Liz Gannes

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ESPN’s John Skipper on Digital Distribution: “We Take the Dollar and We Take the Dime, as Well”

ESPN isn’t much for cannibalization, said its new president John Skipper, speaking today at D: Dive Into Media.

That is, ESPN thinks it can preserve its traditional premium fees from paid TV distributors, while also making money from online offerings.

Where some in television have worried about “turning analog dollars into digital dimes” (I believe that originated with former NBC CEO Jeff Zucker), Skipper said of ESPN, “We take the dollar and we take the dime, as well.”

ESPN viewership is 99 percent live, Skipper said, and it fights cord-cutters by not giving its content away for free. That’s in contrast to NBC, which will be livestreaming this weekend’s Super Bowl online.

“We have a different philosophy,” Skipper said. “We believe that the content we sell to distributors for a lot of money, that we should not distribute it for free to someone else.”

By contrast, Skipper said, “The Rose Bowl is not available for free. You have to have a paid television subscription, and then you can watch it wherever you want.”

Since 2005, ESPN has made sure that all its content deals include rights for every device. As Skipper put it, “We don’t cannibalize ourself, we use those platforms to cross-promote.”

Further, Skipper says ESPN is well worth the money distributors pay (something that draws a lot of grumbles from others in the industry). It brings in strong local ad sales, and has pioneered 3-D and HD content on television.

“The rates we get from distributors are directly correlated to the value we provide,” Skipper said.

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