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Disney Head Sees Future In Streaming Sports, But Not Ready To Discard ESPN Linear Channels

Michael King

Robert Chapek, CEO and Director of The Walt Disney Company, has his eye on the future of worldwide streaming when it comes to sports.

“Well, we’re committed to sports because we value live sports, which drives viewers and interest like nothing else,” Chapek said at a session during the Credit Suisse Communications Conference late Monday. “We all know what the statistics say about who tunes into what and live sports always leads the way. So sports are important in terms of being able to bring in the viewers.”

Speaking virtually to investors at the conference, Chapek said that Disney is not only looking at sporting events in the United States, but in places like Latin America, where sports will be included on Disney’s Star+ platform, launching August 31.

“For example, in Argentina, we’re going to have 10,000 live sporting events per year in Argentina,” Chapek said. “If we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it right, we’re going to do it big. But it really is a market-by-market evaluation.”

He said that there is no timetable on how or when ESPN in North America may shift to more of an a la carte model.

ESPN+

ESPN+ is a live TV streaming service that gives access to thousands of live sporting events, original shows like Peyton’s Place, the entire library of 30 for 30, E:60, The Last Dance, as well exclusive written analysis from top ESPN insiders.

The service can be subscribed for $6.99 / month per month or annually for $69.99 / year.

You will get a daily out-of-market game from MLB, and every out-of-market NHL and MLS game with NHL.TV and MLS LIVE.

The service has some of the most attractive soccer coverage including Bundesliga, LaLiga, FA Cup, UEFA Nations League, EFL Championship, EFL Carabao Cup, Eredevise and more.

College sports fans will be able to watch thousands of games and events including football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, track & field, gymnastics, swimming & diving, lacrosse, wrestling, volleyball, golf, and more.

For boxing and UFC fans, the service offers Top Rank boxing and will be the home of 15 exclusive UFC events.

ESPN+ now includes exclusive insights from analysts like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay (which used to be part of ESPN Insider), as well as premium Fantasy Tools & PickCenter.

What it does not include is most live sports that air on ESPN and ESPN2.

To get access to those channels you have to subscribe to a live TV streaming service. We suggest reading our guide on How to Watch ESPN without Cable.

“We don’t believe that time is right now, but when it is time, we’ll be prepared to do that,” he said. “I would point to the fact that we bought flexibility into every new media rights deal that we’ve done in terms of sports rights, and I think you recognize that. So the speed of the transition will be dependent on the speed of the evolution of the consumer behavior.”

The new rights deals recently signed with each of the professional sports leagues in North America have all included streaming rights, and, just as Disney and ESPN have remained non-committal on any timeframe for going all-in on streaming — along the lines of ESPN+ — to the exclusion of linear content, the other major players — including Amazon, NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, and the upcoming Discovery Warner Bros. — have also included streaming rights in their new contracts, but have not made major commitments to excluding their linear channels and partners, for the moment.

“Linear business does offer us an attractive cash flow, and it funds that content generation across our ecosystem as we make that accelerated pivot to DTC (Direct-To-Consumer) and, if you will, the hunger for new content that such a new platform sort of requires, but we’ve only just really begun that content rollout internationally,” Chapek said.

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