Note: Nielsen has now backed up on their numbers. That still does not change things in my view about the future of cable networks like ESPN.
ESPN's numbers are down. Again. This doesn't bode well for the sports leagues as more and more cable subscribers become cord-cutters. Add in the growing number of never corders and this spells trouble ahead for ESPN and parent Disney.
Maybe WWE with their online streaming network, and their ongoing quest to acquire all content that's wrestling, new and old is the right idea. And if you look at the sports leagues, starting with MLB and their MLB@BAT streaming service, the NFL's deal with Verizon and now Twitter, the future of sports rights will be OTT, not simply the usually broadcast rights deals that have been their staple and major source of revenue to franchises for many, many years.
This over the horizon look into the fate of ESPN is really more a harbinger of things to come for the leagues and college conferences who are paid collectively billions each year. ESPN won't be the only network to take a hit from declining subscriber numbers. So will the regional sports networks largely owned by Fox Sports.
To address this the apps on your mobile device will be the new "channels" to market, and in turn, the tuning in will be managed by Apple and Google, not Comcast, Charter as we know it. It's also why you'll be seeing the mobile operators in the USA, now four, continue to move more into content, as evidenced by the AT&T desire to buy Time Warner.
The era of Content Direct is coming, and sports is going to be at the front of the line as cable churn increases on channels, and the data network demand increases.