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Volume 26 No. 26
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"First Take" Moving To ESPN In Effort To Boost Viewership

ESPN will move “First Take” from ESPN2 to ESPN, a move that ESPN execs believe will increase viewership for the nearly 10-year-old franchise. The move to ESPN’s 10:00am-12:00pm ET timeslot starts Jan. 3. Two hours of “SportsCenter” will replace “First Take” on ESPN2 -- the Hannah Storm interview show “SportsCenter Face to Face” and the David Lloyd-Cari Champion-hosted “SportsCenter Coast to Coast.” “First Take” has struggled with viewers since Skip Bayless left the show in the summer and was replaced by Max Kellerman. Since Labor Day, when Bayless launched the competing show “Undisputed” on FS1, “First Take” viewership is down 33% compared to the previous year, according to the website SportsTVRatings.com.

ESPN execs said they expected to take a ratings hit when Bayless left -- not because Bayless went to a competitor and launched a competing show. Rather, it was because the biggest faces of ESPN’s “Embrace Debate” strategy -- Bayless and Stephen A. Smith -- were breaking up. It will take a while for Smith, Kellerman and host Molly Qerim to establish the same chemistry. “Skip could have left to work on a lobster boat and ratings would have suffered,” said ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus. “We knew there would be an impact with Skip and Stephen A. splitting up. It would be naïve and disingenuous to believe or say otherwise.”

While he predicted that the move to ESPN will help ratings, Magnus said he had considered the move well before Bayless announced his departure, “This is something that we’ve talked about for a long time,” he said. “We believe the ratings impact has settled down now, and we’re seeing our numbers start to grow.”