It is being reported by the Wall Street Journal that ESPN has lost 3.2 million subscribers in the last year. The story also notes that ESPN’s cable subscription fee is about $6.61. Considering ESPN is arguably the biggest reason for cable providers adding sports surcharges to your monthly bill, this could be a breaking point for sports programming costs.
On top of ESPN, Regional Sports Networks have also enjoyed immense success in the last few years. DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Comcast have all spent billions on RSN’s and passed those costs onto their consumers and/or held the programming hostage against other cable providers looking to offer their own customers such sports networks.
In the world of DVR and fast-forwarding, sports programming continues to be the golden egg of advertising because of it being one of the few programs worth watching LIVE. But if the pinnacle of sports programming is seeing such a decline in subscribers, can we be reasonably hopeful that sports costs may level off a bit? In a way, we are already seeing a bit of pushback by cable customers and the cable companies themselves.
In the last few years, almost every cable company has come out and complained bitterly about how much they are paying for sports programming. Granted, I don’t feel that bad for them since they tend to also own some sort of sports programming and charge as much as they can for it.
But cable customers themselves are becoming much more aware of their rising bills thanks to “sports programming surcharges” or “broadcast TV surcharges.” Cable companies are also fighting back and simply not giving in to paying $4-$5 per subscriber for RSN’s that they feel are over-priced.
To this day, most of Los Angeles can’t watch the Los Angeles Dodgers due to Time Warner Cable spending billions to purchase the Dodgers RSN and then not being able to reach deals with other cable/satellite providers to offer the network. DirecTV and others simply refused to pay so much per subscriber for a channel that caters to one team and only for a select amount of months per year.
Comcast found this out in Houston when other providers simply balked at the idea of paying so much for a sports channel featuring several Houston sports teams. The channel went into bankruptcy before DirecTV and others came together to purchase the rights to the programming.