On SC6 and giving Jamie Horowitz due credit



Picture an editorial cartoon. It’d be a bunch of wine barrels representing different issues ailing ESPN’s SportsCenter franchise. Some of the barrels are in decent shape, SC6 is one of the barrels that actually is in decent shape ratings-wise. But oh man, there’s wine literally gushing out of some of the other barrels!

In the cartoon dozens of inspectors are inspecting the SC6 barrel. Nobody is paying any attention to any of the other barrels, even the ones with wine gushing out!

It’s kinda not just a cartoon. Why are folks focusing on a barrel that isn’t gushing wine when there are barrels that are gushing wine?

If you start to think about why..I recommend not thinking about it, it gets kind of disgusting. Bounded in a range between knuckle-draggers and knuckleheads. Fun!

Maybe because ESPN is fine with it being spun that way!?

I find it pretty frustrating sometimes but I think people at ESPN are more sanguine about it than I am

Jemele and Michael must figure “having lots of people loving to hate you has worked out pretty well for the Yankees, the Cowboys and Notre Dame.” Right on.

And ESPN  execs must figure “we don’t really have a problem with SC6 currently and if it keeps them from looking at all the other barrels? We don’t really hate that.” Right on to them too.

“Look, Black People!” narrative probably really is better than “FS1 Makes ESPN Panic!” narrative (from ESPN’s perspective)

I can’t definitively say ESPN panicked, but I can definitely say there’s currently a much, much better case to make that Jamie Horowitz caused ESPN to overreact with First Take than there’s any kind of “woe is SC6!” case to be made.

I don’t think SC6 needs defending. Its barrel ain’t gushing wine. If you think of it as money instead of wine, and you think about how you’d feel if it was your money, unless you’re an idiot you wouldn’t focus on any of the barrels that weren’t leaking like a sieve.

Guess what: it’s not wine, it’s money! ESPN (hopefully!) thinks about it like it’s their money.

If not from a page views perspective, those barrels that are gushing wine are much more interesting and certainly more important from a pure dollars and cents perspective.

Ignore what they say and focus on what actually happens

  1. FS1 launched Undisputed
  2. Undisputed fairly quickly steals ~1/3rd of First Take’s viewership
  3. ESPN moves First Take from ESPN2 to ESPN
  4. That move wreaked havoc on ESPN2’s morning & afternoon lineups for what will probably wind up being a period of at least 8 months.

ESPN Chose to Kill ESPN2 for at least 8 months to bolster First Take? (Really!) WAS IT WORTH IT?

Time will tell, but if I can wager right now I’m betting on “nope, not worth it.”

First Take was the anchor, the show with relatively puffed-up ratings that fueled the afternoon ESPN2 shows. His & Hers was de facto canceled and ESPN2’s morning & daytimes lineup were ruined the moment they decided to move First Take.

My ESPN water-carrying ways had me questioning the value of moving First Take at the time. It’s not hindsight although with hindsight I question it even more. Not the move itself so much, just the timing of it.

If ESPN had all it’s new lineups sorted out and then started moving stuff around that would’ve been one thing. I’m guessing the new ESPN/ESPN2 shows will mostly launch in September so that’ll be an 8 month gap between moving First Take and sorting out the new lineups/launching the new shows.

We’ll know for sure by Tuesday, May 16 when ESPN does its upfront presentation.

That’s a brutal 8 months for ESPN2.  Not having the schedule sorted before moving First Take was effectively a proactive and deliberate decision to let ESPN2’s morning & daytime weekday lineup wander around in the desert aimlessly for 8 months. That’s a pretty amazing choice.

In April the average total day minute for ESPN2 was 174,000. A year ago it was 235,000. A drop of 26% (and the carnage was perhaps even much worse if you look at just the 10AM-3PM or so period, but I don’t have that breakout).

That looks like an awful story because it is.

HOWEVER, over on the mothership, the total day average minute was down less than 2% in April versus last year (653,000 this year vs 665,000 last year).

Give Jamie his due

While I do love to put Jamie Horowitz on blast, it’s not because I hate debate shows or his shows, and it’s not even because he says a lot of idiotic shit in public. Talking trash to the press is probably explicitly in his job description. He’s doing his job. What I’m really mocking is what I perceive as a largely gullible sports media who lap up all of the nonsense he says without ever bothering to call it out as the nonsense it is.

So what you might perceive as criticism of Jamie is really a criticism of the sports media who cover him. Without that context, I’m beginning to realize my mocking comes off, at best, as unfair.*

Jamie deserves some credit. Maybe a lot of credit. Not for the great stuff he’s done but for all the pain he’s caused ESPN. Still, Undisputed has held up a lot better during NBA season than most (including me) predicted.

Undisputed quickly stealing about a third of First Take’s viewership started a cascade of events. Time might prove me wrong but today I’d argue that cascade was definitely some form of a panicked overreaction on ESPN’s part.

At least from a ratings perspective I think the numbers back up “panic.”  Had First Take not moved, I doubt you’d have seen any real negative impact to ESPN’s total day average, but you’d have seen a measurable positive boost to to ESPN2.  Over an 8 month period, I think that’s a really big deal.

I can’t currently come up with a way to justify ESPN’s timing for moving First Take and view it as  poor strategy and execution on ESPN’s part, so…

Congratulations, Jamie Horowitz! Being able to add a “Caused rival network to panic” bullet to your resume has to be fun!

*I thank Tony Kornheiser for this self awareness. He mercilessly mocked Capitals coach Barry Trotz on yesterday’s PTI. As a loyal and long-time listener of Kornheiser’s podcast I understand the full history/context of mocking Trotz and it wasn’t initially about Trotz, it was a mocking of Boswell and other WaPo writers who salivated when the Caps hired Trotz as if he’d won 5 Stanley Cups. TK has continued to run with that mocking. A lot of people watching PTI didn’t have that context and/or somewhere along the way what was really a media criticism became a criticism of the man himself and might come off as petty, mean and unfair. That’s on Mr. Tony. But on a much smaller scale the same thing happens with Jamie on my Twitter feed. That’s on me.