ESPN chief John Skipper sketched out the sports networks’ new content strategy to employees Wednesday, a move that will, according to sources familiar with the matter, include layoffs of about 100 employees, mostly on-air talent.
ESPN had been expected to announce layoffs focused on its about 1,000 on-air, anchors and play-by-play personalities for weeks. The Washington Post, citing other sources, said Tuesday the axe was expected to fall April 26 on as many as 70 workers. In the end, even that modified number – in March, reports predicted 40-to-50 layoffs – fell short of the mark.
In a message to employees, Skipper, president of ESPN/Disney Media Networks did not talk about specific layoffs, but said that the sports industry is evolving and ESPN needs to change with it.
“A necessary component of managing change involves constantly evaluating how we best utilize all of our resources, and that sometimes involves difficult decisions,” Skipper said in the note. “Our content strategy – primarily illustrated in recent months by melding distinct, personality-drivenSportsCenterTV editions and digital-only efforts with our biggest sub-brand – still needs to go further, faster…and as always, must be efficient and nimble. Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent—anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play—necessary to meet those demands. We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week. A limited number of other positions will also be affected and a handful of new jobs will be posted to fill various needs.”
Skipper thanked the affected employees for their “great work” for the company and their many contributions to ESPN.
ESPN, like most other programmers, has struggled with shifting viewing habits as more and more consumers watch content on the go and on multiple devices. The network, which has seen its traditional TV viewer base dwindle in the past few years, has tried to adapt.
That includes recent changes made to Sports Center with Scott Van Pelt, the launch of SC6 with Michael Smith and Jemele Hill, the debut of ore digital-only content socially and on its ESPN app, and multi-screen initiatitves like the College Football Playoff Megacast.
“Our objective in all we do is to best serve fans and their changing consumption habits while still maintaining an unparalleled and diverse talent roster that resonates with fans across all our platforms,” Skipper said in his message to employees. “We will continue to foster creativity and investment in the products and resources necessary to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead.”