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ESPN Chairman: No Date Yet for ESPN Direct-to-Consumer Streamer

Matt Tamanini

Last month, when discussing the company’s second-quarter earnings report, Disney CEO Bob Chapek somewhat stunned the streaming world when he proclaimed that a fully-featured ESPN streaming service would be the “ultimate fan offering.”

Chapek was asked about the potential of ESPN+ eventually including the original programming and live sports found on the worldwide leader in sports’ linear channels. While the exec did not make it sound as though any such shift was imminent, he did seem to indicate that it is in the future plans for the company.

On Monday's episode of the “Sports Media” podcast hosted by The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch, ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro was asked about the potential of a fully integrated slate of ESPN offerings and whether or not that could be a possibility in the next five years. Pitaro was open in admitting that while it is something that the network has in the plans, it is not something to expect any time soon.

“The reason you don’t have a date on [a direct-to-consumer ESPN streaming service] is because we don’t have one,” Pitaro said. “It’s that simple. We don’t have one. I would say, ‘I can’t talk about that,’ if I couldn’t talk about it, if it existed, but we don’t have a date.”

The reason that ESPN hasn’t yet merged its parallel content arms is because both have been very successful on their own. While cable subscriptions continue to decline, lessening the carriage fee revenue on the traditional side of the company’s balance sheet, traditional TV is still very valuable for ESPN.

Also, ESPN+ has done increasingly well, reporting more than 22.3 million subscribers following last quarter, well ahead of internal projections.

Pitaro admitted that while the traditional cable and satellite revenue remains valuable to the company, they are investing heavily in their streaming content with an eye on the future.

“The content that we’re creating for ESPN Plus, the library that we’ve accumulated that we’ve put up exclusively on Plus — for example … the only place to get the entire ‘30 for 30’ library is ESPN+, that’s all working,” he said.

The ESPN exec framed the decision as a way to meet different consumer demographics at the varying places that they come from. There is still a large segment of the population who only consumes sports content via traditional TV, and ESPN clearly doesn’t want to forgo that revenue to chase what would still be an evolving streaming market.

“Folks who are still very much engaged with DIRECTV or Comcast, and we need to be there. We need to be serving them,” he said. “We also have fans who are consuming sports content on their phones, on their tablets. So if you wanna authenticate, you can get the flagship [networks]. You wanna enter your MVPD [multichannel video programming distributor] credentials or you wanna subscribe to a digital MVPD like Hulu Live, you can consume on your phone or your tablet. We’ll continue to acquire rights that enable us to continue to advance both of these platforms, meaning traditional and digital.”

While Disney and ESPN are going to continue to pursue rights deals that allow them to stream more and more content, Pitaro is not ready to commit to a timetable when everything ESPN is available in one place. Deitsch initially asked what the family of networks’ offerings would look like in 2027 in regards to the linear and streaming split, and Pitaro admitted that he wasn’t sure.

“I don’t know if we’re going to have flagship available [on streaming by 2027],” Pitaro said. “I can’t say we’re not, I can’t definitively say we are. We’re looking at these numbers on a month to month basis and our commitment to the sports fan is that we’re gonna continue to follow you. And as the sports fan moves more and more to a digital platform, a direct to consumer platform; you’re gonna see us moving more and more content that way. But today, having these two properties — both traditional and digital — it just makes sense for us.”

Although it doesn’t sound as though the “ultimate fan offering” will be available to sports streamers anytime soon, it is encouraging to know that ESPN is actively planning for the time when the customers demands the move be made.

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 $9.99 / month per month or annually for $99.99 / year.

You will get a daily out-of-market game from MLB, and every out-of-market NHL with NHL Power Play (previously NHL.TV). For NFL Fans, they have an exclusive NFL game, and simulcast select Monday Football games.

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.

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