Disney has been publicly discussing a decision to transition ESPN to a standalone app for months now. The massive company currently owns an 80% majority stake in the traditional sports television network. As broadcasting continues a shift towards streaming, Disney is clearly looking at shaking things up at ESPN.
Disney/ESPN was recently deadlocked in negotiations with Charter Communications. Charter is a mass media company that is essentially Spectrum. As negotiations stalled, Disney unexpectedly pulled ESPN channels from the Spectrum lineup. This, obviously, infuriated sports fans with the cable company.
ESPN/Spectrum deal key to future plans at the network
Nevertheless, the two sides finally agreed to a new deal and ESPN returned to Spectrum. ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro has recently admitted that the agreement was “critical” to the future plans at the network. After all, Spectrum currently has around 15 million subscribers at the moment. This is basically 20% of ESPN’s total reach.
“I’d be lying if didn’t tell you this Charter deal wasn’t critical,” Pitaro explained at the IMG Summit. “It was so impactful not just for ESPN and Disney but the whole industry. I take a lot of pride in the creativity of that deal and the fact that just a few days ago, we did not know if we were going to get this deal done or part ways with Charter. But we creatively came up with a deal that is definitely a win for the customer and honestly a win for both sides.”
Standalone ESPN app timing depends on decline of traditional TV
Pitaro also confirmed that a standalone ESPN app is now definitely on the way. The exec, however, claims that the company still has details to iron out. Nevertheless, the streaming service will combine ESPN+ with the ESPN television channels. SportsPro Media reports that this new app is likely to hit the market as early as 2025.
“We truly do not have a [launch] date,” Pitaro continued. “We know we have to get this right in terms of timing and price point. We have a really great strategy team that’s on this. It’s their number one priority, getting it right.”
“Part of that [equation] is also that ESPN+ is going so well for us. We have a ton of exclusive content that’s performing very, very well for the platform. So we don’t necessarily feel the urgency.”
“Again, we’ll see how the next year plays out in terms of traditional [Multi Video Programming Distributor] subs and if things continue to accelerate in terms of cord cutting and the decline, then yes, we will probably pull that date to an earlier point than we’re right now currently considering.”
There were previous suggestions that this new ESPN app could cost up to $22 per month. Although not exactly ideal for customers, this price point would unfortunately be in line with other similar sports apps. Bally Sports Plus is currently $20 per month and the YES Network is $25 each month. These services typically offer access to just three or five teams.
Photo credit: IMAGO & Pius Koller
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