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Trends Emerging At ESPN As Net Seeks To Remain Strong In Changing Media Landscape

Trends Emerging At ESPN As Net Seeks To Remain Strong In Changing Media Landscape

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Smith (l) and Hill's new "SportsCenter" draws heavily on African-American culture
ESPN last month launched its new 6:00pm ET "SportsCenter" starring Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, and the move "marked several trends" for the network, according to Dan Haar of the HARTFORD COURANT. Among them are the "rise of hosts who started as online writers and turbocharged their careers with a podcast," as well as a "focus on personalities, not just the 'SportsCenter' show itself, as the stars." It also is the first "SportsCenter" pairing "two black hosts, drawing heavily on African-American culture." Whether the "rise of cross-platform feeding is leading ESPN to conclude it can thrive with a smaller roster of named talent is a matter of speculation." Looking more deeply at ESPN's culture and business model, there is more "fluid movement these days between digital platforms, radio and TV and a lot more branding through big personalities such as 'SportsCenter' anchor Scott Van Pelt." Meanwhile, ESPN early this month confirmed reports of a new round of layoffs at the net, but it is "unlikely the upcoming round" will lead to "significant headcount declines in Bristol." This marks ESPN's third round of layoffs since '13, but the net has "remained stable at about 4,200 employees in Connecticut, and 8,000 in total, over the last three years, since expanding" into a $175M "Digital Center 2." That Connecticut number is "comfortably above the 4,072" the net had to reach by '16 under an '11 incentive deal with the state in Gov. Dannel Malloy's First Five program, which initially offered ESPN $20M. Separately, ESPN has "received tens of millions of dollars in state incentives for film and digital production," including $25.9M in fiscal '14 alone (HARTFORD COURANT, 3/20). 

REX APPEAL: In Philadelphia, Rob Tornoe noted ESPN signed Rex Ryan to a "multiyear deal, even as the network grapples with budget cuts and looming layoffs that has some staffers on edge." Ryan will join the net's "Sunday NFL Countdown." Tornoe: "Ryan on television is gold." Ryan performed "well-enough during a guest spot as an analyst on ESPN’s pregame coverage of Super Bowl LI for the network to bring him on board" (PHILLY.com, 3/19).

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