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Jimmy Pitaro: ESPN Comfortable With Both Linear & Digital Strategy

“Linear television is shrinking every year but still commands a large part of ESPN’s business model.”

Russ Heltman

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Courtesy: Steve Fenn / ESPN Images

Jimmy Pitaro joined The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast this week and shed some light on ESPN’s digital and traditional media strategy. 

ESPN+ continues to garner big properties and an increasing subscriber base. ESPN’s president noted that they are thrilled with their digital growth since launching ESPN+ in 2018 — but aren’t looking to bundle the whole network.

“Today, we are absolutely running these parallel paths,” Pitaro said when asked how long until ESPN offers their TV schedule on ESPN+. “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+.”

Linear television is shrinking every year but still commands a large part of ESPN’s business model. The network is perennially among the most expensive channels for cable subscribers.

“So, that flexibility means we have exclusive games,” Jimmy Pitaro continued. “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.”

It makes plenty of sense for ESPN to slow play a complete shift to the digital space. Ratings are much harder to gauge on digital content — and the power of terrestrial TV is still great enough that league affiliates want all of the exposure options available to them.

“Everyday,” Pitaro said. “We’re pretty good at this. Figuring out what content should sit where and as we do our deals, that’s a large part of the focus.”

Jimmy Pitaro used the NHL as an example where the network researched how to best reach fans in that league and landed on a dual model (TV & Digital) to attack rights negotiations. ESPN is juggling many different mediums as they continue navigating the ever-changing media landscape.

Sports Online

Big Cat: Listening to ESPN Wisconsin After Packers Playoff Loss ‘Highlight of My NFL Season’

“For three hours, I sat in my car. I arrived home –it’s a 20-minute drive — I arrived home, and I sat for three hours listening to callers be like ‘blow up Lambeau!’, ‘get 12 (Rodgers) outta here!’, ‘we need to build a dome, this team isn’t built for the outside’, and that was the highlight of my NFL season. And I have no problem saying that.”

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During a recent interview with Barstool Sports, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a poignant question for noted Chicago Bears fan Dan “Big Cat” Katz that he then used to slam the Packers quarterback while also expressing his enjoyment for Green Bay fans.

“Is it hard, for you as a Bears fan, that some of your greatest moments are cheering against me when the Bears aren’t playing?”, the Packers quarterback half-jokingly asked.

“Very good question,” Katz responded. “No, it’s actually great, because what I’ve told everyone is — I’m very realistic about the Bears — ‘not a great franchise, (the Bears) just don’t do the right things’ for the most part. Every year I look forward to the playoffs and the game that you’re going to lose. I’ve told this story on air, but, when you guys lost to San Francisco this year we were watching the game in New Jersey and I drove back to Brooklyn — brag — and I listened to (Mark) Tauscher. For three hours, I sat in my car. I arrived home –it’s a 20-minute drive — I arrived home, and I sat for three hours listening to callers be like ‘blow up Lambeau!’, ‘get 12 (Rodgers) outta here!’, ‘we need to build a dome, this team isn’t built for the outside’, and that was the highlight of my NFL season. And I have no problem saying that.”

Rodgers laughed at Big Cat as he delivered the message, seemingly getting genuine joy out of the conversation.

“I know I’m a loser,” Katz continued. “That’s the best part. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’m a loser, so yes, watching you lose in the playoffs is…that’s my Super Bowl. And I’ve won a lot of Super Bowls if you do it that way. More than you.”

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Sports Online

Michael Silver Joins San Francisco Chronicle

“I’m ecstatic to join forces with some of my favorite journalists and be part of a publication I’ve been devouring for decades — in the greatest region on Earth,” Silver told The Chronicle.

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Veteran NFL reporter Michael Silver is joining The San Francisco Chronicle as their newest NFL columnist.

Silver will continue his work with The Volume, Bally Sports, and Backstage Media in addition to adding a column with the Chronicle.

“I’m ecstatic to join forces with some of my favorite journalists and be part of a publication I’ve been devouring for decades — in the greatest region on Earth,” Silver told The Chronicle. “It will be a thrill to write columns alongside Scott Ostler, a living legend, and my amazingly talented friend Ann Killion, who I’ve dreamed of working with since we were competing on the 49ers beat in the early ’90s. … As a native San Franciscan, this feels like home.

Silver has previously written for Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, GQ, NFL Network, and Yahoo! Sports, among others. He’s also authored books on Jerry Rice, Kurt Warner, and Dennis Rodman.

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Sports Online

Skip Bayless Tries to Win Debate Rounds ‘Like Muhammad Ali’

“I must admit I have been known upon rare occasion to try to win a debate the way Ali won rounds with a flurry at the end trying to get the last word also going through the stop or wrap sign.”

Ricky Keeler

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Skip Bayless

When people watch debate shows, they sometimes don’t want the debate to end. However, bills have to get paid and commercials have to be shown. However, when is the right time for a debate show to air a commercial? On the latest episode of The Skip Bayless Show, Skip was asked in an email by a listener about when he and Shannon Sharpe know to go to a debate on UNDISPUTED on FS1. Bayless said the show has more room to roam in the first two hours, but eventually, he gets the signal from his line producer.

“We loosely plan on 22-23 minutes in what we call our A block. We block out 25-ish minutes for our B block, which is the only block in the show that has two topics in it.”

“Our line producer in the control room, Nick, who is in our ears. He tries to sense along the trail when we are winding down or when we are trying to push the clock too far. His first cue to us in our ears, he tries to avoid speaking when we are speaking, the first cue is ‘start to wrap’. Then, a minute or so later, he says ‘wrap’. If we continue to not wrap, maybe we get a much stronger ‘wrap’.”

However, it might not be easy for Bayless and Sharpe to end the debate, especially if they both want to be the one who wins the argument. So, sometimes, they can easily go past the hard wrap sign that is given.

“Sometimes the guy sitting across from me at the debate desk gets all worked up and barrels right through that stop sign. I must admit I have been known upon rare occasion to try to win a debate the way Ali won rounds with a flurry at the end trying to get the last word also going through the stop or wrap sign,” said Bayless.

If there is one thing that Bayless is proud of, it’s the fact that UNDISPUTED has never gone past the allotted time, which allows The HERD with Colin Cowherd to begin on schedule.

“I must tell you not in 6 years have we ever not finished a show right on time. Not once have we pushed Colin over the cliff as he begins his show. That is just not acceptable.” 

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