In an interview, Bulgrin, currently ESPN’s senior vice president, global research and analytics, said he might remain available to the company as a consultant, but that was as yet undetermined. He has over the years developed a reputation for calling for new methodologies for mapping out viewership of content. In recent years, he focused on measuring so-called “out of home” viewers who watch ESPN sports content at bars or friends’ houses, and “cross-platform measurement,” or attempting to count viewers who watch content across a bevy of screens.
“The world is only getting more complex, not less,” said John Skipper, president of ESPN and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, in an interview.”We’ve been fortunate to have Artie guide us through it to date.”
Bulgrin is the latest member of a small group of senior media-research veterans to announce their departure in recent years. NBCUniversal disclosed last month that Alan Wurtzel, the company’s longtime research chief, would take on an advisory role while leaving behind his day-to-day duties. Jack Wakshlag, who led research functions at Time Warner’s Turner for 12 years, stepped down in 2014.
Veterans like Bulgrin are departing as the TV industry prepares to tackle new hurdles. Viewers who once flocked to the TV set are now just as comfortable watching streaming video on a smartphone. Trying to chronicle a fragmented viewership is a task akin to gathering splinters to reform a piece of wood. In 2017, Madison Avenue and the media industry seem eager to conquer technological challenges so they can present a base of viewers watching video on TVs, laptops and mobile devices , and then monetize that audience.
“You can watch your favorite show anywhere you want to watch. That’s probably the big opportunity, but also the big challenge,” said Bulgrin. “The industry has not been able to ultimately catch up with the consumer. I think we are getting there.” Among the projects he recently tackled is Project Blueprint, a data initiative that tried to use data distilled from cable set-top boxes, Arbitron and comScore in an attempt to demonstrate the reach of programs across media venues.
He joined ESPN as vice president, research and sales development in February, 1996, when ESPN2 was just two years old and ESPN.com was in its infancy. He and was promoted to senior vice president in 2001, and assumed his current title in 2008. Before joining ESPN, Bulgrin had been director, research and sales data services, at Capital Cities/ABC National Television Sales, Inc. starting in 1989.
ESPN will not announce a successor immediately, said Skipper, who noted Bulgrin had a “deep bench” of executives working under him. “He has big shoes to fill, but we will find someone with big feet,” the executive said.