ESPNEWS has been a rudderless ship for years now, going from a 24-hour SportsCenter network to an overflow channel for live games on weekends and studio shows during the week. Following ESPN’s latest round of layoffs last week, the network also announced that live evening editions of SportsCenter would no longer be airing on ESPNEWS come the end of November.
The future of ESPNEWS is even more murky following the axing of the evening SportsCenters, which was initially the entire purpose of the network. With the growing influence of ESPN.com and the ESPN app, fans don’t need to watch SportsCenter for hours a day to access the latest sports highlights and news. That puts ESPNEWS in a precarious situation, because it can’t continue to exist in its current form.
What will the year 2018 bring for ESPNEWS? Is it going to keep being wound down? Will it serve as an overflow channel, and not much else? Will it just air reruns and the occasional college game? Or is it eventually going to be transformed into a different network – like say, the ACC Network? We asked our staff, and their responses all point in the same direction we discussed back in May – ESPNEWS needs to be recalibrated and its focus needs to change.
Andrew Bucholtz: It’s clear that the ESPNEWS branding doesn’t really fit any more, especially with the removal of the evening SportsCenter editions there.
In my mind, it might make sense to turn it into the ACC Network. Contractual obligations require ESPN to launch that network on linear TV in 2019, and from a carriage standpoint, it would seem so much easier to turn an already-carried channel into ACCN. Many providers really don’t want yet another sports channel, and consumer demand for ACCN may not be enough to make providers add it.
Shifting an already-carried channel is easier, and with less ESPNEWS programming these days, it might be the most logical fit. That makes sense from a programming efficiency standpoint too; ESPN is going to have to do ACCN programs, but their uptick in created programs is less if an old channel becomes ACCN. In an era focused on cost savings, this move has its attractions.
Ian Casselberry: I’ve never really watched ESPNEWS, unless in a pinch for news and highlights or a game being bumped over there, so maybe I’m the wrong guy to chime in on this. But I think it’s easy to see the channel shuttering in 2018, being replaced by something else that better serves ESPN and its viewing audience.
Serving as a place for more college football and basketball games, in addition to more niche sports like bowling, cornhole, rugby, rodeo and extreme sports, to fill in the gaps would be reminiscent of what ESPN once was before being able to acquire rights fees for the major sports. But is that really destination viewing?
Apologies for the boring answer, but the move that makes the most sense is to convert ESPNNEWS into the ACC Network, with all the games, studio shows and documentaries it can provide, when that venture finally makes its debut.
Matt Clapp: I used to watch ESPNEWS every afternoon, so this one is very depressing to me. It was what I always wanted SportsCenter to be: plenty of highlights, right-to-the-point stories, breaking news, press conferences, reasonable interviews and few hot takey discussions, etc. And all day like that, live.
But those days are obviously long gone, and now it’s just being used for second-tier college games. They show a portion of the Goal Line (which I watch every Saturday) on there, but there’s literally a Goal Line channel on DirecTV and Dish as well.
There’s just (unfortunately) not much use for ESPNEWS now and it feels out of place. The writing is on the wall here, and it’s only a matter of time before the channel becomes ESPN 8: The Ocho.
Ken Fang: I would love to see ESPNEWS to become more like ESPN The Ocho which would have offbeat events like darts, cornhole, Pickleball, the World Lumberjack Championships, barrel jumping, and some of the sports that gave ABC’s Wide World of Sports its appeal. It’s easy to say that ESPNEWS should become the ACC Network and perhaps it will, but there’s an opportunity to bring some different sports, not just ESPN’s bread-and-butter events to ESPNEWS.
Would it gain a huge audience? Maybe not, but there’s a chance for ESPN to bring sports that don’t get an opportunity to get aired. And perhaps they’ll gain some new fans.
Joe Lucia: Once the college basketball season (or hell, maybe even the college baseball season) ends, I think ESPN is going to start experimenting with new content strategies for ESPNEWS. Weird sports? Sure! International soccer? Maybe! Reruns of studio shows? Yeah, probably. There’s no easy, overnight fix for ESPNEWS, and I think it’s going to slowly dwindle down into a network that even fewer people turn to for first-run programming until 2019 and the ACC Network launch.
It would make the most sense to flip ESPNEWS into ACC Network instead of having to attempt to gain carriage for yet another new network. Of course, it’s difficult enough to think about what the media landscape will look like in 2018, let alone 2019. A whole lot can change, and if ESPN has to negotiate rights fees with any providers in the next year or so, what happens to ESPNEWS in those negotiations will be telling in regards to its future.
Matt Yoder: It’s long overdue for ESPNEWS to become the television version of ESPN3. With more live events and a de-emphasis of news, maybe it’s already happened just without an official rebrand.
I’d love to see it as a channel that could combine ESPN’s traditional rights with stuff you see online like rugby, cricket, and other sports. Make it a true sports fan’s haven, and instead of going 24/7 news, go 24/7 sports.