James Pitaro Named New President Of ESPN, Replacing John Skipper

Entryway sign to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, located in Orlando, FL.

The ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, located in Orlando, FL.
Photo credit: Brazil Photo / Shutterstock

ESPN might be the worldwide leader when it comes to TV sports coverage, but for nearly three months, it was lacking in leadership at the top ranks. That is now set to change, as The New York Times reports that James Pitaro, previously the chairman of consumer products and interactive at Disney, is stepping in as the company’s president. Pitaro fills a position that had been vacant since December, when John Skipper stepped down suddenly, citing a substance addiction.

Pitaro has been a major player in the media industry for almost two decades. He got his start in 2001 at Yahoo, where he quickly climbed the ranks and became vice president for media. In 2010, he moved to Disney, the parent company that owned ESPN, and managed a business unit that included gaming. Since 2015, he had been serving as co-chairman of Disney’s consumer products division.

“Jimmy forged his career at the intersection of technology, sports and media, and his vast experience and keen perspective will be invaluable in taking ESPN into the future,” said Robert Iger, chairman and chief executive of Disney

“Some of the best experiences of my professional career were working with the sports business,” Pitaro added. “I always knew in my heart I would return. This is a dream come true.”‘

ESPN has been relatively successful in recent years from a fiscal standpoint, but challenges still lie ahead. The New York Times reported that Disney made $55.1 billion in revenue and $14.8 billion in operating profit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Media networks (primarily ESPN) had $23.5 billion revenue and $6.9 billion profit. To stay afloat, though, Pitaro will need to compete in an environment where cord-cutting is rampant and subscribers are dropping like flies.

Pitaro has pledged to try bold new things when ESPN’s situation calls for it. ESPN is already hard at work buying out assets from 21st Century Fox, including 22 regional sports networks. It’s also poised to launch ESPN Plus, a new sports streaming service, later this year.

“I come from the digital world, and spent most of my career building and investing in new media products,” Pitaro said.


ESPN is Laying Off Another 150 Employees


ESPN's logo.

ESPN has long been an industry leader in cable TV sports programming, but it’s fallen on tough times lately. The network announced Wednesday that it was laying off 150 people, marking the second major series of cuts it’s had to make this calendar year.

“Today we are informing approximately 150 people at ESPN that their jobs are being eliminated,” said ESPN President John Skipper. “The majority of the jobs eliminated are in studio production, digital content, and technology, and they generally reflect decisions to do less in certain instances and redirect resources.”

This round of job cutbacks comes shortly after the network’s April announcement that it was laying off 150 people. That move included ousting a number of prominent on-air personalities, including former pro football players Trent Dilfer and Danny Kanell. This round of layoffs is directed more toward behind-the-scenes employees at ESPN. The company also let about 300 employees go back in October 2015.

These layoffs come amid a series of major business challenges for ESPN. First and foremost, the network has had to deal with declining revenue from subscribers as the number of people paying monthly fees for cable TV packages continues to decrease. This trend has led to tens of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

While job losses have been ongoing for over two years now, ESPN continues to look for ways to keep the ship afloat. For instance, the network is planning to open a new studio in New York in 2018, where it will host both a morning show and an afternoon opinion show as a way of bringing in new streams of revenue. Additionally, the network is looking to capitalize on the popularity of social media with a new Snapchat version of “SportsCenter.” This will offer sports fans a way to watch game highlights on their smartphones without having to watch traditional cable TV.

A Sporting Chance for Cable?


Are Americans finished with TV? Not TV shows, which are just a particular combination of film length and episodic storytelling, but rather the traditional delivery method for them. More is often considered better, and yet that doesn’t hold true with channel choices. The average American home has 189 channels to choose from, according to a 2014 Nielsen Advertising & Audiences Report, a full 60 more than in 2008. And yet with so many viewing options, a mere 17 are regularly used. Consumers identify what they like and then stick with it, rarely exploring the vast scope of additional viewing options remaining to them. This makes the cable bundle seem like an ever-more unsavory option. If, as a consumer, one knows what one prefers, likely has digital recording capability through a cable box or something similar, and can frequently find the same televised content online through websites like Hulu, YouTube, and the network’s own site, why continue paying for an almost 200-channel bundle of scheduled broadcasts?

A large part of the answer lies with the great American pastime and the channel that commands most of the access to it: sports, and ESPN. An independent study by mobile advertising technology company Marchex dug into the details of cable television subscription. They found that almost 40% of subscribers asked cable providers about paying for channels a la carte, with 20% of that group asking specifically about ESPN and another 4% asking about Fox Sports. Live streams of games are largely unavailable online, making ESPN close to a one-stop spot for live sports content. Many consumers begrudgingly retain their cable bundle subscription for the sports alone, but that privileged position may prove not-so-unassailable. Bundle subscriptions are dwindling overall, and Sony’s PlayStation Vue, a web TV service available through the titular video game console, launched without any Disney-owned content – including ESPN. This may lose Sony some customers it otherwise could’ve gotten, but it also demonstrates a willingness to offer TV service without the much-vaunted sports network.

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