A dream of all sports fans for years has been to subscribe just to the sports networks they want. Now it seems, at least for ESPN, someday you will be able to do just that without the need for a massive cable TV bundle or live TV streaming service.
Earlier this year, Disney had some huge news about the future of the company, including a plan to offer ESPN as a direct-to-consumer streaming option, but not yet.
When asked about the future of ESPN as a direct streaming service during Disney’s 1st quarter 2023 earnings call, CEO Bob Iger said, “Regarding ESPN and when we might make the shift, if you’re asking me, is the shift inevitable? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you any sense of when that could be, because we have to do it, obviously, at a time that really makes sense for the bottom line. And we’re just not there yet,” Bob Iger said. “And that’s not just about how many subscribers we could get, it’s also about what is the pricing power of ESPN, which obviously ties to the menu of sports that that they’ve licensed.”
Now ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro has once again made it clear that ESPN will be a streaming service but just not yet.
“We’re going to get to a point where we take our entire network, our flagship programming, and make it available direct to consumer,” Pitaro said in an interview with Bloomberg. “That’s a ‘when,’ not an ‘if’….We’re only going to do it when it makes sense for our business and for our bottom line.”
This is not the first time Disney has hinted at offering ESPN directly to consumers, but this is the most forceful we can remember. Clearly, Disney and others are looking closely at when and how to jump off of the cable TV bundle and go a la carte. The question now is not if they will but when is the right time to do it.
What’s holding Disney back from pulling ESPN off of cable TV and offering it as a streaming service has been the lucrative deals it has with cable companies. The ability to bundle its Disney channels with ESPN has allowed ESPN to make $28 billion in revenue for Disney from traditional TV channels. This means if cable TV companies want the very popular ESPN networks, they have to carry other Dinsey-owned networks.
The question now is not if ESPN will be available directly to consumers, likely through ESPN+, but when. With ESPN’s dominance in TV and sports, if Disney leaves the cable TV bundle, it is very likely most others will follow their lead.
ESPN+ seems to be the future of Disney, though. Recently it was reported that Disney is pushing to get part of the NBA’s new TV rights deal that will start in 2025. Disney hopes to put select NBA games on ESPN+ to help drive up subscribers to its sports streaming service. If that happens, it would be one more massive sports deal to help drive ESPN+’s growth.
We are still likely years away from Disney pulling ESPN from cable TV. With that said Disney has become more open about the idea, something that is sure to upset its partners at Comcast and Spectrum.
Would you pay for just ESPN if you had the option to drop your cable bundle? Leave a comment and let us know.