ESPN Looks for Personality Drive Show to Drive Ratings

Posted by at 8:58 am on November 11, 2016


Disney-owned sports network ESPN is trying something more radical with its schedule tweeks: Swapping two hours of the venerable SportsCenter program for Stephen A. Smith’s “First Take.”

ESPN said Friday it would exchange the two hours of “SportsCenter” that currently air on ESPN for the Smith program, which also features Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim. The move will be effective as of January 3.

“We think this gives the show, really, the best chance to thrive with the new lineup,” said Burke Magnus, executive vice president of programming and scheduling, for ESPN. “We like the lineup,” he added. “We think it’s a a crisper show and we think this will really sort of put its audience on a rocket ship.”.

The executive was referring to the recent departure of the outspoken Skip Bayless, who previously co-hosted “First Take” with Smith. Bayless now hosts a competing program, “Undisputed,” on rival Fox Sports 1. Since the Bayless departure, ratings for the show have tumbled, a dynamic Magnus said that ESPN had anticipated. He also noted that ratings appear to have stabilized and have begun to climb as viewers grow more familiar with Kellerman. “As Max and Stephen A. get their own footing and their own rapport established, we are happy with those results, and this move will only help,” he said.

The swap also represents the latest change to “SportsCenter,” the backbone of ESPN’s schedule. In recent months, executives at the sports-media outlet have worked to tie each edition of the program more specifically to the time in which it airs. A midnight edition of the show that launched last year features Scott Van Pelt and a dose of humor. Starting in February, ESPN2 duo Michael Smith and Jemele Hill will take over the early-evening edition of the program, leaving behind their popular “His & Hers” on ESPN 2. “We will continue to make moves that will associate particular personalities with particular episodes,” Magnus said.

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