BRISTOL - ESPN has continued to evolve over the decades keeping up with the culture and the marketplace, rolling out a multi-sport video streaming service delivered through a mobile app this year.
At ESPN’s recent media day, President Jimmy Pitaro said the company needs to continue to attract younger audiences. He challenged the notion that keeping younger fans engaged is a challenge because of their supposed short attention spans.
Pitaro cited data showing “that when millennials do tune in to SportsCenter, they spend significantly more time with it than the older generation does. That says there’s an opportunity here, because they are appreciating the quality of SportsCenter.”
“Our focus needs to be generating awareness, making SportsCenter available on other platforms, like social media, and more importantly for us on our owned and operated app,” he added.
And then there’s e-sports - a form of video game competition between professional players, which can be viewed online through YouTube or the live-streaming video platform Twitch.tv.
“E-sports is not a fad, it’s not going anywhere,” Pitaro said. “We believe it is ascending, and in the spirit of us attracting a younger audience, e-sports has got to be a priority of ours.”
That’s why ESPN has entered into a deal with video game publisher Activision to broadcast the competition finals of the “Overwatch” game this year, he said. “We put ‘Overwatch’ on ESPN 1 during primetime, we hadn’t done that before.”
Pitaro said it helps to look at e-sports as just another category of games. “It’s basically us broadcasting competition,” he said.
There are related opportunities. Pitaro noted that his 15-year-old son spends a lot of time watching Ninja, the alias of professional video gamer Richard Tyler Blevins, play “Fortnite” on Twitch.
That’s actually not e-sports, he said, “that’s a gaming influencer demonstrating his performance within a specific game. All of that is interesting to us. We’re not looking solely through the lens of e-sports, we’re looking through the games lens, as an opportunity for us to do something that is relevant to a sports audience on ESPN.”
Pitaro referred to Twitch as “a very interesting property.” It would make sense for ESPN to have a presence there, as it now does on other third-party social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, he said.
While some might object to someone like Ninja being considered an “athlete,” Pitaro noted that he is culturally significant. At the ESPY Awards this year, he said he saw Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver for the New York Giants, “focused on getting one selfie there and that selfie was with Ninja.”
“Look, Ninja along with many other gaming influencers are interesting to us. They’re charismatic people who resonate with a younger audience because they are authentic. My 15-year-old son believes that Ninja is speaking directly to him,” Pitaro said.
While access to younger audiences is important, he continued, “authenticity is just as important as we’re trying to get younger and be more relevant.”
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.