Where would ESPN fit in at News Corp.?

by azaleon

We learn the difference between underdogs and favorites very early on.

There’s the kid with glasses eating paste during recess (he’ll run a Fortune 500, by the way…just giving you fair warning) and then there is the guy batting a thousand in kickball (he’ll be crushed when he figures out it isn’t a scholarship sport).

In the media world, national news networks are some of the biggest kids on the playground. Fox News is one of the Big Three along with CNN and MSNBC, while in the sports world, ESPN is the undisputed heavyweight champion. Moreover, Fox’s parent company, News Corporation has a dominance that crosses the Atlantic. In late June, News Corp. Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch announced a split within his empire that would divide holdings as either “entertainment” or “publishing.”

One of the most notable placements in this grand schism was the decision to put Fox News in the entertainment division. I don’t care what your political stance is (and I won’t be injecting mine here), there is a hint of irony in categorizing “(Anything) News” as entertainment. It is with this in mind that I break down ESPN’s programming as either entertainment or news.

(Disclaimer: This post refers only to the actual television network and no other branch of the World Wide Leader, whether it be online or print. Also, entertainment is not meant to mean negative or stupid. Instead, it is programming that does not provide viewers with new, unbiased information.)

SportsCenter- push

The flagship program of ESPN is still anchored by breaking news and game highlights.  However, SportsCenter’s draw to viewers recently has been the commentary. Often times, there will be 90 seconds of highlight (my guesstimate on that one, no official timing) followed by a few minutes of discussions with an analyst/s. The lead-in to this usually goes something like, “Dwight Howard…something…speculation…something, hear what our (insert analyst) has to say.”  And then they’ll thrust some poor soul onto the set with an objective anchor and force them to predict and rank anything and everything (see: Stephen A. Smith, Matt Millen, Jalen Rose, Jon Barry, Herm Edwards, Trent Dilfer, etc.). I’m sure these are all intelligent individuals, but they don’t provide viewers with facts like ESPN’s Buster Olney, Adam Schefter and Tim Kurkjian, who are some of the most talented reporters in the industry.

After years of taping just one show and then rerunning it every hour, SC went live and thus, the need t0 keep it fresh for every show arose. I now find more time to devoted to talking heads and certain stories that grab national attention. I don’t need to lecture you on the amount of year-round time tennis/Roger Federer gets on SC as opposed to NFL/Tim Tebow. It is for this reason it get an indecisive “push.”

First Take- Entertainment

What John Daly is to sobriety, First Take is to news.

 E:60- News

Underrated and rarely promoted, ESPN’s version of Dateline consistently brings quality, seldom told stories.

College Gameday/NFL Live/Baseball Tonight/NFL Primetime/NBA Fastbreak/etc.- News

ESPN’s league-based programming, like SportsCenter, is a fusion of news and commentary. However, since there is a more focused approach (and more journalism, overall) these shows get the nod for news.

Around the Horn- Entertainment

The First Take gateway drug.

Pardon the Interruption (PTI)- Entertainment

A nice chaser to the shot of cheap vodka that is Around the Horn. PTI has long been a favorite of mine and many others in my demographic who came home from school and would watch it before dinner. Lately though, it seems rare that Kornheiser and Wilbon are actually in the same studio together, which is when the show really clicks.

Outside the Lines- News

It is a crying shame that 1) OTL gets only a half-hour of airtime and 2) that time slot comes at 3 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. on Sunday. OTL is the closest thing to investigative journalism that ESPN has and tackles the pressing issues of the day that SportsCenter and other entertainment programs tend to shy away from. Although panelist segments can, at times, get into yelling matches, they always bring real experts onto the show, who reflect different perspectives. To me, OTL represents what ESPN could be.

30 For 30- OK, new category…awesome.

The Sports Reporters- Entertainment

ESPN’s grown-up debate show, The Sports Reporters is what happens when fantastic columnists sit down and don’t feel forced to yell to make their point. And with the theme of a more mature crowd, TSR runs weekend mornings. Watching TSR is like flipping to the Opinion section of a newspaper. This reinforces that just because a show is considered entertainment, it can still be quality entertainment (that apparently can’t hold the attention of anyone under 30).

SportsNation- Entertainment

Watching SportsNation is sort of like eating fast food; I know it’s not good for me, I know it doesn’t take a very high IQ to understand and yet, it’s still an occasional guilty pleasure. A show that packages funny sports clips and stories, along with the input of fans appeals to me. Don’t get me wrong, Cowherd is still one the less desirable humans to watch and listen to. But ESPN smartly puts him in a role not actually debating anything too significant, rather his job sometimes consists of seeing if people enjoyed a video of a four-wheeling mascot more than a compilation of swimming pool dunks.

Numbers Don’t Lie/Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable/- Probably entertainment?

I’ll level with you, I’ve never actually spent the time to sit down and watch one second of either of these shows. So while I can’t honestly categorize them, I’m guessing neither one will be breaking a big story anytime soon.

Final score- News 3…Entertainment 5…Push 1

I’m going to stick with the fast food analogy.  It’s easy to blame McDonalds and it’s easy to blame ESPN, but both actually offer options for consumers. If you want to watch news all day and highlights, there’s ESPN News. But nobody watches ESPN News all day because it’s not entertaining. Rather, we as a society choose the Big Macs and the Skip Bayless’s of the world and the corporations oblige. Bayless is a blowhard, but he does his job well because I’m sitting here writing about him and remains nationally relevant among sports fans. We could go to McDonalds and get a salad (that’s still healthy there, right?), but we don’t.  After all, the name of the channel is Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

But then again, if all sports is entertainment, can any of this really be considered news?