Media vet Tom Rogers outlines how pandemic will alter the future of sports media
The media business faced two competing trends heading into the country’s shutdown due to the coronavirus.
On one hand, the cord-cutting trend has been hitting the pay-TV business for years, taking, for example, ESPN’s distribution from more than 100 million in 2011 to 82 million today. Conversely, pay-TV numbers historically fare well during economic downturns, as customers rely on in-home entertainment.
Early numbers suggest that the cord-cutting trend is the one that is affecting the media business during this pandemic. Veteran media executives believe that pay-TV distributors will shed video subscribers faster than ever over the next several months.
“Crises tend to accelerate trends,” said Tom Rogers, executive chairman of WinView, Frankly and Torque Esports. “This crisis is going to accelerate those trends that were working against the traditional media world.”
Rogers is a member of Broadcasting & Cable’s Hall of Fame, and I first started covering him two decades ago when he was president of NBC Cable. He is probably best known for being TiVo’s president for an 11-year stretch.
I asked Rogers how he expected the media business to change once we’re clear of this pandemic. His answer focused mainly on figuring out how to manage the disruption that already is happening.
Rogers pointed to the cascading effect of cord cutting, which will lead to drops in affiliate revenue and, with fewer subscribers and presumably fewer viewers, a corresponding drop in ad revenue.
“You’re really talking about a crisis in the support of critical forms of live television, which have to come up with new models for how that content is going to be supported,” Rogers said. “You’re going to have traditional media companies begin to figure out new sources of revenue. Or you’re going to see the major tech companies, which already are bidding on elements of sports programming, be able to do things with their balance sheets that are going to overwhelm the ability of the traditional players to hold onto that content.”
Though sports leagues are having their troubles now, Rogers said they will be one of the winners when they emerge from the pandemic because the number of companies willing to bid for their rights is only going to increase.
“The one thing I’m quite sure of — the major leagues have had and will continue to have a perfect auction marketplace,” Rogers said. “They will always have multiple well-heeled bidders for their product …
“The kind of things that we are talking about with these new revenue streams are the last best chance for the traditional media world to figure out a model as the traditional one diminishes,” Rogers continued. “They need to figure it out before it becomes too late and big tech companies are able to step in because they have a better business model and much deeper pockets than traditional media companies.”
Another winner, according to Rogers: consumers.
“It’s not going to change drastically for the consumer,” he said. “Live sports are going to be available. They may be available through Twitch or a streaming channel. … It will be cheaper and available for the consumer. The next couple of years is going to tell us a lot about whether the traditional guys can transition to another model.”