although i really do not want to interfere with this discussion because its so entertaining from the sideline, i thought i would throw a few cents into the pot.
1) we have all got to keep in mind that a goal of ESPN/Disney or any other capitalist-driven business is to become as much of a monopoly as possible without crossing legal boundaries. While that is naturally very difficult for most companies, ESPN has done a remarkable job at doing that within the sports entertainment world - and they know it. If a person wants an update on sports news, ESPN wants to be the first thing that comes to their mind. That is why they have ESPN News, ESPN2, ESPN.com, ESPN Radio, ESPN the Magazine, etc etc etc. These outlets would not exist if they were not in demand. Like Tony has said, the research (and innovation) departments of these billion-dollar are as important to their profitable success as much as their production teams are.
2) I would argue that us as a group of involved sports fans is not the key marketing target of ESPN. They are likely more concerned with fringe consumers. That is one reason they go to an idea like "ESPN on ABC"; because there are lots of non-sports fans watching ABC programming and if 5% of those people eventually flip over to ESPN, the idea pays for itself. We already know about Sunday Night Baseball and Monday Night Football, we already are looking forward to the NBA Playoffs and the NFL Draft. ESPN doesn't need to put any investment in our attention because they already have it. If I want to know the score of a Detroit-Cleveland game in the 7th inning, theres no denying that ESPN News is one of the quickest ways to get that information (and perhaps the only way to get that information from a television)
3) I do not quite understand how this "all eventually comes down to the fact that both of you are stock market junkies". If you think anything that I say is just grossly inaccurate or rash generalities, then please point it out and correct me. I indeed am wrong sometimes and am not too vain to accept and admit it. But if you think that about what I say Dave, then you should perhaps review your posts before you press submit as well.
What this all comes down to is that ESPN does not need to try very hard to keep attracting eyes and raking in money. What goes on behind the scenes at ESPN is what is important. Securing long-term content deals with sports leagues and in turn, long-term advertising deals with other companies is how they create value. They can almost put anything and anybody on the screen and still get incredible market share because of lack of competition and the proprietary content.
I also think that this discussion comes in part from the development of our critical thinking skills and simply becoming more aware of what goes on around us. Like Tony said, ESPN has had a corporate influence for longer than we all have been watching sports and while perhaps they have changed their methods some recently (probably largely because the entire industry has been changing), I believe we are all just maturing as television viewers and our awareness of certain things has changed since three, four, or five years ago. That is a good thing - we should be able to critically analyze all of the bullshit that is thrown in front of us daily.
lastly, I question what giorgio wrote about tv and brain power. Yes, there is a lot of television programming that is worthless and I agree that theres often better things to do than sit and watch TV but I agree with derek when he said that there is quality or worthwhile content on the small screen. I doubt I use more brain power laying on in the middle of my driveway "doing nothing" than I do watching an informational show on the history channel. Of course, I do agree that theres a multitude of better things to do than sit down and watch the marathon of Rock of Love 2.
Wow, just in time for PTI!!