Faced with the combined pressure of declining advertising revenue and a steady loss of subscribers, ESPN will undergo another round of “significant” layoffs over the next four months.
Sources confirm a report by Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch that ESPN will target its on-air talent in this latest round of cuts, which will spare behind-the-scenes staff but include many hosts and reporters whom fans know and recognize.
ESPN is still working on the exact details of the cuts, which aim to remove tens of millions of dollars of salary from the network’s payroll. In addition to the layoffs, ESPN reportedly will buy out the contracts of some well-known hosts, something the network has largely avoided in previous cuts.
"Today's fans consume content in many different ways, and we are in a continuous process of adapting to change and improving what we do. Inevitably, that has consequences for how we utilize our talent,” an ESPN spokesperson said in a statement. “We are confident that ESPN will continue to have a roster of talent that is unequaled in sports."
Disney reported disappointing first-quarter fiscal results last month, primarily because of weak performance by ESPN and the company's media networks. Advertising revenue declined 7 percent compared to the first quarter last year while programming costs increased, including a new NBA deal that costs the network 1.4 billion a year, a 143 percent increase over its previous contract with the league.
ESPN also continues to lose subscribers because of the trend of cord cutting. According to Nielsen, the network had 88.4 million subscribers in December 2016, down from 100.002 million in February 2011, though ESPN disagrees with Nielsen’s numbers. ESPN earns $6.50 per subscriber per month.
To stem the tide of losses, ESPN has embarked on a number of digital initiatives. Most recently, the network announced it would be part of a new YouTube TV streaming service positioned as a “skinny bundle” option for cord cutters.