SBD/June 24, 2014/Media

ESPN Exec Defends Appeal Of "First Take" Format, Says Ratings Remain Strong For Show

Keegan said "First Take" has freedoms other ESPN shows do not have
SI.com's Richard Deitsch conducted a Q&A with ESPN VP/Production Marcia Keegan to discuss the net's "First Take" morning show, which Keegan oversees. Keegan said she is proud of the show because it "appeals to an audience that some of the other shows I have responsibility for don't. We're a big tent at ESPN. I am very proud of OTL and their journalistic efforts. It is journalism at its best and this (First Take) to me is a different way of reaching different fans." She added, "We never manufacture disagreement. What we do is find topics where there is disagreement." There are times when debaters Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless "have agreed on things." Keegan: "But mostly it is a debate show. So if there is a topic they are in vehement agreement about, it might be one we choose to go with that day." More excerpts are below:

Q: What is the actual goal from the show?
Keegan: We want to offer something different and talk about things people are talking about. We try to do it in a way our SportsCenters can't and don't have the freedom to, and may not want to.

Q: How has "Embrace Debate" positively and negatively affected the ESPN brand?
Keegan: I think it has positively affected it in almost every way you can think of.

Q: Why?
Keegan: It has been great for ratings. If you told me five years ago when I first had responsibility for this that we could regularly do a 0.4 (350,000-450,000 or so viewers) at 10:00 a.m. on ESPN2, I'd say what are you smoking? It is ... great for ratings. I will not share with you the financials but it is good for financials. And I think it is good for the brand.

Q: How much of the show's content will revolve around Johnny Manziel heading forward?
Keegan: If he remains a hot topic, it will remain a topic.

Q: In hindsight, how do you feel about the show's coverage of Tim Tebow?
Keegan: At the time Tim Tebow was in the news every day and we talked about him a lot. Other shows followed suit at ESPN so it wasn't as if everyone was saying that is a terrible idea. He was a hot topic (SI.com, 6/22).
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