February 13, 2018
ESPN announces streaming details… Fans yawn
ESPN, which bills its media brand as the worldwide leader in sports, soon hopes to be the worldwide trendsetter in live, streaming sports. The network, which is owned by Disney, announced plans to unveil its new streaming app to consumers this spring. The new streaming app, which will be called ESPN Plus, will be a subscription service that will cost consumers about $4.99 a month. This pay service will debut alongside an updated ESPN app. Disney CEO Bob Iger touted the app, saying it would let consumers “see ESPN just about any way imaginable…”
But, of course, there’s a catch. While the lineup has yet to be announced, ESPN has admitted that viewers will not be able to watch the biggest games shown on the network for only five bucks a month. To tune into those, viewers will need to continue to maintain an existing subscription service that offers the full ESPN experience. So, what, exactly, will viewers get for their Abe Lincoln every month? Iger describes the content as “greatly expanded array of programs…” as well as live sports not currently widely available in the US. Some examples? Baseball, soccer, boxing, hockey, golf, rugby, and cricket…
Notice the big omission there? No football. Neither NCAA college football nor the NFL made Iger’s list of five-buck viewing options. Iger tried to sweeten the deal by telling reporters ESPN’s popular 30 For 30 documentary series would be available on the app. That omission in this situation is a good example of the gap that now exists between a “cord-free” viewing experience and the desire for cable networks to keep people subscribed for as long as possible.
Disney, as a parent company to ESPN, is in kind of a bind trying to walk this fine line. The company still depends on TV programming, broadcast via cable, for significant income. The company owns several cable channels, including Disney branded content, several ESPN iterations, and all the ABC channels. Disney also has a stake in A&E. In other words, the imminent death of cable could be a big deal for Disney’s bottom line. If too many people cut the cord and Disney’s apps bomb, they could be in trouble in a big way, without any direct to consumer options.
Disney has been trying to wean customers off cable by offering content on Netflix and Amazon, as well as Hulu, the streaming service in which Disney owns a minority stake. But those offerings, though popular, were nothing in comparison to the properties still tethered to cable TV. Sure, everyone loved the Marvel shows on Netflix and Disney has some popular kids content on streaming too … but nothing can touch college football or the NFL.Sooner or later, Disney will have to decide to side with the trend or continue dragging its feet.
In the meantime, Iger’s likely to have a tough time getting huge numbers of American sports fans to cough up five bucks to watch hockey, cricket, and a series of documentaries they can already get on cable.