With the return of Bob Iger as the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, he began a reorganisation that resulted in the company being split into three divisions, ESPN, Entertainment and another unit that was about experiences such as the Theme Parks, Cruise Line and Consumer Products.

Making ESPN into its own individual division showcases Disney’s commitment to the sports network, and one of the biggest issues facing it, is how it adapts to a changing world from linear network to streaming.  ESPN+ is the company’s streaming platform for sports content, but it still doesn’t offer all of the same content that is available on the channel.    One of the main reasons why Disney has been reluctant to offer a full ESPN online experience, is that the existing cable TV model is still making lots of money, since cable providers still force all subscribers to pay for ESPN, regardless of if they want it.   Bob Iger has also said the shift from linear to streaming for ESPN is “inevitable,” but won’t get into the idea of when it might happen.

Recently, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro spoke with Bloomberg about ESPN’s future and spoke about when ESPN+ will someday offer its full channel platform to cord-cutters.

“We’re going to get to a point where we take our entire network, our flagship programming, and make it available direct to consumer.  That’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.”

Currently, the rights to the streaming and linear rights to the NBA are in negotiations and getting these games on ESPN+ is a huge priority.

“I’m confident we’re going to see eye-to-eye on how to prioritize streaming,”

With ESPN now becoming its own separate division within Disney, which will see them reporting finances separately, so we will no doubt see many changes in the future, as ESPN looks to take advantage of a changing landscape, but it’s not going to be easy giving up the current set-up.  Disney will no doubt be studying the data and trying to work out when will be the right time to make this move.

Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall said to Bloomberg:

“It’s not a small decision,. Disney is constantly weighing the risk of not doing it versus the risk of doing it too early.”

ESPN, like other divisions in Disney, is having to make cost-cutting measures and has been letting some members of the team go during the recent Disney job cut waves.

ESPN+ has been successful in pulling in new subscribers, but the majority of them, around 61%, have done so through the Disney Streaming Bundle, which includes Hulu and Disney+.  Showing the power of a bundle, but also continues to offer ESPN+, Hulu and Disney+ as separate apps, though ESPN+ is available directly within Hulu, something not currently offered through Disney+, which could be one way of encouraging more viewership.

According to Wolff, the strategy of having three separate apps “gives fans and viewers flexibility and choice, with the bundle being the best value”.    And the work of building ESPN+ is continuous, as John Lasker, ESPN’s vice president of digital media programming and acquisitions, explained:

“There’s not a corner office somewhere with a bunch of folks who are just working on ESPN+,” said “ESPN+ is part of everybody’s job.”

In the coming years ahead, we are likely to see ESPN+ continue to grow, especially as it’s now its own separate division within Disney, and offering more sports coverage will do that, but this will also likely lead to more price increases, since sporting rights aren’t cheap.  ESPN also has an opportunity to grow internationally, as different countries and regions have variations of ESPN, such as ESPN Player in the Middle East and Europe, while in Latin America, sport is included in Star+ and in Asia, Disney+ Hotstar offers some sports.

The executives at Disney and ESPN are very much aware that consumer habits have changed, which they are adapting too, but they aren’t in a rush to give up that linear cash too quickly.

Do you think ESPN+ should offer the same content as the ESPN channel?  Let us know!



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Roger Palmer

Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom. Email: Roger@WhatsOnDisneyPlus.com Twitter: Twitter.com/RogPalmerUK Facebook: Facebook.com/rogpalmeruk

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