ESPN’s 2022 success is a bright spot for the TV industry
The GIST: While the rest of us toast to the new year, ESPN is raising a glass to 2022. The Disney subsidiary was the sixth most-watched network during primetime hours in the U.S. last year and was one of the few to enjoy double-digit growth YoY.
The details: ESPN’s main channel averaged 1.9 million primetime viewers in 2022, up 14% from 2021. Sister network ESPN2 also scored an 8% increase in its evening audience last year. They were the only channels — besides FX spinoff FXX — to be in the top 50 for viewers aged 18–49 and see audience growth last year.
- Among ESPN’s 2022 primetime slate? The NCAA women’s basketball and softball tourneys — the former averaged 4.85 million viewers for its championship game, while the latter attracted 1.7 million for its finale. Cheers to that.
The context: Sports may command audiences in ways other televised programs can’t, but ESPN bucked an industry-wide trend last year. Most competitors experienced viewership drops in 2022 — Fox Sports 1 and TUDN’s primetime numbers shrunk by 7% and 23% YoY, respectively, while the NFL Network and MLB Network saw double-digit losses.
Zooming out: As streamers gain a foothold in the sports broadcasting landscape, ESPN’s 2022 success is a bright spot for the TV industry. The channel’s strong showing may be attributed to its individuality, though — while most media conglomerates move marquee games from cable to broadcast, Disney allows ESPN and ABC to carry major games.
- ESPN’s recent wins also add new fuel to the debate on how it can best serve Disney. Some argue that spinning off the sports network is “the best path forward,” while others feel the move is unlikely with CEO Bob Iger at the helm. The plot thickens…