For a while now, the common wisdom in sports television has been that smartphone-clutching viewers no longer need highlight shows, as they have highlights on demand in their pockets at all times. This has led to the rise in discussion and debate-centric shows ,and a decline in shows in the traditional SportsCenter model.

CBS CEO Les Moonves is apparently looking zig while other zag. CBS plans to launch a news-focused 24/7 digital sports service, and on Thursday he took some shots at ESPN for prioritizing banter over scores and highlights.

Moonves is right that when you turn on ESPN in 2017, you’re less likely to see scores and highlights than you were 20 years ago (though the ticker at the bottom of the screen is still a thing), but the question is whether the network has good reason for the change in approach. While older generations of sports fans might lament that ESPN has deviated from news, younger consumers who spend all day on social media see no reason to turn on the physical TV to get information that’s already in their palms. Fans can get scores anywhere. They can, theoretically, only get debate and personality on TV.

So although there has certainly been a backlash to the histrionic arguing of certain ESPN programs, that doesn’t necessarily mean a 2002-style highlight show would be a better investment.

Are there enough fans out there like Moonves who want scores and highlights from their sports network to make a 24/7 channel work? Are those fans the types to use over-the-top streaming services? CBS seems intent on finding out.

Meanwhile, moments before this post was set to publish, ESPN PR clapped back hard at Moonves, tweeting a video noting that the network provides news and scores across many platforms and comparing its digital audience to that of CBS.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports,, and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • BobLee Says

    The “He said WHAT” in Moonves’ statement is “I’ve been turning on ESPN a lot….” THAT is a phrase I haven’t heard in five years. Skippy needs to find himself 10,000,000 Les Moonves’s to replace the viewers he’s losing.

  • pattywagon – SEELE 01

    Les Moonvs makes a good point though. People loved the ESPN of the 90s and early 2000s where it was more about highlights and scores. Yes, I know we have the internet now, but it was still good background noise and TV. Now if you put on ESPN, then it’s feels like countless round table debates of nonsense.

  • Sting Rey

    to say the highlight show doesnt work is ridiculous.
    i know who won the gmaes last night however, i will watch mlb quck pitch in the morning. they show highlights and arent debating about bryceharper’s hairstyle.

    • BobLee Says

      Excellent point! is the only “sports channel” I watch. “Mad Dog” is a bit much and a little of Kevin Millar goes a long way but on balance it’s what I want in a sports channel. …. and, of course, there’s Lauren Shehadi too!

      • Sting Rey

        not just mlb. i turn to the sport specific channels to catch up on the previous night’s games. on nba tv, they will show the highlights of the cavs/t-wolves game and not turn it into a debate about lebron’s legacy.

        • BobLee Says

          But But But… there’s only one Lauren Shehadi! … 🙂

    • omega_paladin

      My all time favorite show on ESPN was NFL Primetime, a highlights show, back when Chris Berman and Tom Jackson hosted it on Sunday nights.

  • Another Hurricanes Goal

    CBS CEO: I watch espn instead of cbs sports.

  • For some sports, highlights are not easy to find.

  • mike illingworth

    Where is zingbot when you need him? That should be easy for Les to get.

  • Erik Cudd

    “Debate and personality” on ESPN is stretching it. If Sports broadcasters can’t handle the Masters and treat it like they would calling the X Games, it’s time for a change.

  • Jeff Dudash

    I think Moonves’ “scores of the Dodges and Yankees game” comment was a simplification of his point. It’s really the highlights and news that are important.

    I’ll put it this way: I’m not an NBA fan. However, I like to have a general awareness of all sports for water-cooler conversations at work, etc. If my neighbor asks me “Did you see Lebron’s dunk last night?”, it’s nice to be able to know what he’s talking about. That’s what Sportscenter used to offer. Now, to Moonves’ point, you have to suffer through 20 minutes of debate in order to get to those types of highlights.

    All of the content sources out there today are hyper-specific. And if you have a hyper-specific need, they are a better fulfillment vehicles than 2002’s Sportscenter. But there seems to be a clear gap in content around GENERALIZED and curated sports news and highlights.

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