Mike & Mike split is a cry of changing media

One of radio’s most iconic duos is splitting up. ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning is coming to an end after 18 years on the airwaves. Co-host Mike Greenberg is taking his personality to television where he is expected to host a morning show on the ESPN flagship station. While all good things must come to an end, this break up is a high-profile example of the changing industry that is sports media and entertainment.

Radio as a medium is re-emerging following the iPod-era in the early 2000s. When the iPod became the iPhone, the prevalence of mobile apps in phones, cars, and in-home assistants allowed radio stations to put themselves on-demand and back in the ears of listeners no matter their location. Listeners can get music and news anywhere, but the hyper-local lense that radio provides is what keeps people coming back.

Meanwhile, television is experiencing its own identity crisis as viewers no longer have to be live in their living rooms to watch. ESPN is at the forefront of this change. 11 million subscribers have cut the cord in the last six years, leaving the worldwide leader in sports playing catch up with consumer habits.

Ears and eyes keep television sly

Where radio rules 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., television takes 6 p.m. to midnight. While daytime television programming like SportsCenter and First Take flounder, fans still flock to live games in the evening. ESPN taps into primetime television viewership by raising ad revenue despite a drop in viewership. However, its declining ratings could leave marketers wondering if the high ad prices are really worth it in the future.

This concern has forced ESPN to change, and the breakup of Mike & Mike is a side effect of this shift. While co-host Mike Golic remains on the radio, Greeny forges a new path on television, but what does the future look like?

Television lags behind radio in mobile accessibility. Licensing agreements for live events continue to rely on cable subscribers, resulting in local blackouts for non-traditional viewers and total inaccessibility for anyone unwilling to pay for an expensive cable package.

Clinging to the gates of opportunity

Cable companies, too, extort their subscribers by keeping ESPN and entertainment channels like HBO and Showtime on the premium packages. As of 2013, ESPN charged each of the 100 million cable subscribers in America five dollars for its channel. This demand (or lack thereof) has forced cable companies and ESPN to cling to each other in a way that would make Jack and Rose look like awkward middle schoolers at their first dance.

At the same time, this “down with the ship” dilemma has created a game of chicken between cable and ESPN. Who will budge first in offering viewers a low cost, unbundled, mobile viewing experience? Radio today relies on segmentation while television remains accessible only to big name advertisers and its unrefined pool of viewers willing to pay for it.

Overall ratings matter for bragging rights but creating loyalty in key demographics is where the real money lies. One company can longer be many things to many people. Different brand names and packages can provide the versatility a diverse, self-focused audience wants.

The screen is bright and vivid, but the future remains unclear for television.

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