Some Half-Baked Ideas on the Real Politics Behind ESPN’s Firings

A few half-baked thoughts/observations on the ESPN firings and how they are indicative of larger issues at play in the media and corporate/political landscape. They were too long for Twitter or Facebook so I am posting them here. Keep in mind that they are rough assemblage of things flying around in my head and perhaps not as tidily connected as I layout here. 

  • The immediate reaction to blame cord-cutters is somewhat nonsense. It has more to do with the arrogance of cable and its near-monopolistic structure. Comcast likely has an even worse approval rating than Trump.
  • The cord-cutting phenomenon is not new. Channels like ESPN should have asked why are people cutting cords? And how can they reorient their business model to adapt? I’ve long pointed to MLB and their At-Bat app (which is 15 years old) as the future. Fans can subscribe to teams and games they want at different qualities levels. I think if MLB offered their own network on the App it would work, too. No other sports league or channel has been as innovative or successful.
  • It is a structural problem related to late-capitalism. Big cable is a part of the consolidation of companies and reduction of jobs. Fewer companies are trying to control the means of production and distribution (we see similar issues in the newspaper industry). Big cable is also one of the biggest lobbying groups trying to prevent competition, to end net-neutrality, and so forth. In their quest for further consolidation and more profits, they’ve ignored consumers. Thus, consumers are reacting to corporate greed while legislators are empowering it more and more. ESPN employees were caught in the middle.
  • Of course, the issue of the internet is caught in the middle. Fans now have quicker access to scores, highlights, and other information online or on their phones (see the At-Bat example above). Although cable companies have tried to crack down on this with their monopolization and limitation of neutrality, access and internet speed, they have also sold out channels like ESPN who’s costly bloat they perceive as driving customers away (which is partially true). So what we are seeing at ESPN is the squeezing of both consumers (i.e. cord cutters) and outdated models of broadcast sports media. The only “winner” in all of this are companies like Comcast.
  • Other people claim that the firings are not necessarily because of cord cutters but a reaction to a perceived liberal bias in sports reporting by ESPN and others. This too is laughable. Analysis of ESPNs coverage of topics like sexual assault, domestic violence, and other political issues routinely reveal the opposite, and the networks tendency to gloss over controversy in an effort to appease its broadcast partners and advertisers.
  • The firings are, however, based in politics. The politics of corporate greed which has created an environment where companies like Comcast are trying to assert their authority over both cable channels (by cutting costs) and streaming services (by fiddling with net neutrality) in order squeeze out more profits. This means reducing the size of newsrooms, laying off reporters and personalities in favor of only bottom line driven program (like live-sporting events and debate shows). Surely the sports broadcasting bubble, which has inflated college athletic budgets is not too far behind. This also means, though, that Cable’s quest for self-preservation has also impacted the internet, threatening access and quality content. If we take a step back, we see the politics of corporate greed at play devaluing human labor, limiting quality and access to entertainment, news, and potentially other means of communication.
  • ESPN will garner attention because lots of people care about sports. I don’t shed many tears for ESPN because it is a problematic network with lots of other issues that contributed to its demise. But, I contend that we could replace ESPN with another struggling cable networks, newspapers, or media companies, and see similar market forces at play which are grounded in the ethos of the corporate politics exhibited by cable companies as they move to further dominate both television and the internet.

Again, these are half-baked ideas. I’d be interested to hear what others think about the connections between Cable, news media, the future of the internet, capitalism, the current political climate, and what we saw today at ESPN.

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