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Media Mailbag: Has Cable News Peaked? Winners-Losers of Maria Taylor-NBC. AEW Future.

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Before we get into this week’s OutKick Media Mailbag questions, I wanted to let you know that I’ll have an interview with one of the most influential voices in media posted on the site this week. Look for that. You’ll enjoy it.

“Has cable news and their hosts peaked? The numbers are down big. People are spending more time online. TV isn’t for the younger generation.”

Peaked in terms of TV ratings? Probably. Though just one year ago, all three networks broke their own records.

The news is predicated on storylines. Cable news rises and falls based on the news cycle. There will be another tragedy, another scandal, and another crisis. Those never end or fail to draw viewers. But in terms of a four-year-long storyline to the degree that was President Donald Trump, I doubt we will see that again. Even if Trump were to run and win in 2024, the novelty of his phenomenon will have worn off.

The idea in cable news, however, is to offset expected TV declines with digital growth. MSNBC and Fox News have built direct-to-consumer programs around their biggest stars. MSNBC has now put Morning Joe, Chuck Todd, Nicolle Wallace on Peacock, and Fox News has Tucker Carlson and Dan Bongino on Fox Nation. CNN+ is perhaps Warner Bros. Discovery’s primary focus for 2022.

In addition, all three cable news networks have the opportunity to increase monetization on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

To answer your first question: cable news has likely peaked in terms of consistent, day-to-day linear viewership. That said, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC could temporarily raise their ad rates to offset expected viewership declines while they bolster their digital properties. Morning TV has used this tactic for the past few years.

As for cable news personalities, it’s two-fold. First, despite the decline in raw numbers and reach, individual media talents can make more now than ever before, as long as they can singularly draw an audience.

Social media and podcasting have eliminated the value of the media’s middle class because the increasing number of alternatives has fragmented the industry. A 4 p.m. host doesn’t have the same influence he or she did in 2011. However, at the same time, media fragmentation has bolstered the status of star hosts, who now have greater value than their potential replacements. Viewers have too many other options to tolerate any hosts they don’t like. 

For example, Tucker Carlson may not be as well known as Bill O’Reilly (though that’s still up for debate.) However, given the plethora of outside options that now exist, Carlson is more valuable to a network than O’Reilly was when he hosted The O’Reilly Factor.

Mainly, Carlson has leverage O’Reilly didn’t. And I say this as someone who believes, without a doubt, O’Reilly is the most talented cable news host I’ve ever seen. Carlson could start a digital show and make over $10 million in the first year. During O’Reilly’s run at the top, his bosses would’ve laughed at a blueprint that has since made guys like Joe Rogan and Dave Portnoy a fortune.

The question is: how many stars are there? Can Fox, CNN, and MSNBC continue to launch new personalities to stardom?

“Who are the winners and losers in the Maria Taylor-NBC Deal?”

The biggest winners, of course, are the ESPN talents who will eventually replace Maria Taylor on NBA Countdown and College GameDay.

ESPN remains petrified of the narrative — created by social media and based on events taken out of context — that it holds black women back. Thus, ESPN will undoubtedly look to replace Taylor with a black woman in one or both of her former roles. 

ESPN replaced Rachel Nichols with Malika Andrews as the lead sideline reporter for the NBA Finals. Perhaps ESPN views Andrews (26) as more skilled than veteran reporters Cassidy Hubbarth (36), Jorge Sedano (43), and Israel Gutierrez (44). It’s subjective and Andrews is uber-talented. But it’s not a stretch to admit Andrews’ skin color was a factor in ESPN’s decision. Skin color plays a role in every decision at ESPN.

ESPN will strongly consider handing NBA Countdown to Andrews.

GameDay is more complicated. There’s already a push on social media to pressure ESPN into going with Andrews on GameDay. ESPN also has several experienced options, including Laura Rutledge and Molly McGrath, though ESPN isn’t in nearly as much of a rush to elevate them as they are Andrews. Therefore, Taylor’s former GameDay role remains a more open competition. 

Malika Andrews is and will be the biggest winner of Taylor’s departure.

ESPN also won. Maria Taylor would’ve never been happy at the network. ESPN had given her everything: money, prominent roles, freedom, and exceptions. Unfortunately, Taylor’s colleagues took note of her recent toxic behavior. Had ESPN given into Taylor’s contract demands, the network would’ve set a precedent that attempts to destroy coworkers and extort the company are acceptable in contract negotiations. 

There isn’t a clear loser in the situation yet. ESPN is better off, NBC poached a host from its competitor, and Taylor adds the Olympics and Sunday Night Football to her resume.

That said, Taylor’s strategy failed.

Maria Taylor wanted $8 million a year. She then took some bad advice and rejected ESPN’s $5 million year offer. In the end, she had to settle for less. 

But most importantly, Taylor had power inside ESPN because the company was afraid of her. Had she just kept her requests to Level 2 Insanity, ESPN would’ve kept and promoted Taylor on-air more than anyone aside from Stephen A. Smith.  

Winners and losers take a bit to decide, anyway.

“[W]ith the rumors of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, how valuable of a property is AEW?”

This is a great question—credit to Tony Khan. In just under two years, Khan has turned AEW Wrestling into one of the fastest growing TV properties.

AEW Dynamite, which airs Wednesdays on TNT, has averaged over 1 million viewers in back-to-back weeks. (Dynamite had been preempted to Fridays for a few weeks during the NBA playoffs.) And without head-to-head competition from WWE’s NXT, Dynamite could sustain that average for the months ahead. Furthermore, AEW now leads cable broadcasts on Wednesdays in the coveted 18-49 demographic.

