There are few numbers in the media industry that turn heads and prompt speculation quite like the number of subscribers to ESPN, the sports giant that generates nearly half of all profits at Disney (DIS) , the world's largest entertainment company.
Nielsen (NLSN) on Friday said it was standing by a report from a week ago in which the media performance firm said pay-TV subscribers to ESPN fell by 631,000, or 3.1%, in October, its largest consecutive month decline in its history.
But when the subject is the shrinking universe of cable TV viewers, ESPN turns heads. And for good reason: It's the most expensive network for pay-TV providers to carry and consumers to pay for.
So when word of a 3.1% drop in ESPN subscribers was made public, the network pushed back, arguing that Nielsen's number-crunching didn't include subscribers from online multichannel platforms such as Dish Network's (DISH) SlingTV and Sony's (SNE) PlayStation Vue.
Sensitive to the feelings of one of its most prominent clients, Nielsen withdrew its Oct. 28 report, saying it would reanalyze its data. On Friday, Nielsen said the data was solid.