Given the free-falling ratings and ongoing talent drain over at ESPN, you wouldn’t blame Disney CEO Bob Iger if he were feeling a bit down about the sports network’s prospects. Especially given the way it’s been affecting their stock price.
But Iger, speaking to reporters at the MoffettNathanson Media and Communications Summit, says the key is not to think short-term about an entity like ESPN but to look at the big picture.
“If you’re running a company like this you can’t possibly run it with a great focus on quarterly results…We had seen a trend at ESPN in the subscription front that I don’t want to call sobering but was not as robust…We erred on the side of giving all of you a sense of what we were seeing…So we said it, and the rest is history.”
Of course, Iger isn’t going to say anything else at a public event, but he made sure to double down, telling the audience that “we feel great about ESPN” and calling it “the strongest brand in sports,” an area with “a huge amount of value.” Iger noted that it’s still one of the few places left in television where most people watch live and can’t skip the ads.
Iger also touched on the digital and mobile possibilities ahead for ESPN.
The other major issue facing ESPN is cable distribution, especially ensuring that the network is included on most “skinny bundles.”
“We are in discussions with existing and new distributors and I feel very encouraged…You cannot launch a new multichannel platform or bundle successfully without ESPN. The numbers would be not even close to what they’d be with ESPN.”
Iger even stepped up and defending SportsCenter, which has turned into a bit of a whipping boy in terms of its relevancy and ratings. He says the network’s flagship show “is probably more popular than it has ever been but that popularity goes beyond the channel ESPN.”
It’s all a lot of positive talk about what could be in the future, but the immediate future still remains rocky for The Worldwide Leader.
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