Call it the Skip Bayless Effect or The Embrace Debate Fate. Whatever you call it, the trend away from traditional sports programming and towards edgier, viewpoint-focused content seems to have claimed some more victims.
Comcast SportsNet Chicago eliminated “about a dozen jobs” this week, according to Chicago media reporter Robert Feder, in what appears to be a programming refocus towards the kind of debate and discussion content that is driving ratings at ESPN, FS1, and other regional sports networks these days.
“We are currently reformatting our programming lineup in order to better serve the CSN Chicago fanbase,” a CSN Chicago statement read. “A new slate of offerings will be introduced in the near future designed to provide our fans with even more compelling sports content that will better suit the needs of today’s evolving sports audience.”
Sources tell Feder that the network is likely to move away from traditional studio programs like “SportsNet Central” and instead showcase more “interactive” programming that provides an “entertaining viewpoint.”
The move isn’t without good reason. Cord-cutting and the loss of thousands of subscribers in the last few years are causing networks like this one to reconsider what audiences want. It’s the same move that Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia made last month when they decided to tweak programming in “an attempt to keep up with the times and attract millennials to the network.”
There’s a report that CSN Bay Area is about to make the same move and one wonders if it’s only a matter of time before CSN California, CSN MidAtlantic, CSN New England, CSN Northwest, and SNY follow suit (if they haven’t already begun tweaking).
The move is very similar to the way Fox Sports 1 laid off regional staff across the country as it transitioned into the Hot Take Network that it is today. Many remain skeptical about the move’s longterm benefits but regardless it was still a move that needed to be made in light of audience trends and the growing need to grab eyeballs and keep them tuned in.
Regional networks like CSN Chicago will still rely on broadcasting rights for local teams as their bread and butter but the way they fill the gaps between games is going to determine if they’re still in business 5-10 years from now. And even then, cord-cutters and streaming providers might decide their future for them.