Earlier this year, we learned that Disney was building a streaming service and planned to offer ESPN as a stand alone direct-to-consumer streaming option. Now Disney’s CEO says he is open to selling part of ESPN to help make that streaming service a reality. This service would let subscribers pay to watch live ESPN channels without the need for a cable TV subscription.
Now that project is at the heart of a major fight between Disney and Spectrum. This fight has left 14 million Spectrum customers without access to ESPN. This has left millions looking for a way to access ESPN and more importantly, Disney without millions in revenue every month.
It has been reported that Disney was targeting a 2025 or 2026 release date for its ESPN streaming service. Now though, to make up lost revenue if Spectrum walks away from Disney in the long run, many are starting to wonder if Disney will speed up the release of this ESPN streaming service.
Bob Iger has said that the service will be released with the time is right, and now Spectrum may have sped up that time. It is reported that Disney gets about $9 a month for ESPN from every cable TV customer. Now that Disney just lost 14,071,000 TV residential customers that leaves an over $126 million hole in ESPN’s budget.
This comes at a time when ESPN is already looking for ways to cut costs now, losing over $126 million could force Disney to look for new ways to raise money. The most likely way to do that is the launch of its operation Flag Ship a plan to stream ESPN directly to consumers.
So exactly what does that mean, and what do we know about Disney’s so-called “Flagship” project to leave cable TV behind and offer a la carte TV? Let’s take a look at what we know.
What exactly are Disney’s plans for ESPN as a streaming service?
Now thanks to a Disney project code-named ‘Flagship,’ Disney staff are actively working on turning ESPN into a streaming service. This means at some point, you will be able to subscribe to just ESPN directly and watch the channel live without cable TV or a live TV streaming service.
When will ESPN’s streaming service launch?
This week Bob Iger said he is now more certain than ever about when the service will launch. Though he declined to say when Disney will release the service but that during his time back at Disney he has decided on when Disney will launch a stand alone streaming service for ESPN..
He also added that the bundle of cable TV channels is in trouble now more so than ever. This move to offer ESPN as a stand-alone is likely Disney being prepared for a post-cable TV world.
According to reports from the New York Post ESPN’s streaming service may not happen until 2025 or even 2026. Now though with Spectrum demanding a major change to the cable TV model, that time may come as soon as 2024.
What has Disney officially said about this project?
Recently 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.”
Not that long ago, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro 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.”
What price should you expect for ESPN as a standalone service?
ESPN reportedly gets, on average $9.42 from each cable TV subscriber. Now it is being reported that Disney may need to charge subscribers to its standalone service $22 a month according to reports for experts.
Moving to streaming will likely mean ESPN will need to charge more as many people who pay for ESPN don’t watch it. $22 could be a price you may expect depending on if ESPN+ is included etc.
Will ESPN still be available through YouTube TV, Cable TV, etc?
According to Forbes, ESPN plans to keep its channels on cable TV and streaming services. When this happens, ESPN will also reportedly be offered as a streaming service alongside its cable channel, similar to what The Weather Channel and some RSNs are doing right now.
For now, this is what we know. It seems that Disney is busy working on a plan to be ready for a post-cable TV world. Now though, the question is when they plan to release the service.
Is Disney Going To Sell ESPN?
Recently The Information is reporting that Verizon and Disney have started talks about a possible partnership with Verizon and ESPN. Verizon could be a great partner for its technology and a possible bundle deal similar to the Disney+ bundle Verizon recently offered to its wireless subscribers.
It is also being reported that Amazon is in talks with Disney for a partnership that could see Amazon buy part of ESPN.
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.
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.