ESPN demonstrates how a monopoly works in the contemporary media landscape, a landscape in which the cost of information is diminishing and the necessity of diversified revenue streams is increasing. By distributing content across multiple platforms, like their website, their television programs, their magazine and their mobile applications, ESPN maintains a steady position as the leader in sports news. No competitor has managed to knock ESPN off its horse, primarily because ESPN can outbid practically any other network or media group for content.
The media groups of individual sports leagues like Major League Baseball pose an interesting threat to ESPN. These groups develop their own networks designed to produce content for one sport only, like baseball. They’re capable of offering products that ESPN can’t due to the amount and variation of content that ESPN covers. Fortunately for ESPN, the idea of partnering and revenue sharing is appealing to these networks due to ESPN’s wide audience base.
What makes ESPN special is their ability to deliver a set of experiences that other networks cannot compete with. When content becomes homogenous between networks, it’s the availability and delivery of the content that makes a difference, and right now, no one delivers sports news like ESPN.
In today’s media landscape, it’s extremely difficult to dominate a market. It’s difficult to even stay solvent for many news organizations. Bankruptcy, or the threat of bankruptcy, haunts just about every major newspaper in the country, including the Chicago Tribune, who filed for Chapter 11 at the end of 2008. Broadcast audiences in most large cities are divided up among the big network affiliates like ABC, NBC and FOX, and magazine subscriptions and revenues continue to decline. Despite uncertain times, one media group maintains a monopoly on their market. Often referred to as a “cartel,” Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) has dominated the sports media industry across multiple platforms for decades. Seemingly always multiple steps ahead of their largest competitors, CBS and NBC Sports, ESPN has developed mobile apps, a network of television channels, a documentary series and other original content that simply overwhelms their audience. Being the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” comes with its criticisms, of course. ESPN is often accused of biased reporting and engaging in conflicts of interest, notably, their development of the Longhorn Network with the University of Texas. Regardless, consumers turn to ESPN for sports news and content. In their mission statement, they say they endeavor “To serve sports fans wherever sports are watched, listened to, discussed, debated, read about or played,” and that “People are our most valuable resource, and care and respect for employees and each other will always be at the heart of our operations.” ESPN is in the unique position of being the people’s champion of the sports media landscape. Since its inception in September of 1979, ESPN has appealed to consumers on a more conversational, personable level than most other sports outlets or media organizations. The network has developed personalities like Chris “Boomer” Berman and Stuart Scott who involve their audience by combining references to pop-culture with sports. As a result, ESPN has developed as an incredibly strong brand, known for being “cool.” Competitors like CBS and NBC Sports are certainly well established brands of their own, but their brands aren’t as “hip” as ESPN. By generating cross-platform content with ESPN the Magazine, ESPN.com and the more recent ESPN ScoreCenter mobile app, ESPN has carved up the sports media landscape to their liking, dictating how information is disseminated. While ESPN has done an amazing job up until now, they face the danger of losing specialized audiences to channels like the MLB Network and NFL Network who siphon off consumers...