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Another sports-focused cable channel is set to shut down as entertainment companies and pay-TV providers seek more streamlined channel lineups.
The latest shutdown is ESPN Classic, which launched as an independent channel called Classic Sports Network in 1995, and which ESPN acquired in 1997. An ESPN spokesperson confirmed the move to The Hollywood Reporter Thursday morning.
ESPN Classic reaired classic sporting events alongside documentaries and other fare dedicated to sports history. It also served as a spillover channel in the event that ESPN needed a channel to run live sporting events that it didn’t have room for on its other channels.
Of course, in recent years as the library of classic content dwindled, and as documentaries shifted to the ESPN+ streaming service, ESPN Classic’s status as a linear channel came into question. A number of pay TV providers dropped the linear channel as a result, either altogether or moving it to VOD.
ESPN hasn’t disclosed the number of pay TV subscribers with access to ESPN Classic since 2015, when it said it had 25 million subscribers. For comparison, the main ESPN channel has 84 million subscribers as of 2020, according to Nielsen, while the ESPNNews channel is in 62 million homes. Sports Business Daily first reported the ESPN Classic shutdown.
ESPN Classic won’t be the only sports cable channel to shut down Jan. 1. NBC Sports Network will also close its doors that day, moving its live sports and studio programming to USA Network, the Peacock streaming service, and also other channels like CNBC and E!, the company said this week.
Among the sports moving to USA are Premier League soccer, NASCAR and IndyCar races, horse racing, and the Tour de France. On Jan. 1, USA will host a triple-header of Premier League games, including Arsenal vs. Manchester City.
NBC Sports executives are framing that move as a boost to its business by moving sports to the more widely distributed and more popular USA Network. The move “will give us a significant boost in television homes and will put us in an even stronger position as we grow our business,” said NBC Sports chairman Pete Bevacqua in a statement.
As entertainment companies seek to consolidate their linear programming on a smaller number of widely distributed and widely watched channels, and as they continue to invest in streaming, smaller cable channels, including sports offerings, are finding themselves potentially on the chopping block.
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