If you’re a pay TV subscriber (cable, satellite, or even live streaming services like Sling TV, DIRECTV NOW, or PlayStation Vue), a large portion of your bill goes toward paying for sports channels…even if you aren’t a sports fan. It’s been this way for decades. The cable industry created the model of forcing subscribers to get bundles of channels that include many they don’t want just so they can have the ones they do. And perhaps no customer is hurt worse by this than those who don’t care about sports.
ESPN and ESPN2, which are included in most basic pay TV packages, account for about $8 of the average bill. If your package includes FOX Sports channels, that could eat up another couple of dollars.
With all of this in mind, we decided to survey consumers to see how they felt about sports programming and what role it played in their choice of a TV service. We found that 53% of people choosing a TV service don’t care if they get live sports, and most current cable subscribers barely watch ESPN, if at all.
During a 3-day period in May 2017, we conducted an online survey of 753 random US TV viewers through SurveyMonkey. The survey was conducted completely independent from CutCableToday. Our goal was to find out how TV consumers feel about sports programming on a number of different levels.
Here are the multiple choice questions we asked:
- Which of the following TV services do you currently use? (cable TV, satellite, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, DIRECTV NOW, fuboTV)
- How important are live sports to you when choosing a TV service?
- How often do you watch ESPN?
- In order of preference, what kind of content do you prefer to watch on ESPN?
Most people choosing a TV service don’t care if they get live sports
53% of those choosing a pay TV service don’t see having live sports channels as an important consideration.
The fact is that most people who choose a TV service, whether it’s cable/satellite or a live streaming service, don’t care if they get sports channels. In fact, 32.4% of respondents said that live sports are “very unimportant” when choosing their TV service. Another 20.1% stated that sports channels were either somewhat unimportant or they were neutral and didn’t care one way or the other.
With over half of consumers not caring about having sports channels, it seems pretty clear there’s room for a sports-free TV service.
Most cable TV subscribers don’t really watch ESPN
Of the 753 people we surveyed, 414 were currently subscribed to cable TV. So, how often do cable customers, who are forced to have ESPN and other sports channels, actually watch ESPN? Not very often, it turns out.
The largest group, 30% of respondents, said they never watch ESPN at all. Another 26% of cable subscribers said they turn on ESPN once a month or less. That means most people with cable TV really aren’t watching ESPN. In fact, only 8% of respondents said they watch ESPN on a daily basis.
Of course, none of this should be a major surprise since ESPN has had a ratings problem for over a year now.
Viewers see ESPN’s debate talk shows as the network’s least appealing content
Just 4% of those surveyed ranked ESPN’s sports talk/debate shows as the content they prefer most from the network. The largest group, 34%, said it’s the content they least like seeing on ESPN.
One of the most commonly cited reasons for ESPN’s declining ratings and drop in subscribers is the network’s content. Sure, their networks carry popular live sporting events like Monday Night Football, NBA games, and college football, but that only accounts for a small part of the average day’s programming. These days, most of the time you turn on ESPN, you’re likely to witness a group of talking heads engaging in loud debates about everything from Lebron James’ ranking among the all-time greats to Russell Westbrook’s fashion choices. Shows like First Take feature the likes of Stephen A. Smith getting into screaming matches and creating controversy by making bold, ridiculous proclamations. The problem is that’s not what most people tune into ESPN to see. In fact, those surveyed ranked sports talk/debate shows as the content they prefer least from ESPN. Of course, those shows are also much cheaper to produce than live sports or a high quality documentary like the 30 for 30 series, so it’s unlikely that ESPN will abandon it any time soon, even if it might be hurting their brand.
The Significance of These Findings
Today’s consumers demand choice. And while we might not ever get a true a la carte TV solution, the days of forcing customers into bloated packages loaded with channels they don’t watch are numbered. And whether it’s Viacom or some other company, it’s safe to say that a sports-free TV service will be launched at some point in the foreseeable future.