ESPN has long been one of the biggest names in cable sports broadcasting. Now, the mega network is bringing that same clout to its digital efforts. In 2016, ESPN spent $1 billion to acquire a one-third stake last year in BAMTech, Major League Baseball’s live-streaming tech spin-off, which lays the groundwork for a direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service. The company also launched 10 editions of ESPN.com in India, the U.K. and elsewhere to boost a global audience that already tops 110 million monthly users. But the project that truly set the company apart was its riveting documentary series OJ: Made in America. Clocking in an eight hours, the epic is ESPN’s longest, and most creatively ambitious, series to date. ESPN gave director Ezra Edeman the freedom to take what easily could have been a salacious retelling of a 20-year-old sports story and to craft a remarkable and complex portrait of America’s relationship with race itself. The film is nominated for an Oscar, the first by a sports network.
A handful of other moves—in some cases groundbreaking—distanced the media giant from the loss of Bill Simmons and Grantland: It promoted ESPNW editor Alison Overholt to editor of ESPN The Magazine, making her the first women to edit a national, general-interest sports magazine; it launched The Undefeated and covered the intersection of sports, race, and culture as Black Lives Matter took center stage; it strengthened its growing bench of female athletes-turned-broadcasters with Abby Wambach, the openly gay former soccer star; and it landed a literary heavy-hitter in Esquire alum Tom Junod.