Kirby Lee-USA Today Sports

Some ESPN execs reportedly disparaged 'SC6' behind the scenes

Alex Reimer
June 20, 2018 - 3:34 pm

ESPN’s “SC6” with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith was one of the network’s most polarizing shows in recent memory. Even some executives at the WorldWide Leader were reportedly happy to see it go.

The Hollywood Reporter recently published another expose on the supposed internal divide at ESPN over its alleged liberal slant. In it, author Marisa Guthrie mentions how two prominent executives reportedly reacted when "SC6" was cancelled earlier this year. Upon Hill’s exit from the show in February, ESPN’s executive vice president Norby Williamson reportedly commented, “One down, one to go.” When the program officially stopped in March, ESPN’s vice president of content, Dave Roberts, said it was “too black,” four WorldWide Leader staffers told THR. Roberts, who’s African-American, denies saying that.

It’s been previously reported that Williamson, who started overseeing “SC6” last summer, wanted the show to revert to “SportsCenter’s” more traditional model of news and highlights. In February, Smith told journalist Jim Miller he felt muted on the show.

Ratings for the 6:00 p.m. “SportsCenter” have ticked upwards in recent months, with Sage Steele and Kevin Nghandhi anchoring the program. For the quarter of April, May and June to date, the show has averaged 491,000 viewers per night, up from 461,000 over the same period last year.

Those numbers show Hill and Smith, or perhaps the format, didn’t resonate with ESPN’s viewership. While the increases are small, it’s rare for any studio show to experience an uptick these days. 

Despite that positive news, the atmosphere around Bristol is “demoralizing,” according to one THR source. In addition to the debate over ESPN’s internal politics, there are issues regarding the league’s partnership with the NFL. New ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro has reportedly made repairing the relationship one of his top priorities. 

As the Wall Street Journal outlines, ESPN’s problems are largely due to its unsustainable business model of losing subscribers and increasing costs. Over the last six years, the WorldWide Leader has lost 16 million subscribers. Meanwhile, ESPN now pays $4.7 billion for live sports rights, which is more than double what the company spent in 2013. With cable providers increasingly offering subscribers packages that don’t include ESPN, the most expensive cable channel available, it looks like it will only lose more customers in the foreseeable future.

Business woes often exacerbate inner-company tensions. It appears that’s exactly what’s happening inside ESPN. 

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