Can ESPN be saved? App usage continues to slip as audience finds alternatives

1 month ago by Joshua Fruhlinger in Facts, Trends

For decades, ESPN ($NYSE:DIS) was the source for sports news, commentary, scores, and general programming. As young audiences increasingly cut the cord and look to digital content providers that have become disruptors the sports space (see: BleacherReport, SBNation, YardBarker) via second screen and mobile apps, ESPN has struggled to maintain an audience.

In 2017, ESPN's viewership numbers dropped 11% while ad revenues have slipped proportionally. Even President Trump got in a few ribs at the network:

The digital trends for ESPN aren't looking good, either. According to usage rank numbers, ESPN is struggling to maintain an audience for its mobile app.

In the second half of 2016, ESPN was a regular top-50 app when it came to uage via Facebook login, the most common way for users to sign in to apps. These days, however, it struggles to grace the top-100. As of this week, it sits at spot 144 after slipping from a seasonal high of 82 on September 12.

It's clear that if ESPN hopes to survive in an increasingly complex and competitive digital space, it will need to look for younger audiences via digital and mobile.

It's not all bad

To be fair to ESPN, it's still the biggest name in sports news and scores, both on TV and on mobile devices. It's currently the #1 app on the Apple App store and is the #1 recommended sports app on the Google Play Android app store.

It's also been doing some interesting things on millennial-friendly Snapchat with a Snapchat-only version of SportsCenter. Meanwhile, the app from SBNation has seen sinking usage numbers of its own.

Given this context, there is some silver lining for ESPN and parent company Disney, in that there remains a massive opportunity to transition to digital where appetites for sports news, scores, and commentary remain strong. If the recent upstarts in the space tell us anything, it's that younger, digital-savvy audiences want the content. It's now up to providers to get it in front of them on the right devices.

Joshua Fruhlinger

Joshua has been writing about technology, lifestyle, and business for over 20 years. He's one of the original writers and editors for Engadget, and still writes a...

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