Perhaps the most notable topic discussed was the seemingly never-ending topic of ESPN talent speaking their minds and running afoul of company standards, one way or another. Jemele Hill was perhaps the most notable example but a more recent example would be Sage Steele, who was taken off the air following comments about the Disney vaccine mandate and Obama’s black father.
Pitaro answered how he handles these situations by saying a lot without saying anything at all.
“We understand, of course, that these are human beings and they have points of view,” Pitaro said. “One of the things that I love about ESPN is the fact that we embrace all different points of view. What we don’t embrace and what we don’t accept is when points of view are conveyed disrespectfully. That is where we draw the line. When points of view are conveyed in a way that is inconsistent with our values.”
What, exactly, that means, remains unclear. In what ways could Hill and Steele conveyed their opinions in a way that would have not led to them getting in trouble?
Pitaro continued by admitting that it has been a struggle for ESPN to make the right calls when it comes to talent assignments and how they handle different points of view,
“This is a meaningful percentage of my time in terms of me getting involved, especially over the past year and a half where we’re living in a world that is incredibly divisive,” Pitaro said. “And we do have folks within ESPN who have different points of view. And that can oftentimes lead to conflict.
“We’ve struggled. Like many other media companies, we’ve oftentimes struggled but I do believe that we’ve put the right people on these assignments and we’ve made the best decisions we can during incredibly complicated times.”
Since the podcast is hosted by two people involved in sports media discussions, a large part of the interview also revolved around ESPN’s digital offerings and how their growth on that side might influence if they eventually bundle the entire network. Pitaro doesn’t see that happening but instead likes to focus on how both can succeed,
“Today, we are absolutely running these parallel paths,” Pitaro said. “We’ve closed deals over the past year and a half that give us the right to protect the linear televisional television model, and at the same time move content over to direct-to-consumer ESPN+.”
According to Pitaro, exclusivity remains the key to their success on the linear TV side where ESPN remains one of the most desires channels for cable subscribers.
“So, that flexibility means we have exclusive games,” said Pitaro. “Like on the NHL side, we have 75 exclusive games for ESPN+ and Hulu. You both know on the NFL side; we secured one game per year, an international game, a Sunday morning game, for ESPN+ exclusively.
“Beyond exclusive games, we have the ability to simulcast. We have the ability to do alternative broadcasts. We have the ability to just move more content to plus. As I sit here today, I will tell you; we like this idea of being multiple things at the same time.”