So ESPN is shaking things up.
The theme was a bet on the power of the network’s personalities. ESPN formally announced several new shows — including a three-hour morning block with the longtime ESPN host Mike Greenberg, and one that will feature the commentators Bomani Jones and Pablo Torre. In an apparent effort to draw viewers to “SportsCenter,” its crown jewel since 1979, ESPN has retooled the show, tying time slots to specific anchors, including Kenny Mayne, one of the network’s best-known personalities. The show will not air at all from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. on ESPN’s main channel.
The network has also signed new deals with other ESPN veterans, including Sage Steele and Hannah Storm, who will have a new role that includes hosting prime-time specials. Ms. Steele will host a three-hour morning version of “SportsCenter” on ESPN2.
In an effort to meet viewers on their various devices, the network announced SportsCenter Right Now, short news updates online and twice hourly on ESPN during the day. During the presentation, Mr. Skipper highlighted ESPN’s inclusion in television packages offered by the likes of Sling TV and Hulu.
ESPN’s efforts to adapt to the digital age are indicative of broader challenges facing cable television. Cord-cutting has accelerated sharply in the last quarter, with traditional cable and satellite providers losing 732,000 subscribers compared with a loss of 102,000 in the same period a year ago, according to research by Michael Nathanson, an analyst at MoffettNathanson. Lower-priced “skinny” online packages of channels have not made up the slack.
National television advertising fell 1 percent in the last quarter, the most in nearly two years.
The shifting media landscape has been particularly hard on ESPN. The network has dropped subscribers in the last several years even as sports programming rights have become more expensive. ESPN, for instance, recently paid $12 billion for a nine-year deal with the N.B.A.
Disney, ESPN’s parent company, has staked some hope on an ESPN-branded subscription streaming service that it plans to introduce by the end of the year. But at least initially, the service will mostly stream sporting events for which ESPN owns the programming rights but does not televise, like certain tennis matches, cricket matches and various college sports.
Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, told analysts on an earnings call last week that the ESPN service would allow people to tailor subscriptions based on their interest — “a given sport or a given team or a given region in a given period of time.” He also said that ESPN had been working to improve its mobile apps, which he said have recently attracted a relatively healthy monthly audience of 23 million unique users.
Wall Street, however, has looked mostly askance at Disney’s plans for ESPN. During the conference call, analysts bombarded Mr. Iger with questions about the network. The company’s share price is down 7 percent since the last week in April, mirroring an industrywide decline that was driven by fears of cord-cutting and weak ad sales.
At the presentation on Tuesday, ESPN acknowledged its troubles, but did not let them detract from the over-the-top ritual of television’s yearly pitch to advertisers. As they nibbled on breakfast sandwiches and avocado toast, the network paraded stars across the stage at a Broadway theater in Midtown Manhattan. Serena Williams sat for a short interview with Mr. Greenberg to promote his morning studio show that will start next year. Paul Pierce, the former N.B.A. star, appeared (“I’m still pulling for the Celtics,” he said), as did many of the network’s biggest names, including Scott Van Pelt, Suzy Kolber, Jon Gruden and Mr. Mayne.
Absent, of course, was the talent the network laid off last month, including the former N.F.L. players Trent Dilfer and Danny Kanell, the former baseball general manager Jim Bowden, and the longtime N.F.L. reporter Ed Werder. Mr. Skipper was not available to talk to reporters after the presentation.
But while the network threw out the occasional statistic — Mr. Skipper said ESPN’s prime-time audience was up 15 percent in the first quarter and digital products reached more than 100 million people — the program lacked the torrent of sliced-and-diced numbers that often invade such presentations.
ESPN was, for the most part, in sell mode, at times poking fun at the notion that television advertising was outdated.
At one point, Mr. Mayne, fitted with feathery wings and calling himself the Angel of Advertising, soared onto the stage. After landing softly, he momentarily tussled with the wires that had suspended him.
“It’s a metaphor for the strength of cable,” he said, as he freed himself. “Look at it that way.”
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