Big Changes Challenge Industry Stalwarts. How Will You React?

What will you do when your brand audience shifts? The world is becoming increasingly mobile and the impact is just now starting to be felt across a variety of industries. For example, as Robert Rose voiced more than a year ago, and AT&T with Mark Wahlberg states: what is television? Is it a thing on a wall–or is it something you view on whatever device you happen to have handy? That’s something that users might not think twice about, but many companies producing content can’t afford to ignore.

Loosening the Cable Knot on Sports

Consider ESPN. When they burst onto the market with the birth of cable TV, they were in the cable sports business. In fact, they were the cable sports business. There were only four ways to get information about sports at the time: see it live (either in person or on TV), hear it on the radio, or read about it in print later. While ESPN eventually added media options, with radio shows and a print magazine, things have changed dramatically in the last five years. Now, anyone can get the information they want instantly, in any number of ways. Want to watch live tennis from around the world? Pick your device—tablet, smart phone, computer or TV. Want to know what happened in every game in the league? Check your social feeds. The ESPN audience doesn’t have to reserve a time on the couch to watch specific shows or events to get the information they want. ESPN has to adapt if it wants to continue to be relevant with its audience.

Unchained Media

A consequence of the new streaming and mobile technology is that more and more people are cutting the cord from cable, either entirely or paring back to the basics. This is especially prevalent among millennials and generations to follow. This also happens to be the next potential generation audience for ESPN. If they are not going to consume content via cable, the company has to make a decision to provide content where their audience is. That’s not easy to give up when the network gets a purported $7+ per cable household, totaling $7.8 billion per year. But the signs are in and changes are on the way. If you look outside of the U.S., new and developing markets will never have cable. Why would they?

The Faceless New Face of Sports

With ratings dropping and audiences moving away, ESPN made the decision to let go of a significant portion of its on-air talent. These were many of the faces that its audience would recognize when they came to the channel—but that an online and mobile audience would never see. If you’re looking for a 30-second sports highlight, you don’t want half of that time to be a talking head explaining what you are about to see. Just. Show. The. Video. That’s what the audience wants.

The alternative? Keep feeding the cable audience until the ESPN brand is locked behind the audience brand gate and the world has moved on. That’s not a path for sustained brand growth. Brands can live forever, and ESPN is taking smart steps in that direction by reducing its dependency on cable and meeting its next audience where they want to be.

Just the Start

ESPN is making adjustments now to move with its audience—are you? This shift away from cable doesn’t just affect ESPN and other content providers, it impacts all of the companies that advertise on its programs, sponsor its events, and use its programming to reach their audience. Each one of these organizations will have to determine the best way to stay connected with their audience or risk being left behind. And one thing for certain is that they are going to change.



Learn more about how legacy brands can connect with new audiences in our ebook, Five Gates of Branding.

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