In 2020, WarnerMedia extended its contract with AEW through 2023 at just under $45 million per year. The extension includes an option for an increased rights fee in 2024. If AEW can maintain its growth through 2023, its $45 million a year rights deal should increase substantially in 2024.

AEW could also attract a second partner. While Turner will likely look to keep AEW on its weekly linear television lineup — AEW is moving from TNT to TBS in 2022 — a competing streaming service is likely to make an aggressive offer for AEW’s pay-per-view events.

WWE and UFC struck significant deals to stream their pay-per-views exclusively on Peacock and ESPN+, respectively, in the past three years. While AEW won’t get WWE or UFC money, those two deals set the market for brands like AEW. 

WarnerMedia has thus far aired AEW’s pay-per-views on B/R Live, a second-rate service. And while HBO Max can compete with other top services, HBO Max does not yet have a feature to air events live, though it’s coming for the NHL.

ESPN+, Amazon Prime Video, and AppleTV+ could all logically make strong offers to AEW for its pay-per-view library. And depending on the declining gap between linear TV and streaming, it’s plausible that a streaming service could outbid a network for AEW’s weekly product.

Written by Bobby Burack

Bobby Burack covers media, politics, and sports at OutKick.

25 Comments

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  1. Bobby’s take on the Maria Taylor story has been odd and actually off, and I have been one of Bobby’s biggest fans since Bobby’s first day here at Outkick. Maria Taylor is clearly the big winner here: she is going to host the highest-rated TV show in the fall (SNF) to replace the perpetually overrated Dan Patrick and will become a household name soon to replace yet another overrated Mike Tirico. These are roles only a decade ago was hosted by Bob Costas. ANYONE would take these roles over any of the sideline reporting or the lowly rated daily NBA shows at ESPN that scraps like Rachel Nichols are fighting over. Taylor is earning her $7M per year with gig like this. Good for her AND she got to burn the bridges to screw ESPN. EPIC WIN!

      • —> (sweetsciencemonitor). I searched…. Couldn’t find it. Where are you getting the 7 million number from ?

        And also consider how terrified the people are at NBC of working with Maria Taylor, walking on eggshells and having their careers wrecked around her. toxic. Yikes

        • People aren’t walking on egg shell around Maria Taylor. Anybody in the industry will tell you Taylor is one of the most talented people in television when it comes to live sports. Clay and Bobby are completely lost . She wins HANDS DOWN and got a new contract worth MILLIONS…..FACT #dbapHaters

          • Mason – your car has an expired extended warranty. You should consider renewing it. There is a phone number based out of India that you need to call to get it reactivated.

          • defined “Talented.”

            You mean she reads a good tele-prompter? or she plays a good “casting couch?”

            I’m pretty sure her historical insight or statistical analysis into the current sport environment is not what buoys her sport-journalism career…

            so please, tell me: What is her “Talent?”

          • She gotz paid! For the culture! If making money is the only goal in life yeah she won. Talented at being attractive and reading, sure just like Erin Andrews etc. Everyone walks on eggshells at ESPN because they have set it up that way and are scared to stare down dumb ass accusations of racism.

    • BOTH Dan Patrick and Mike Tirico used to work for ESPN before coming to NBC. Patrick left SNF for personal reasons a couple of years ago / wasn’t “replaced”. And if Maria Taylor indeed got $7MM to move, don’t think for one second her “team” wouldn’t be screaming that number for all to hear. When you cannot easily find a salary for a person at a publicly traded company, it means they more than likely got way less than they were bargaining (extorting) ESPN for. Her exposure on daily NBA and weekly College football, along with who knows how much other stuff they would have given her if she handled the situation better / more discreetly dwarfs what once a week SNF and bi-yearly Olympics give her. And that overrated Tirico guy is going to succeed Al Michaels (overrated as well?) whenever he decides to hang it up. Taylor may just be the next Erin Andrews or Michele Beadle. I enjoyed both of them a lot, but apparently pretty has a shelf life.

  2. Time will tell, but I think NBC has a chance to be a big loser with this. Maria Taylor is toxic, both within the workplace and, increasingly, with the culture overall. Will she use her platform to become uber-woke? If so, she will be a headache not worth the talent she brings.

  3. There goes the “uber-talented” adjective again. Regardless of race … what “talents” are required to be a “big time” sports sideline reporter ??? OK … “physically attractive” by mainstream definition. What else …. ?????
    .

  4. Your guess is as good as mine. Twitter (and the enormous overvaluation of the basement-dwelling opinons therein), Trump (incredibly loved or incredibly hated and not much in-between), BLM-Antifa riots (OK to break quarantine since protesting is required for their mental health….), the China virus… are we exhausted yet? My guess/hope is the outrage porn will eventually run its course, but who will be left untarnished? Everyone wears their biases on their sleeves these days, no one will come out of this era with credibility that crosses the aisle to both sides, everybody is in a camp. Crazy times.

  5. My only take on this is what would the coverage be if Rachel and Maria’s roles were reversed. I tend to think if Rachel Nichols leaked the tape of Maria Taylor and used it to burn down her former employer on the way out the door to a new company she’d be getting crucified in the media. She’d be called a racist. Then on the other hand the media would defend Maria Taylor saying the conversation was harmless(which it really was) and anyone who criticizes Maria is of course a racist and doesn’t want to see a black woman succeed . Either way I could give a hoot about either of these woman or the networks they work at. I just so sick of the double standards.

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