Last week’s ESPN layoffs created some concern around what happens next for the ACC Network (and the payouts that would follow for the Syracuse Orange and the rest of the league). SU athletic director John Wildhack attempted to calm those concerns a bit. But nonetheless, what happens next for ESPN and the conference network should be top of mind.
Assuming this thing ends up pretty focused on digital content delivery and consumption, one option could be the emerging platforms popping up around the more social parts of the web.
Twitter, if you didn’t notice, has tossed itself into the live TV ring with full force. Yesterday’s announcement of new live programming initiatives from Bloomberg (24-hour news), MLBAM, Players’ Tribune, STADIUM, the WNBA and many more.
On top of Twitter, Facebook’s gotten itself into the live TV game as well, and same goes for Hulu, Amazon and YouTube (among countless others).
So when Wildhack voiced his belief in ESPN, he also never said the result of the ACC Network’s formation would be a traditional, linear television network.
Now, with all of these additional platform options and the obvious effect of cord-cutting, perhaps it would behoove the ACC and ESPN to end up pursuing something like what Twitter’s offering instead. Rather than asking users to subscribe to individual ACC Network programming -- or an expensive cable/satellite package featuring ESPN -- the option may soon exist for users to just watch for free on Twitter.
The earnings would come from in-stream ads, which would be more worthwhile for brands (and more lucrative for Twitter) because they’d potentially reach a much larger audience.
The key there is, of course, potential. For niche programming like ACC Network events, perhaps the viewership upside is there (vs. linear television). But for larger events, hosting on Twitter could end up being a major shortcoming — especially if it doesn’t appear elsewhere.
It’s not just the ACC that has these sorts of concerns around audience, either. The NFL’s fighting its own ongoing battle around the evolution of video content, and for the first time ever, saw falling audience numbers in 2016. NFL games on Twitter last season (there were 10 in all) averaged less than 300,000 live viewers, versus over 15 million for most live national broadcasts on actual TV.
So therein lies the problem for the ACC: What are you sacrificing by going a non-traditional route? Sure, the deals the Big Ten and SEC received years ago would be fantastic. But that is no longer the reality we live in.
Twitter, Facebook or Amazon live programming could be the new normal, and that could end up being just fine. It could also be problematic — even if like Wildhack stated himself, ESPN puts their full weight behind a network.
This isn’t to play alarmist. It’s actually just a look at a potential emerging platform that could be a more viable option for the ACC Network within the next five years or so.
Agree? Disagree? Share your own thoughts below.