ESPN is going to take a bigger swing at streaming video.
The Disney sports-media giant aims to launch a stand-alone direct-to-consumer product that would give subscribers its full portfolio of game-day content, “Sports Center,” talk shows and analysis programs by the fall of 2025, and potentially by August of that year, ahead of the NFL season, the company’s CEO, Bob Iger, disclosed during an interview on CNBC. ESPN already offers its ESPN+ subscription-video service, but that offering was devised as a complement to the sports unit’s linear portfolio — almost as if a few large crumbs had fallen off a bigger cake.
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The timeline for the new, larger ESPN streaming hub shows Disney moving with some urgency as it seeks to claw back revenue as one-time TV subscribers migrate to broadband products. ESPN has thrived for decades on affiliate fees from cable and satellite distributors, but so-called “cord cutting” is washing away that revenue stream. On Tuesday, Disney said it would take part in a new joint venture with Fox Corp. and Warner Bros. Discovery to offer all three companies’ sports assets via a single streaming app. Both services aim to generate new sources of distribution revenue as the cable networks cede ground.
“It will provide many more features” for sports fans, including betting and fantasy sports and deeper statistics, said Iger, of the broader ESPN direct-to-consumer service, calling it a “sports lovers’ delight.”
Disney’s one-two push to move into streaming sports takes place as more of the leagues with high-priced rights are showing increased interest in courting digital crows. Major League Baseball has struck rights deals with Apple and had one with NBCUniversal’s Peacock. Many streamers have picked up rights to soccer leagues. The NBA is in the middle of figuring out how it will carve up its sports rights, which are currently held by Warner Bros. Discovery and ESPN.
The company isn’t waiting until the launch of either streaming service to boost ESPN. Celebrated college coach Nick Saban, who recently retired from the University of Alabama, will join ESPN as a commentator, Iger said Wednesday. Saban will work primarily as an analyst on the set of “College GameDay Built by The Home Depot,” but also contribute to ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage.
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