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Volume 26 No. 208
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ESPN Cites Changing Viewing Habits In Rolling Back "OTL" Presence

The "OTL" announcement comes almost four months after Bob Ley ended his 40-year run at ESPN
Photo: ESPN IMAGES
The "OTL" announcement comes almost four months after Bob Ley ended his 40-year run at ESPN
Photo: ESPN IMAGES
The "OTL" announcement comes almost four months after Bob Ley ended his 40-year run at ESPN
Photo: ESPN IMAGES

ESPN said that its move to cancel "Outside the Lines" as a daily studio show is in response to "changing viewing patterns," according to Phil Rosenthal of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Dec. 20 will mark the final airing of "OTL" in its regular half-hour 1:00pm ET weekday slot. The show will eventually transition to an "hour-long weekly show," set for 9:00am Saturdays, effective Jan. 18. Beginning in January, its "vacated time period will be absorbed by" expanding the noon weekday "SportsCenter" to 90 minutes. "OTL" will have "daily segments featured on 'SportsCenter' as well as occasional prime-time specials." The announcement "comes close to four months after Bob Ley, the longtime 'Outside the Lines' host, ended his 40-year run at ESPN" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/23). ESPN execs said the move was made to "evolve" the "OTL" brand and make it accessible to more viewers. ESPN Exec VP and Exec Editor/Event & Studio Production Norby Williamson said, "We're taking away OTL's linear half-hour daily presence and expanding it. ... We're going to impact more people. ... Everything has to evolve. Consumer habits are changing." "OTL" launched in '90 as a monthly prime-time news show. Williamson: "We're getting back to what we used to do. This is the next iteration of 'OTL'" (John Ourand, THE DAILY).

JOURNALISM TAKING A HIT? In DC, Ben Strauss notes "OTL" serves as ESPN's "main news offering for hard-hitting stories not typically covered by 'SportsCenter.'" There will now be "less room for discussion of those kinds of stories each day on ESPN's linear TV channel, though the network believes its new morning podcast, hosted by Mina Kimes, can be a daily platform for discussing social issues in sports and investigative work done by its journalists" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/23). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Andrew Bucholtz wrote cancelling "OTL" as a daily show also "isn't a sign that ESPN is 'abandoning news'; their OTL figures will still be involved" with the daily segments. However, when it comes to the "OTL" segments in "other venues, those won't necessarily be as nuanced, in-depth, or effective as the full half-hour studio show was." Part of the appeal of "OTL" as a studio show was its "ability to have knowledgeable anchors interviewing key figures in depth on the day's breaking news" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 10/22).

TWITTER REAX: Seattle-based KING-NBC's Steve Bunin: "Why aren't more people enraged over this? @OTLonESPN essentially cancelled. ... As a proud former host of OTL, I'm so saddened." N.Y. Daily News' Jane McManus: "Dismantling the journalism flagship. People inside ESPN have been dreading this possibility and it shows how quickly things can change. ESPN debuted its new OTL studio in 2017. You don't build a studio for a weekend show." Media researcher Dylan McLemore: "The unmatched capital Bob Ley built at ESPN kept the lights on at OTL. But months after his retirement, the opposite of 'stick to sports' is getting relegated." WSCR-AM's Julie DiCaro: "OTL is the gold- standard for those of us who care about sports' impact in society. Crying shame to see it reduced to weekends." Sports writer Patrick Hruby: "This sounds bad -- but it might be ok! Really depends on the types of stories OTL produces and how much (or little) ESPN pushes them. That said, I'll miss the show."