Disney's Loss Is Sirius XM's Gain

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After a notoriously short-lived run on Disney's (NYSE: DIS) majority-owned ESPN, Barstool Sports is setting up a larger presence at Sirius XM Holdings (NASDAQ: SIRI). The edgy sports and men's lifestyle hub is getting its own channel on satellite radio. 

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Sirius XM and Barstool first teamed up for the two-hour Barstool Radio show that premiered on the SiriusXM Rush channel in January. A year later we'll see Barstool Sports offer its growing catalog of content and niche podcasts around the clock on satellite radio and through Sirius XM's streaming app. 

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Barstool widening its relationship with Sirius XM comes a month after Barstool Van Talk -- a late-night talk show that, true to its name, took place in a van -- was canceled just days after its mid-October premiere on ESPN. Some ESPN personalities made critical comments about some of the more controversial things posted on Barstool blogs and broadcast on its podcasts in previous years, and ESPN decided that it was best to distance itself from the brand by nixing the show in its infancy.

The ugly episode was widely seen as a victory for Barstool, giving the brand even more exposure and underscoring its anti-mainstream tendencies. It was also a loss for Disney given Barstool's strong grasp of young male sports fans that are leaving cable providers in general and ESPN in particular in droves. 

Disney's ESPN and Barstool are passing ships, and one of those ships is sinking. Disney has seen its ESPN subscribers shrink by 13% since peaking in 2011, a bad look for a media empire based on escalating live sports programming contracts. ESPN has turned to layoffs, at a time when Barstool is growing in popularity.

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ESPN -- like most struggling media networks -- is hungry to reach the young audience it needs. Advertisers are struggling to get their marketing missives out to millennials that are sidestepping traditional media outlets. Barstool Van Talk was supposed to be Disney's shot at regaining relevance with young cord-cutters, but now ESPN has cemented its fate as an old-school media mogul that isn't willing to sell its soul in order to survive. Disney's over-the-top ESPN streaming service will be as good as dead when it launches next year if this is the path it chooses to take. The high road is noble, but it gets narrower as you venture out. 

A 24/7 radio channel on Sirius XM could've probably still happened if Disney and Barstool had worked through their differences last month, but who knows if a co-branded channel with ESPN and Barstool would've been the brand-repolishing move that Disney needed if things had played out differently.

Sirius XM and its 32.2 million subscribers are the ultimate beneficiaries, and the notoriety of being too saucy for ESPN is something that will be Barstool's calling card for years.

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