend on timing though. Le Batard has more than a year left on his contract. A buyout would be expensive in a time when ESPN is cutting costs and laying off hundreds of employees.

Le Batard doesn't rate well on radio, so while replacing him won't be that hard, ESPN does not have a strong radio bench. No one likes the current lackluster radio lineup. 

Expect an upgrade. Don't expect the next Colin Cowherd.

Follow Bobby Burack on Twitter.

Written by
Bobby Burack is a writer for OutKick where he reports and analyzes the latest topics in media, culture, sports, and politics.. Burack has become a prominent voice in media and has been featured on several shows across OutKick and industry related podcasts and radio stations.