Rupert Murdoch, the mastermind behind Fox News, is reportedly in the process of launching an all-sports cable channel with the single-minded goal of competing with ESPN, the reigning king of sports entertainment. The Australian media mogul is hardly the first network head to mull the prospect of creating an "ESPN killer," and it's widely agreed that it will be no simple task usurping the crown, even for Murdoch's sprawling media empire. ESPN not only dominates sports viewing — it's the most popular cable channel in America. Can Murdoch's News Corp. really take ESPN down?
Murdoch will run up against some hard realities: ESPN's popularity allows it to demand sky-high subscription fees from cable distributors like Comcast, says Bill Carter at The New York Times, raking in about $5 a month per subscriber, while most other channels take in "less than a dollar." With that cash flow, ESPN can better compete for rights to air increasingly expensive sporting events. News Corp. has the rights to some major athletic spectacles — including the 2018 and 2022 World Cups — but Murdoch will have to pony up a lot of money to acquire a solid "roster of highly desirable events." Without that, it's hard to create a competitive sports network.
"News Corp. said to weigh a channel to rival ESPN"
But don't underestimate Murdoch's determination: Murdoch is "ready to spend big bucks" to out-muscle ESPN, says Jonahan Berr at MSN Money. While other networks also want to elbow into the sports market, Murdoch "is especially dangerous for ESPN" because he is notorious for pouring money into projects he's obsessed with, and is "willing to wait years for his investments to pay off." Critics questioned his decision to buy The Wall Street Journal for a "shockingly high" $5 billion, and to launch the languishing Fox Business Network, but he's still sticking to his guns. If he's willing to make risky bets like that, "taking on the ESPN colossus should be a piece of cake."
"Murdoch isn't playing games with ESPN"
Murdoch can win if he sensationalizes sports: ESPN's secret, says Jeff Bercovici at Forbes, is getting viewers to tune in every day to SportsCenter, and covering "mundane events and minor controversies in a way that makes viewers think they're watching the Kennedy assassination." The key to a successful sports channel is "finding compelling [on-air] talent, creating franchises with attitude, [and] milking or manufacturing controversies to give all those shouting heads something to shout about." Who does that better than Rupert Murdoch?
"How Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes could beat ESPN at its own game"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Watch out, China — America is working on dogfighting drones
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How liberals are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of adult incest
- Why the Chinese military is only a paper dragon
- How the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover revealed the worst of both shows
- Why America won't have enough money to battle ISIS
- Bill O'Reilly and Stephen Colbert are accidentally having a serious debate on ISIS
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- The troubling persistence of eugenicist thought in modern America
Subscribe to the Week