The last few weeks have been a wild ride for anyone following Disney or ESPN. Just two weeks ago during an interview with CNBC, Disney CEO Bob Iger said he was open to partnering with other companies to make a new ESPN streaming service work. He even said he was open to the idea of selling part of ESPN to a third party.
Since that interview, reports have been flying about who Disney is talking to. Major sports leagues, including the NFL, and rivals like Comcast have all been suggested as potential ESPN Partners.
On Monday, the New York Post reported that Disney has been in talks with media companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Verizon, and T-Mobile, to name a few. The goal is reportedly to take advantage of their technology to help expand the reach of ESPN’s new direct-to-consumer streaming service.
The reported talks come as Disney wrestles with big losses to its streaming business, with Disney Plus seeing a slowdown in customer growth as enthusiasm for its content cools. ESPN has been one of its crown jewels for a long time, but the cost to support has been an increasing burden.
The situation raises a lot of questions about where this is all going. Is Disney really looking at selling part of EPSN to these companies or are they hoping these companies would become resellers of ESPN’s new streaming service? You could easily see bundle offers for free ESPN from T-Mobile or Google (Verizon also has a deal to include Disney Plus with some of its plans), and Amazon could offer ESPN as a streaming service bundled with its own video service.
This comes as CNBC reported late last month that Disney is in talks with the NFL, NBA, and MLB to have them take joint ownership of ESPN along with Disney.
Disney and ESPN weren’t immediately available for comment.
According to CNBC, the talks with the NFL could include Disney taking a stake in the NFL Network, NFL.com, and RedZone. This could help both sides benefit by giving the NFL access to ESPN productions and Disney access to NFL money.
It is possible Disney is talking with all of these companies about different options. Or Disney could just be feeling out multiple companies to see who would be the best fit for ESPN.
Disney owns 80% of ESPN, and the rest is owned by Hearst. Disney would likely want to keep as much ownership as possible, but if the right partner comes along it may be open to selling part of the storied sports network.
For now, we will have to wait and see what happens. No matter what happens, the next few months are likely going to be full of speculation as one of the biggest names in TV is up for grabs. This could drive many companies to see what deal they could strike with Disney.