Since 2016, sports talk TV has been in decline. Bill O’Reilly is adamant that ESPN’s abysmal numbers are a preview of what’s to come for news agencies. The former cable news star had previously predicted Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC will be “done” post-election.
Thursday, O’Reilly spoke at length about ESPN’s troubling ratings:
The mainstream media is going to crash & burn after the election, says @BillOReilly.
The impending demise of the TV giants is already evident in ESPN's death spiral and Bill & The First's success, he argues.
"That's gonna happen to all the news agencies on TV." pic.twitter.com/dIshaI190V
— The First (@TheFirstonTV) October 22, 2020
In 2010, “ESPN had almost 300 million people coming in a quarter,” O’Reilly notes. “Now, it’s barely more than 100 million.”
O’Reilly cited specific top ESPN shows, PTI and SportsCenter.
“In 2015, more than a million people watched Pardon the Interruption on Tuesday, September 29 — I just picked a random date. This year, 395,000.”
It’s even worse for SportsCenter, which went from 688,000 in 2015 to 137,000 in 2020.
O’Reilly largely blames former ESPN personality Jemele Hill and Disney’s decision to hire other personalities that fit a left-wing political agenda for the tank.
Aside from embracing far-left politics, ESPN has also attempted to elevate the NBA above the NFL, lost marquee talent, and fallen out of touch with sports fans.
I wrote in August about ESPN’s relationship with its former viewers, arguing that the “industry already disconnected from its audience, drifted further away” this summer.
During nationwide quarantine, ESPN took its partisanship to new heights, making it clear that viewers who disagreed with the network’s ideology should turn the channel. And they did.
Between 2018 and 2019, ESPN slowly gained back some viewers lost in 2016. By 2020, they lost them again and more. Many of them will not return. Like the NBA, ESPN now programs for a small, extreme percentage of sports fans.
O’Reilly and I disagree on ESPN’s future as a whole, however.
O’Reilly predicts ESPN will lose Monday Night Football and the rest of its viewers. I’ve been consistent in saying its daily studio programming is near death, but its live sports division will grow.
I see ESPN keeping Monday Night Football, possibly adding Thursday Night Football to ABC and bringing the NHL to ESPN airwaves.
Disney will also grow ESPN+ along with Hulu and Disney+.
O’Reilly sees a quick death for cable news as well — I don’t. Even with an inevitable post-election decline, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC have a long way to fall to enter ESPN territory. Fox News, most notably, is setting viewership records.
ESPN’s radical pivot killed its appeal. TV numbers show Americans seek one-sided affirmation on cable news, not on a sports network. Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC will one day have to adjust but not in the next year. ESPN’s studio shows, on the other hand, have a tough year ahead.
Follow Bobby Burack on Twitter @burackbobby_.