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Nielsen sticks with subscriber report challenged by ESPN

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LOS ANGELES Nov 4 The Nielsen ratings agency on Friday reaffirmed a report about U.S. pay televisioncustomers that was challenged by Walt Disney Co’s ESPNsports network.

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Media reports said the Nielsen data suggested ESPN lost621,000 subscribers from a month earlier. Neither Nielsen orESPN released the numbers publicly, but ESPN questioned theaccuracy of the findings.

In a statement on its website, Nielsen said that an”extensive review” undertaken after ESPN objected showed thatestimates of cable subscribers provided on Oct. 28 wereaccurate.

Disney shares fell nearly 1 percent on Friday to close at$92.45 on the New York Stock Exchange.

“This most recent snapshot from Nielsen is a historicanomaly for the industry and inconsistent with much moremoderated trends observed by other entertainment news 2014 respected third-partyanalysts,” ESPN said in a statement.

The figures do not include people who subscribe throughdigital TV services and other new distributors, the sportsnetwork said.

The future of ESPN has been a concern on Wall Street sinceAugust 2015 when Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Igeracknowledged “modest” subscriber losses at the sports network.Disney and other media companies are facing challenges from”cord cutters” who are dropping traditional TV subscriptions forcheaper online options.


Analyst Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research Group, which paysfor access to Nielsen data, confirmed that Nielsen’s latestreport indicated a drop of roughly 621,000 ESPN subscribers. Buthe said it was not unusual as ESPN has seen previous monthlydrops of around 500,000 or 600,000 customers.

Wieser also estimated that year-over-year declines stood at3.1 percent, in line with the 2 percent to 4 percent drops seensince the start of 2014.

“This has occurred as the network began to trade off highsubscriber fees for greater flexibility” for pay TV providers,Wieser said in a research note. “We continue to believe thatESPN is experiencing low single-digit subscriber declines.”

The Nielsen data also showed subscriber losses for severalnetworks across the industry, Wieser said. Overall, median cablenetwork penetration fell by 1.4 percent. (Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Lisa Shumaker andAndrew Hay)


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