Earlier this year, we learned that Disney was building a streaming service and planning to offer ESPN as a standalone streaming option. Now CNBC is reporting that Disney could turn ESPN into its own company if a partner could not be found.
According to reports, ESPN still wants to focus on finding a partner for ESPN and launching a dedicated streaming service for the networks. If that fails, Disney plans to run ESPN.
This is very similar to what AT&T recently did with DIRECTV and it might give us a blueprint for how Disney might create ESPN. It’s very likely that Disney will still retain majority control, but turning it into its own company will allow Disney to avoid any negative impacts it could have on its revenue. That’s what AT&T did with DIRECTV just a few years ago.
Disney is reportedly still focused on launching a dedicated streaming service with partners to help grow the service. Disabling ESPN appears to be a fallback plan if those plans fail according to reports.
So what do we know about this ESPN streaming service? Here’s a quick breakdown of what we recently learned:
What has Disney officially said about this project?
Recently when asked about ESPN’s future as a direct streaming service during Call for Disney Q1 2023 results, CEO Bob Iger said: “As for ESPN and when we might make the change, if you ask me, is the change inevitable? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you an idea of when that might happen, because we need to do it, obviously, at a time that really makes sense for the results. And we’re just not there yet,” Bob Iger said. “And it’s not just about how many subscribers we might get, it’s also about ESPN’s pricing power, which obviously ties into the sports menu they’ve licensed.”
Not too long ago, ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro clarified again that ESPN would be a streaming service, but not yet.
“We’re going to get to a point where we’re taking our entire network, our flagship programming, and making it available direct-to-consumer,” Pitaro said in an interview with Bloomberg. “It’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.”
When will ESPN’s streaming service launch?
Earlier this month, Bob Iger said he was now more certain than ever of the service’s launch date. Although he declined to say when Disney will launch the service during his return to Disney, he did decide when Disney will launch a standalone streaming service for ESPN.
He also added that the cable TV channel package is in more trouble than ever. This decision to offer ESPN as a standalone entity is likely Disney’s preparation for a post-cable television world.
According to reports from the New York Post, the ESPN streaming service might not happen until 2025 or even 2026. A lot may change, which might prompt Disney to rush to the ESPN streaming service sooner, but for the At the moment, sources say 2025 is the likely target day.
Jimmy Pitaro also said it was a matter of when ESPN would start selling direct to consumers without the need for a cable television subscription.
Does Disney plan to sell part of ESPN?
During the interview with CNBC, Disney CEO Bob Iger said he was open to partnering with other companies to make this ESPN streaming service work. He was even open to the possibility of selling part of ESPN to a third party. Talks have reportedly already taken place with a few potential partners, but so far nothing concrete has come out of these talks.
During Jimmy Pitaro’s interview with CNBC, he said that while he couldn’t say who ESPN is in talks with, he said they are looking for partners who can help with content deals.
“I will highlight the fact that we believe there are parties that can help us on the content side,” Pitaro said.
CNBC recently reported that Disney is in talks with the NFL, NBA and MLB to become co-owners of ESPN with Disney.
According to CNBC, 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.
Disney currently owns 80% of ESPN and Hearst owns 20%. Disney could easily sell part of ESPN to the NFL, NBA and MLB while owning a controlling majority of ESPN.
Although, the New York Post said it heard that Disney may be partnering with a tech company to help them launch the ESPN streaming service.
For now, we’ll have to wait and see what happens, but ESPN’s future now appears to be streaming online as a standalone service, though it won’t leave cable TV behind entirely.