ABC Television | ESPN (US)

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The American Broadcasting Company, known as ABC, is one of the big four US television networks. Since 1996, the business has been a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. Although the fortunes of all four networks tend to fluctuate from season to season, ABC had arguably a harder time than most in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It slipped to the bottom of the rankings towards the end of the 1990s before being brought back to life by the enormous but comparatively short-lived success of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Another slump occurred between 2002 and 2004, before the network enjoyed a half-hearted revival as a result of hit series including Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy and Lost. More recently though it has been stuck in 3rd or 4th place by ratings. As a result, it is overshadowed financially within the group's media networks portfolio by the hugely successful ESPN sports brand, the world's most lucrative cable property, as well as several Disney-branded kids' networks. However, during 2015, analysts began to be alarmed at the possible impact on ESPN of a move by consumers away from traditional cable subscriptions. This caused a slump in Disney's share price despite the spectacular success of other divisions.

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The Walt Disney Company

Recent stories from Adbrands Weekly Update:

Adbrands Weekly Update 18th Apr 2018: With the traditional US broadcast season entering its final weeks, NBC is set to take top slot for the year with around 9.5m average primetime viewers. Key factors have been its coverage of both the Winter Olympics and the 2018 Super Bowl. CBS is currently in second place with 9.0m total average viewers, followed by ABC at 6.0m and Fox trailing on 5.2m. NBC also leads in the prized 18-49 demographic, with CBS second, and ABC and Fox tied for third.

Adbrands Weekly Update 8th Mar 2018: The 2018 Academy Awards, broadcast on ABC, made for an entertaining television event, certainly for the cognoscenti and industry insiders, but the mass American viewing public was unimpressed. The TV audience of 26.5m viewers marked a record low for the event, down 19% on last year, and the first time in the modern TV age that the audience has fallen below 30m. The major contributing factor is the pre-eminence of arthouse fare over the commercial hits that, until 2005, always dominated the event. As recently as 2004, the winner of the Best Picture would always have been among the year's three or four biggest hits at the US box office. Fox Searchlight's The Shape of Water is a fine film, but it was only the 48th most popular with US audiences last year. The two most successful of the other nominees, Dunkirk and Get Out, were 14th and 15th respectively. That reflects an increasingly bizarre disconnect between the films the industry values and the ones that audiences want to see.

Adbrands Weekly Update 21st Dec 2017: John Skipper, president of Disney's top-rated ESPN cable sports channel, has resigned with immediate effect to battle a drug problem. Few details were disclosed but in a statement, Skipper wrote: "I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction. I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem... I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down." Disney CEO Bob Iger added a message of support and understanding, and announced the reinstatement of Skipper's predecessor George Bodenheimer as acting executive chairman for at least the next three months. The announcement was entirely unexpected - only last month Skipper signed a contract extension through 2021 - and the timing is unfortunate. Disney has already announced plans to launch a dedicated streaming service for ESPN in 2018 to combat a slump in viewers as a result of cable-cutting. ESPN's current subscriber estate of 87m households is down from 100m in 2011.

Adbrands Weekly Update 17th Aug 2017: In a development that demonstrates the growing attractions of the unfettered creativity (and cash) offered by Netflix, superstar producer Shonda Rimes (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder etc etc) is to end her partnership with Disney's ABC network to sign a multi-year deal with the streaming giant. She will continue to oversee existing shows on ABC, but any new series will be developed exclusively for Netflix. Rimes said "I'm thrilled by the idea of a world where I'm not caught in the necessary grind of network television," as well as the restrictions on language, nudity and violence.

Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Jun 2017: The US TV season officially ended last week, crowning CBS and NBC as the top two networks. CBS was the most watched by total viewers for the 9th consecutive year, and for the 14th time out of the past 15 seasons. NBC was the leader in primetime for the third time in four years, mainly as a result of its dominance in sports. Its Sunday Night Football was the most watched show for the 6th consecutive season, with an average of 19.75m total viewers. CBS's The Big Bang Theory celebrated its 10th season as the most watched scripted show yet again, with an extraordinary 18.99m viewers. CBS averaged a total 9.6m viewers across the season as a whole, ahead of NBC on 8.1m. ABC was third with 6.2m while Fox came bottom with 5.8m. However, the Murdoch-controlled network was the #2 network among the 18-49 age group, behind NBC. CBS and ABC took 3rd and 4th place.


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Background

Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: ABC was originally formed in 1927 as the Blue Network, created by RCA as a second strand to run alongside NBC. It was sold off in 1943, and became The American Broadcasting Network in 1946. In 1953 it became Walt Disney's exclusive television partner, airing all the company's first excursions into the medium, including The Mickey Mouse Club, Disneyland and Zorro. In the 1970s it struck gold again with hit series such as Charlie's Angels, Starsky & Hutch and Happy Days. ABC also pioneered the concept of made-for-TV movies as well as big-budget mini-series such as Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots. At the same time, the network earned a reputation for powerful news coverage (ABC News: Nightline and 20/20) and high quality sports programming (The Wide World of Sports and NFL Monday Night Football). In 1984, ABC acquired cable sports channel ESPN, selling on a 20% stake to Hearst Corporation. 

In 1988, ABC was acquired by Capital Cities, a media conglomerate with a variety of interests in newspapers, regional television stations and magazine publishing. Eight years later Capital Cities was itself engulfed by Disney in a $19bn deal, then the second biggest entertainment deal in corporate history after the Time Warner merger. At the time, ABC was the #1 US network having scored considerable success with hit shows such as Moonlighting, Roseanne and Ellen. But the network's creative juices seemed to dry up almost as soon as it had been acquired, and performance dipped dramatically. ABC's fortunes received a welcome boost in 1999 from the huge success of new game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, imported from the UK (where it had also proved a big hit with audiences). Keen to milk this ratings winner for all it was worth, ABC eventually began airing the show four times a week in a primetime slot. Inevitably, the show's popularity quickly faded and ABC once again slipped in the ratings, dropping over 20% by the end of 2001, while also reeling from a downturn in advertising spend. The network was back in third place for 2002, then slipped into fourth place in 2004 with the key television audience aged 18-49.

Meanwhile Disney bolstered its broadcast interests with the purchase in 2001 of the Fox Family Worldwide network from joint owners News Corporation and Haim Saban, paying $5.3bn in cash and debt. The group also bought Saban Entertainment, a production and merchandising company with a library of 6,500 half-hours of children's programmes, including the Power Rangers series. In addition to the US network, Disney took charge of a 76% interest in Fox Kids Europe and Fox Kids Latin America, with a combined 35m subscribers in 60 countries. The US package was rebranded as ABC Family, while Fox Kids Europe was rebranded as Jetix. See full profile for current activities


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