It is hard to believe that a major U.S. commercial television network can be successful without investing heavily in sports programming. Of course, the number of commercial networks that are classified as major is rather limited, with only four achieving that distinction – ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. So being pretty much shutout on televising sports means a network has likely made the strategic decision not to invest in sports programming.
This is where Disney’s ABC network finds itself as they have very few deals with the top sports leagues, aside from its cable sports network ESPN, which drips sports programming. But this is about commercial networks, those that are freely available with an antenna-connected television (though most households access these through their subscription TV service).
From ABC’s perspective, since ESPN is so dominant in sports programming, why bother with getting into serious bidding wars with the other networks over the broadcast rights for professional, college and other sports. Instead, ABC has decided to shift its product strategy and focus on original scripted programming. But in taking this path they have, in some ways, alienated male viewers, who are the primary target market for televised sports. So this strategy would seem to be a risky one, right? Wrong!
As discussed in this New York Times story, ABC has figured out the key target market for non-sports programming is women. And to attract this market they have adjusted their product mix (i.e., programming) to appeal to female viewers. The result is that 62% of ABC’s audience is female and, more importantly, their female viewers skew toward higher income categories, which is attractive to many advertisers. While ABC is certainly not viewed as appealing only to women, which seems to be the strategy of the decidedly female-targeted Lifetime cable channel, their targeting strategy appears to be paying off in the form of higher ratings and higher profit margins.
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