ESPN: Cutting The Cord Or Political Turn Off?

The catchphrase that seems to be picking up more and more steam is “cutting the cord” when referring to those that are dropping traditional cable TV for viewing choices or alternatives by other means. The reasons why differ greatly. For some its price, or affordability. For others, its convenience with the growing numbers of alternatives. And for some; they just refuse to pay for anything in a zealot like fashion. Although each group has different reasons the outcome is the same: diminishing viewership.

However, is “cutting the cord” really the reason for ESPN’s loss of millions viewers? Or, is that the easiest crutch of an excuse for what might really be happening? After all, media is, and always will be, the king of “inflated” numbers. So much so I garner when a CEO of any media company reads a term like “double seasonally adjusted” they smirk and think – “Rookies.”

It’s just the way it has, is, and will be played; and everyone understands it. None more so than those within the business itself, which is why a few things struck me.

Why wouldn’t ESPN™ (or Disney™ its parent company) go to great efforts to include or push the narrative that “cord cutting” doesn’t necessarily mean “all” that cut have tuned off? In other words: why aren’t numbers from alternative viewing sources highlighted as to show they might not be viewing there – but they are over here? Unless – they aren’t.

And if they’re not – why not? After all, there’s probably no other content infringement policing company for copyright and other applicable ownership rights than Disney and all its subsidiaries. You aren’t going to see it for free or on alternative platforms unless they want or allow for it. Period.

This would also imply if they allowed it (anywhere) it would be accounted for ( i.e., click views, etc.) in some manner of form from across the internet to help take the edge off. i.e., Sure we lost millions from cable, but as you can see here, they’ve just migrated over to this service/platform as an alternative. Monetizing the alternative is a work in progress. etc., etc.

However, that seems not to be the case. The case appears – they’ve not only cut: they’ve tuned out or turned off the programming entirely. Why?

It’s hard to say. However, if I use myself as an example, I believe I know a large part of the underlying reason:

ESPN (like a few notable others such as NBC™) has seemingly transformed at near hyper-speed from sports reporting – to political sports reporting. The political edge now rampant throughout the shows, games, interviews, et al is overbearing, overburdening, and overdone.

Here’s what I know from my own experience: It has become near impossible to turn on something that was originally created for pure entertainment value without now being bombarded with how the “political football” issue of the day is being addressed by the commentators, sideline crews, as well as players and coaches. e.g., I tuned in to watch a football game – not a game about how today’s “political football” is handled and won. i.e., gun control, domestic violence, civil unrest, global warming, etc., etc., on, and on.

Important issues all. However, is there no respite today as to maybe catch a breather and just enjoy a sporting event and its minutia without having today’s “political football” and all its baggage forced down my throat by sports casters, players, and more? It would be one thing if these shows mentioned these topics when appropriate. But now? One would think they were watching a Sunday morning news show rather than a sports channel. Everyday 24/7.

When I’ve watched it seems the reason for their existence (i.e., the game) is an inconvenience that must be tolerated till they can get back to what they believe really matters: the “political issue” of the day.

Yes, I know I’m probably overstating. Yet, that’s how I feel today when I’ve tried to watch most ESPN programming as well as others. My immediate reaction? Many times I’ve turned off a game entirely: for continuing was akin to waiting for another comment as to cue a push of the bamboo chutes deeper.

Personally, I grew so sick of it I now watch about a third, if that, of any sports TV I had watched previous. Again: specifically for this reason.

If I want “political football” TV there are far more choices and views to get it from. Sports were at one time a sanctuary from the realities of everyday life. There one cared only about their team. Could throw all their passion (and distaste) behind them. Hate them one day, love them the next with no regards as to affecting society. It was a place to blow off steam, have fun, and armchair quarterback yourself into the Hall of Fame of “If I were on the field – I would have called that play and won!” all time greats.

Today? It’s near impossible to escape and has been picking up steam. Need I say (or not say?) Washington Red____s?

Listen, I’m not addressing whether or not you agree with what should, or should not, be done. I’m just trying to illustrate this as just one of the latest that shows in great detail just how one will not be able to escape the discussion that is purely based in the “political football” arena.

Some sportscasters now will not say the name; even if they are the on-air live, play-by-play talent, and stumble all over themselves and their play-by-play calls trying to avoid it. Players will be asked from both the sidelines, booths, with others appearing via satellite, questioning them to defend how they can even put on the uniform for that day’s game. Insinuation, implication, and innuendo will be the “play calling” as opposed to what is transpiring on the field of actual play.

Again, as I stated earlier: whether or not you agree or disagree with the topic, just this one is a representative of all the others. If it’s not a name change – its gun control. If it’s not that – it’s another. Everyday 24/7. The game now seems to be the filler as opposed to the “issue of the day.” Need I remind anyone of that great illustration of just how determined sportscasters are now going to force the “political football” down viewers throats than NBC™ Bob Costa’s gun control rant on Sunday Night Football™?

Agreeing, or disagreeing with his take is irrelevant. My point is: I don’t turn to a sporting event, or, sports commentary program, to hear the opinion/opinions of today’s sportscasters view on the “political issue” of the day. I tune in to see sports. Period.

This seems lost on ESPN and the others as of late. And if I’m a microcosm of what others are doing. What we’re not doing is cutting the cord and viewing it elsewhere. We’re actually giving a spin to the old Timothy Leary idea:

We’re tuning out and turning off. Entirely.

© 2015 Mark St.Cyr