ESPN Loses 500,000 Subscribers In April

It’s become a major trend, when tax season arrives, cable and satellite subscriber numbers tank according to Nielsen estimates. I don’t know if that’s because come spring tax season everyone looks at their yearly budgets and many people, in an effort to save money, decide they don’t need cable and satellite subscriptions any longer, or whether the end of the NFL, college football, and college basketball causes many sports fans to tune out for the summer. But regardless of the reason cord cutting in the spring has become an annual trend.

And the start of this spring was brutal for ESPN, costing the network 500,000 subscribers, or nearly 17,000 lost subscribers a day in the month of April. Putting that into context, this is $48 million in revenue that ESPN has lost forever. (That’s $8 a month x 500,000 lost subscribers x 12 months in a year).

The loss in subscribers puts ESPN down to just north of 86 million, which is a precipitous decline from the 100 million subscribers the network had as recently as the end of 2011. While the numbers of lost subscribers haven’t been as bad in the past few months, I suspect that’s because ESPN threw such a fit over last year’s numbers that Nielsen slowed down its subscriber attrition data for several months to make sure they weren’t off in their data measurements.

The result with the latest numbers?

A cable and satellite subscriber bloodbath.

Since whenever I post one of these updates there’s an inevitable cry, what about FS1 and NBSN and NFL Network, here are those numbers in a Tweet below.

(By the way, now that I’ve linked this subscriber info in the article, I encourage you to respond to people who ask questions without reading articles and call them what they are — idiots.)

Interestingly, the NFL Network fell victim to its decision to take Thursday night football to Fox. As a result Comcast, which owns NBC, the network that aired half of Thursday night football, knocked the NFL Network down into a lower programming tier, shaving nearly a million subscribers off the channel’s subscriber base. Given that the NFL Network makes around $1.20 a month in subscriber fees, that means the NFL gave up over $12 million a year in lost NFL Network subscriber revenue to switch Thursday night football to Fox.

The larger story here remains that ESPN, which is the most expensive channel on cable by far, loses more than any other channel with cord cutting because their revenue takes the biggest hit. That’s easy to illustrate by using FS1 as an example. FS1 brings in roughly $1 a month in subscriber fees so losing 328,000 subscribers would cost it just shy of $4 million total a year. Whereas ESPN 500,000 lost subscribers cost it $48 million a year.

Given that ESPN costs three times what every other channel costs — and given the substantial fixed rate costs involved with its insanely overpriced and paid sports programming schedule — the network needs to be saving money wherever it can.

So it’s probably a good thing the network isn’t spending $35 million a year on a brand new New York City studio and paying three people $15 million a year to host a show whose ratings are declining by 20% over the much cheaper show they replaced.

Wait…

Maybe they need to sign Peppa Pig instead.

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