There has long been rumblings that ESPN was looking to pump new life into ESPN Classic and ESPNews. While ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, and ESPN digital properties continue to grow and thrive, Classic and News have not kept pace and at times lost some of its audience share.
Pop quiz: What channel is ESPN Classic? Do you know if you even get the channel? Not the easiest question.
Hoping to rejuvenate Classic, ESPN has reached a syndication deal to broadcast the acclaimed series Friday Night Lights.
"ESPN Classic has picked up the repeats of the five-season series, which has been lauded for its realistic depictions of football, family and life in the heartland. After a Season 1 marathon on Thursday and Friday, the episodes will be shown on Thursday nights beginning July 21. They will also be broadcast on the Longhorn Network, an ESPN channel for Texas sports that starts in late August."
It's a very shrewd move by ESPN, as most of ESPN Classic's programming is irrelevant. Sports fans hardly even know when a classic game featuring their favorite teams is actually airing. The channel is relegated away from the rest of ESPN networks by most cable providers, is not in HD in many households, and features programming that has low awareness and only small niche audiences.
Friday Night Lights, however, brings programming to the table that has a cult audience from its run on NBC and DirecTV. Also, a very well known brand via the book and movie, and a reputation for being one of the better shows on television that never achieved ratings success. Its penetration with sports fans is even pretty marginal, as the show was almost cancelled a couple of times before being rescued via an innovative partnership between DirecTV and NBC.
Along the way, fans of the show bemoaned the lack of interest as Friday Night Lights was championed by many to be one of the best shows on television. Now, similar to shows like The Wire, Seinfeld and The Sopranos, syndication gives those who missed out a second chance to catch the series while also attracting diehards who are clamoring for a second showing.
I am in the first boat as I've watched a handful of episodes and have enjoyed the series, but never made the commitment to put it in the rotation. Dramatic football, life in the heartland and Explosions In The Sky? Sounds good to me.
ESPN kicked off the series by airing the first two episodes tonight on ESPN with a graphic promoting the full launch on ESPN Classic. Great timing with no other sporting events in play besides an All-Star game that many have decided to shun.
It's a bit interesting to see ESPN working with NBC on this syndication agreement because they've been butting heads trying to acquire sporting rights, but the deal made too much sense to both sides. It will be interesting to see how much pop ESPN will get for adding Friday Night Lights and if similar programming begins to get mixed into ESPN Classic. How about Hang Time or Two A Days?