Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The ESPN channel as South Africans see it to stay on air; ESPN Classic under consideration to 'wind down' and exit South Africa.

More clarity is finally emerging: ESPN (DStv 230) as the version of the American sports channel viewers are seeing in South Africa and in Africa on MultiChoice's DStv pay-TV platform remains safe for now despite major changes to the channel's international ownership structure in the United Kingdom; ESPN Classic (DStv 231) could cease to be seen by July.

Yesterday I reported that the days are numbered for the main ESPN American sports channel and ESPN Classic as TV channels in Africa after The Walt Disney Company which owns ESPN sold off ESPN to BT in the United Kingdom.

ESPN Classic was not a part of the deal with BT and that channel is likely going to be "wind down" which means closed.

The part of ESPN which BT got will just be focused on the United Kingdom. Yesterday ESPN said that ESPN America won't be distributed anymore in Europe, Africa and the Middle East (EMEA) region (in which South Africa falls).

ESPN in London today responded to media enquiries I made yesterday when the news of the BT deal broke. ESPN told me that as it pertains to Africa "that it's not definite" that ESPN Classic is leaving Africa and South Africa as a TV channel, and that ESPN is not affected.

How can that be? Here is what is going on and ESPN is explaining further - so hopefully this gives more clarity about these American sports channels as seen in South Africa and their future:

ESPN: (in South Africa and elsewhere sub-Saharan Africa) is the channel which shows ESPN live sports in South Africa and elsewhere in the sub-Saharan region. "Neither the agreement with BT, nor the proposal around ESPN Classic in the EMEA region" will be impacting this channel, ESPN tells me.

ESPN Classic: ESPN says that "separate from the agreement with BT in the United Kingdom, there is a proposal to wind down ESPN Classic across Europe, the Middle East and Africa region". This is therefore the TV channel which is in danger of ceasing to exist on DStv.

(Keep in mind that Disney chairman and chief executive officer said in May 2012 that it's considering existing ESPN from a number of international TV markets.)

ESPN America: ESPN tells me this is a separate channel brand name. The channel is named ESPN America - for a channel that operates in the United Kingdom and Europe. "ESPN America is not a channel available in Africa. It has several feeds which are available in different parts of Europe and a portion of the Middle East," says ESPN.

When ESPN said it will stop distributing its ESPN America TV channel in international markets and in the EMEA region in its press statement, it's referring to the 3rd channel. 

That is why ESPN (number one) is "not affected" and why ESPN Classic (number two) will likely go the way of the dodo - although it's not a 100% certainty yet.

It's an intricate arrangement which leaves a lot of questions. Does ESPN Classic have any real chance of survival? Is ESPN as a brand in Africa and South Africa getting stronger or weaker or treading water?

Why did ESPN not yesterday communicate pro-actively the huge changes of ownership and the nuanced implications of, and to the various channels, to South Africa's press covering television within an African context? If ESPN Classic bites the dust will it be by July or sooner or later? Will ESPN (number one; the channel shown in South Africa) remain viable as a channel?

It's going to be very interesting over the coming months to keep track of ESPN Classic which is on life-support. Because it's not ESPN America but only ESPN, the ESPN TV channel is out of the woods. But what now?

The next few months is definitely going to yield a very interesting play-by-play when it comes to ESPN and ESPN Classic.