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Viacom About To Make ESPN’s Life Much More Difficult

The great shakeup in cable broadcasting is under way.

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SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05: A view of the logo during ESPN The Party on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN

For sports fans, ESPN has long been a godsend. You can turn on one of its networks and see some kind of competition.

If you participate in sports, coach sports or own a sports team (although obviously not for college athletes unless you go to Kentucky - kidding!), ESPN has put a lot of money in your pocket.

All of that is based on the tradition model of bundling though, where you, the consumer, get a raft of channels you don’t really want and never watch.

That model’s been in trouble for a while, under pressure from things like cord cutting, generational change and the fact that people are getting sick of ever rising cable bills.

So gradually the industry is adapting and now we see Viacom prepared to offer what it’s calling an “entertainment pack” - with no sports.

Worse, from the point of view of ESPN and the sports world, many young viewers have concluded they can live without most sports.

According to Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, “The transformational opportunity is to bring in a new entry segment at a much lower price point.” [The industry needs] “a path to bring in someone who wants high-quality entertainment but doesn’t want to pay for sports channels. With a truly low-cost entertainment option, MVPDs can also offer more flexibility to consumers to “trade up from and trade down as the household needs change.”

MVPD, by the way, stands for multichannel video programming distributor.

As you may know, ESPN is usually the biggest single part of anyone’s cable bill. All those chits add up and go into rights for things like the NBA, NFL, and soon, the ACC Network.

So what happens when the gravy train slows?

We have no idea. All we know for sure is that the industry is about to be disrupted in a major way and, really, probably several simultaneously.

For instance, we’re not at all sure that AR (augmented reality) can work with broadcast TV well. Or maybe it can.

It’s equally possible that some of the revolutionary technologies that are just around the corner could make sports compelling in totally different ways and even more lucrative.

We’d love to know what John Swofford and the ACC brain trust think right about now.

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