Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger said that he has been in talks with multiple companies on potentially partnering to bring ESPN to consumer directly as a streaming service.
“As we prepare to take ESPN in a direct-to-consumer direction, we believe we have an opportunity to strengthen our hand,” Iger said on a Wednesday conference call to discuss its fiscal fourth-quarter results, before adding, “We feel like we already have an excellent hand.”
The comments mark the strongest confirmation of reports that Disney is looking to strike a deal with another major player to help support the streaming launch of ESPN, which would essentially be the cable channel streamed directly to subscribers. Various reports have said that everyone from Apple to Verizon are in discussions to play a part in this rollout, with ESPN potentially helping with Verizon phone subscribers or augmenting the Apple TV+ service.
“We’ve engaged with a number of different entities,” Iger said, adding that, “There is significant interest.”
He also didn’t just limit it to tech companies, noting that the possibilities include sports league who could help provide more content.
Earlier on CNBC, Iger said he expects to launch a direct-to-consumer ESPN service no later than 2025. He said on the call that he plans to launch it in what he called a “soft landing,” where he would offer the service alongside the network as part of the traditional cable bundle.
“We’ll see where we end up with the blend,” he said. “I’m not concerned about it.”
ESPN continues to be one of Disney’s most valuable assets, generating an operating profit of $981 million in the fiscal fourth quarter, offsetting much of the losses from its streaming services. ESPN+, which is a complementary streaming app to the core channel, boasts 26 million subscribers, but just added 800,000 in the period.