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Here’s Some Evidence ESPN’s Politics Are Impacting Its Audience

In the great sports wars of 2017, put me in Dan McLaughlin’s camp. Yes, ESPN has a business problem. It took on huge fixed costs when it paid billions for live sports at the very time that increased cord-cutting and decreased bundling meant that its subscriber base was bound to shrink. At the same time, however, its hard-edged ideological turn did it no favors. While there’s not yet any reliable metric to measure the number of lost subscribers from simple cord-cutting versus the lost subscribers from political disgust, the folks over at Deep Root Analytics were able to dive into the data in one interesting market, Cincinnati:

Deep Root Analytics specializes in local television measurement by segmenting the population into political, advocacy and commercial groups and matching those segments into observed TV viewership data via set-top boxes and smart TV data. This allows Deep Root to produce customized ratings and indices for every program and daypart on broadcast and cable TV – including data on ESPN’s viewership among loyal Democrats and Republicans.

We analyzed viewership data in a large media market in a swing state (Cincinnati, OH) for the entirety of 2015 and 2016. Also, to control for any changes in partisan identification between 2015 and 2016, Deep Root Analytics analyzed viewership among the same audiences across both years.

And what did they find?

Specifically, in 2015, the ESPN audience on average skewed Republican across all dayparts, ranging from 12% more Republican (Early News, Late Fringe, Overnight) to 21% more Republican than Democratic (Early Morning).

In 2016, every daypart on ESPN became less conservative, with Daytime being only 2% more Republican than Democratic, while Late Fringe and Overnight programming became 10% and 12% more Democratic than Republican – a 22 and 28 point shift, respectively.

And here’s their chart. The numbers are interesting indeed:

Yes, this is only one city, but the numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone. People like watching like-minded outlets, and it makes sense that as ESPN migrates Left, so will its viewers. Yet this also seems like a great way to shrink the pie of potential viewers and make your appeal, to quote This Is Spinal Tap, a bit “more selective.”

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