ESPN’s number of subscribers and revenue are in decline. Recently, the company has been criticized for being too political, most notably after SC6 host Jemele Hill was openly candid and critical of President Trump via her Twitter account.
Conservatives argue ESPN is losing viewership due to their liberal approach when covering social issues. The company’s decision to not shy away from political topics may prove to have an affect on ratings going forward, but the number of subscribers has actually been in decline for six years.
ESPN was widely considered invincible and their loss of viewers has been a surprise, but the television industry has rapidly modernized in recent years. In 2011, ESPN had over 100 million subscribers, but currently they‘re down to less than 88 million, according to Nielsen.
Networks earn revenue from both advertising and subscriber fees. ESPN generates more from subscriber fees than any other network because they own exclusive licenses for many sporting events. According to Variety, ESPN receives $7.86 per subscriber each month with the next highest being TNT at $1.58. In 2015, ESPN had an estimated 94.4 million subscribers each paying $6.61 monthly totaling $7.74 billion in yearly revenue. ESPN factored those numbers when agreeing to multi-year licenses with the NFL ($15.2 billion), MLB ($5.6 billion), and the NBA ($12.6 billion).
With declines in traditional cable television subscribers due to streaming platforms such as Netflix and YouTube, experts project the loss of subscribers for ESPN to continue. Saddled by the cost of exorbitant licensing fees, ESPN may need to carry out additional budget cuts and increase subscriber fees to remain strong.