How Versus Usurped The All-Important Bored Demographic

A small victory for Versus, the upstart sports network cleverly ↵elbowing out a small but intriguing patch of lebensraum in a ↵broadcast world dominated by ESPN's family of networks. (And by ↵family, we mean like the Corleones or Tattaglias, not the Tanners or ↵the Huxtables.) Versus had a 41% jump in the ratings for the Tour de France this year ↵compared to last year and experienced good numbers in their ↵online stream, something brought to you by your boss having other ↵things to do and not noticing the one or two cycling nuts in the ↵office glued to the live feed in the early morning hours. ↵

↵ ↵

↵

↵Versus is not a serious rival to ESPN in any sense save one: they have ↵managed to scope out a demographic ESPN used to dominate, the all- ↵important "things you didn't know you'd actually watch on tv, but here ↵you are watching bull-riding, cycling, off-market MMA, and even that ↵late Pac-10 game after all the other college football peters out on ↵the WWL. This is something ESPN used to do quite well with things like ↵the World's Strongest Man Competition, the Great Outdoor Games and even the ↵original World Series of Poker. You know, back when it was at ↵Binion's, and some of the players looked like they'd just been let out ↵of the Clark County drunk tank. ↵

↵

↵That ESPN, the ESPN of your late-night boredom, is now slowly ↵migrating over to Versus bit by bit thanks to ESPN's maximalist ↵tendencies. Pressed to develop "personalities" through shows like ↵Around the Horn and to deliver full overkill on their big ↵events (see the luxurious pre-game shows for both college and ↵professional football), the schedule once full of blank holes filled ↵by ridiculous things like the WSM are now not only filled on the ↵Worldwide Leader, but on ESPN2 as well. As odd as this may sound, part of ↵the charm of vintage ESPN were these half-assed but charming gaps in ↵the schedule, often filled with arcane filler like poker that became ↵premier entertainment in its own right. Good for them: ESPN did a ↵fine job growing it into the beast it is today, and nourishes it well. ↵

↵

↵The hunger for the new has not faded, though, and what the new ↵requires is empty space. See Versus, which has ample room on their ↵schedule to let bizarre, interesting new programming ↵succeed or fail. (To wit: they have the Versus Whitetail Challenge on ↵for something like four hours today. I know there's a deer ↵overpopulation problem, but at this rate Versus will solve it ↵single-handedly.) If Versus recognizes the gap in the wall ESPN has ↵built around professional sport, it's in the field of up and coming ↵sports, no matter how strange the sport might seem. ESPN is largely ↵out of the original sport content creation business, and this is where ↵Versus comes in. Living with an apex predator like ESPN, the rationale ↵is simple: they can only eat so much content at a time, and really no ↵longer create it. Versus literally has to outbreed the Worldwide ↵Leader by offering what ESPN can no longer squeeze in, and do it fast ↵enough to continue carving out their own little patch in a crowded ↵landscape. ↵

↵

↵They can't overtake ESPN, at least not this generation. They can, ↵however, be something ESPN can't be: focused. Stuck with a zillion ↵networks and an extremely corporate management style (read: ponderous ↵and slow), ESPN can't experiment with the speed or freedom Versus can. ↵Versus has one shop, and they're tiny but free to play around. In ↵fact, they should: innovation is their only hope to stay competitive, ↵since most of the major sports are already tied up with contracts and ↵relationships with others. You didn't think you'd be watching poker on ↵television 15 years ago, but here you are. If Versus is successful, ↵you'll be saying the same thing about something they find and build ↵from nothing 10 years down the road. In my dreams, we'll all be ↵watching boat-trailer racing on Versus in this scenario, but that's ↵just me. ↵

↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

In This Article

Topics
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.