Yesterday, in an interview with CNBC’s Julia Boorstin, Bill Simmons—a man trying to position himself as a tech guru or something while his website, The Ringer, reportedly gets a piddly 357,000 unique views per month—took his former employer ESPN to task for not embracing Silicon Valley tech culture.
(Simmons was essentially fired from ESPN, but in the interview tried to be all, Actually, no, I was leaving anyhow!)
Simmons said ESPN “didn’t see the cord-cutting coming” and asserted that in the “summer of 2014, [ESPN] had bet that the [subscriptions] would go a certain way, and they just didn’t.” When Boorstin followed up to ask about ESPN investing in the online streaming company BAMTech (a spinoff of MLB Advanced Media), which it did last year, Simmons said:
“But think about what you just said there. They spent like $350 million on BAM just to get a share. They could have just created BAM. Disney made like $7 billion on revenue in 2013. They could have been at the forefront with some of this stuff. And instead they’re trying to belatedly kind of catch up, because of the decisions they’ve made.”
Putting aside the fact that Simmons is speaking with the clarity of hindsight, he’s making some shady assumptions about the cost and difficulty of building a streaming service from nothing. But he continued, saying—with absolutely no support or reasoning—that streaming services like Netflix are going to own everything, including the rights to live sports, in the not-too-distant future.
“I think it’s going to be Amazon, Netflix, Google, Facebook deciding everything, including what we’re wearing, in like five years. They’ll buy the sports rights. Look at what Netflix did with stand-up comedy. They’re like, ‘Hey, we like stand-up comedy, we’re just buying it. We’re getting every single comedian.’ And they just did it. And eventually they’re just going to look at the NBA or the NFL and just be like ‘We’re buying it. We want everything. And that will be it and it will be over.”
A far more likely development would be for leagues to retain the rights to sporting events and then partner with streaming devices like Roku. (Why would the NFL, for example, cut Netflix or another streaming service in on the “rights” to sporting events, rather than just running them on NFL.com?) Simmons didn’t let logistics get in the way of his flow, though—he’s aware that Silicon Valley exists, and that there are tech midichlorians to be enjoyed there—and went on saying words that turned into sentences that sounded vaguely like things a tech bro would say:
I also think the other mistake that they made was they had to realize they were a technology company. They always thought of themselves as a broadcasting network. But where the world is going, you have to be a technology company. And the ones that are winning out are Facebook, and Twitter, and Amazon, and Hulu, all these places. ESPN should have been in that mix. But they’re in Bristol, they’re over here. It’s harder for them to get technology guys and girls. I think they should have invested in a Silicon Valley office, I think that was their biggest mistake.”
This is, at its core, a very basic criticism of ESPN’s reluctance to adapt to digital innovations dressed up as a a smart insight because Simmons was sitting on a stage at a tech conference and, in the tone of voice of someone divulging revolutionary idea, able to say things like, “If you’re going to have a multimedia business today, you have to be able to sell yourself in a bunch of different ways.”
Lest you think Simmons doesn’t know what he’s talking about, here he is shoring up his bona fides as a digital innovator: