70% of TV Channels Lost Share in 2016
Cord cutting and cord avoidance are part of the reason most TV channels now see audience losses. What else would you expect in a market where choices keep growing, but discretionary time does not? The point is, even if one "solves" the problem of fewer people subscribing to video services, that does not mean the "market share" problem (smaller audiences) gets solved.
Most economic or industrial “problems” are difficult to solve. There typically are opposed stakeholders, often multiple drivers of industry dynamics and underlying performance trend.
The problem of “jobs moving from high-wage to low-wage areas;” coal industry dynamics or viewership of linear TV channels provide examples. One can try and stop the movement of jobs, but then it becomes logical to eliminate the jobs altogether, by automating or changing business practices.
One might blame coal industry declines on government policy (true enough, in many cases), but also note that the better economics of natural gas (it is cheaper than coal for electrical generation) would cause distress in the coal industry in any case.
So too in the television network area, one might argue that changing consumer demand (cord cutting) is leading to less viewership of ESPN and other channels. But it also is true that in a market with vastly more choices, and a fixed number of buyers and discretionary time, that viewing time on any legacy channel likely has to fall.
In other words, people have a relatively-fixed amount of time for leisure, and less time than that for watching TV. If choices grow from dozens to hundreds, it stands to reason that some time has to shift from the dozens of legacy channels to the new channels. Such audience fragmentation has been going on since cable TV channels first appeared, taking audience share from the “big three” broadcast TV networks.
When there are hundreds of channels, plus new services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, DirecTV Now, Sling) that shift additional video viewing time away from “channels,” audience fragmentation seems an inevitable consequence. Dividing market share in any market is different when there are just three providers, dozens of providers, hundreds of providers or virtually thousands of choices (each on-demand title represents a chance to “spend time” that competes with watching a TV channel for the equivalent amount of time).
That is why most--if not all--legacy channels will continue to be under pressure. It is not just a “sports” or “ESPN” problem.