Survey: Most Subs Would Drop ESPN to Save $8

Analyst Rich Greenfield, a frequent skeptic about ESPN's future in a cord-cutting world, commissioned a study that found that 56% of cable subscribers would drop the sports network and ESPN2 to save $8 a month.

The survey found that 60% of female respondents said they would drop the ESPN channels and 49% of males would drop them. The findings were similar across ages and generations, Greenfield said.

The study was conducted by research company CivicScience and got responses from 1,582 consumers last week.

Execs at ESPN declined to comment.

ESPN has been in the crosshairs since the CEO of parent company Walt Disney, Bob Iger, said that its revenue would grow more slowly than expected because of declines in subscribers. Some analysts say that as subs fall, it will become more difficult for ESPN to make money while paying large fees for rights to the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and other sports.

The survey also found that only 6% of respondents would subscribe to ESPN and ESPN2 at $20 a month on a direct-to-consumer basis.

"The reality is that ESPN would likely have to charge dramatically more than $20/month/sub in a direct-to-consumer model, given the dramatic reduction in penetration rates," Greenfield says.

"The math for a direct-to-consumer offering for a basic cable network does not work, especially for channel(s) with very high monthly fees embedded within the current MVPD bundle.  Disney cannot take ESPN direct-to-consumer and they know it, whether they admit that publicly or not," Greenfield said. "Furthermore, if the multichannel video bundle frays faster than expected and the TV ad market continues to weaken, ESPN's future growth prospects are dim, at best."

Despite the results of one narrowly constructed  and provacative survey, ESPN remains a brodly powerful brand.

In live viewing, ESPN was the most-viewed cable network in 2015.

The network was the No. 1 across broadcast and cable 58 times in 2015, according to Nielsen, which reports that 81% of U.S. homes watched sports on ESPN networks.

Cable operators and cable subscribers also regularly respond that ESPN is among the most valued networks. Beta Research, which surveys cable operators found ESPN No. 1 in value for 15 straight years.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.