Disney CEO Bob Iger says ESPN’s bulked-up streaming service will launch in the fall of 2025, or possibly even as soon as late-August of that year.
The stand-alone offering will follow this fall’s planned launch of a high-profile joint streaming venture pooling the sports properties of Disney-ESPN, Warner Bros. Discovery and Fox Corp. Like that mini-bundle, the new streaming version of ESPN will offer access to multiple linear feeds of ESPN networks. Unlike the JV’s app, though, it will surround video programming with ESPN-branded interactive features, including statistics and data related to betting and fantasy sports.
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Iger made the announcement in a CNBC interview just prior to the media giant’s fiscal first quarter earnings call.
“It is a different product,” Iger said, describing it as “the sports lover’s delight.” The new service, he continued, “will have many more features and provide a more immersive experience for the sports fan” than the joint-venture bundled offering. The JV bundle “is really a channel bundle,” Iger said, whereas the ESPN service “will be very user-friendly because it’s more app-based.”
Disney is continuing to try to line up a strategic partner to help drive the distribution of the new ESPN app and has reportedly held talks with the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. (Iger said the company has been having “good discussions,” though he did not name any of the participants.) Other investors, including large tech firms, are also among the candidates, with Iger previously saying the company could part with some equity in exchange. Disney owns 80% of ESPN, with Hearst Corp. controlling the other 20%.
Cord-cutting, which has reduced the penetration of ESPN and other established linear networks, has been a growing concern for media companies in recent years. ESPN ended fiscal 2023 with 71 million U.S. subscribers, down from 74 million in the prior year and far from its peak north of 100 million achieved in the early 2010s.
As with the forthcoming multi-company streaming venture, pricing has yet to be determined for the more robust ESPN outlet, but it will undoubtedly be in a significantly higher range than that of ESPN+. Launched in 2018, ESPN+ had 25.2 million subscribers as of the December 30 end of the fiscal first quarter. Initially a complement to linear ESPN featuring on-demand programming, the service has steadily added high-profile live games.
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