In the past week, we’ve reported on several sports-related stories regarding Disney+ globally. In Indonesia, Disney+ Hotstar will be the new home of the WWE Network, kicking off later today with the debut even, the “Royal Rumble”. At the same time, it was revealed that Disney+ in Australia and New Zealand would be getting a flood of new ESPN documentaries in February. And in a major surprise, three classic ESPN documentaries were released onto Disney+ in the United States, to get fans clued up on the upcoming “Superbowl”.
Then, today, it was revealed by Helison Medeiros, who has previously revealed many hidden secrets found in the Disney+ code, that a new ESPN event link was added to the Disney+ sitemap. Currently, the link doesn’t work, but it’s a recent addition, showing that something is brewing over at Disney Streaming.
What’s interesting about this event link being added, is that it follows a similar system to how live events are handled on Star+ in Latin America. Star+ is a hybrid between ESPN+ and the Star brand on Disney+, which includes live sports along with general entertainment from Disney’s studios like FX, 20th Century Studios and ABC.
The Walt Disney Company is planning on spending over $33 billion on new content globally in 2022, with a massive portion of that total being spent on access to sports content for its traditional linear networks and streaming services. So it would make sense to utilise this content globally as much as possible.
Disney+ Hotstar in India offers access to some live sports to subscribers, where live Cricket is one of the most significant incentives for many to subscribe to the streaming service. Disney acquired the Indian streaming service when it purchased 20th Century Fox and rebranded Hotstar into Disney+ Hotstar in March 2020, before then launching the service in other Asian countries, including Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
In the United States, Hulu has been sharing many live sports with ESPN+ and most recently, it closed down Hotstar in the US, moving the live sports to ESPN+ and its general entertainment content to Hulu. With Disney randomly adding three ESPN documentaries ahead of the Superbowl, this could be a test to see if there is any interest on Disney+ for sports content.
Disney+ in the United States has been getting lots of criticism over the lack of content for teenagers and adults, so adding more sports content could help fill in the gap.
Until Disney gets control of Comcast’s stake in Hulu, there are legal and contractual issues that can cause problems. And internationally, ESPN is also tied up in some legal matters and contracts with other companies, such as in Canada. So any changes might be tricky to implement globally, but some deals expire, some can be brought out, and over time, things are possible.
Late last year, in the UK and Ireland, lots of sports content started to be added onto Disney, with over 50 ESPN documentaries now available, with more being added almost weekly. And with Disney+ subscribers in Australia & New Zealand getting access to many of those same ESPN documentaries in February, it shows Disney is starting to utilise its library sports content for Disney+.
So far, Disney hasn’t announced when or if Hotstar in the United Kingdom or Canada will be closed and merged into Disney+. For this to happen, live sports is going to be a major issue that needs to be fixed. If Disney is now testing how to run live events within Disney+, it does open up the door for Disney’s Indian sports content to be moved over.
Adding the WWE Network content to Disney+ Hotstar in Indonesia is also a huge step. It’s the first country outside of the US to have the WWE Network merged into another streaming platform.
Last year in the US, the WWE was moved within Peacock. Many entertainment trade outlets say this is the first of many WWE announcements coming, as it’s likely that the WWE Network is sliced up internationally and added within other streaming services.
I’d also like to point out that Disney Streaming Services, formerly known as Bamtech, actually launched the WWE Network back in 2014. It doesn’t necessarily mean we should expect to see the WWE Network added to Disney+ globally, but it’s now at least a possibility.
Disney also runs a stripped-down version of ESPN+ across EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) called ESPN Player, which provides access to NHL, NCAA, MLB and X-Games across the region. However, there can be some local differences in what’s available.
Also, this week, Disney announced it was planning on launching Disney+ in over 50 countries and territories across the EMEA region later this summer. Merging the smaller streaming services like, Hotstar and ESPN Player into Disney+ across EMEA could help reduce costs in running multiple platforms. This additional sports content could also provide Disney+ with another boost of content and provide more competition to Amazon, Discovery+, Sky/Now/Peacock, and Paramount+, which all offer some live sports.
Since Disney+ launched, it has continued to evolve. With the streaming service market changing so much, especially with more and more streaming services launching, there is a limit to how many platforms people will subscribe to.
Sport is a significant draw for many subscribers, and in the past week, I have little doubt that we could see some more big changes in the year to come.
Until now, live streaming within Disney+ seemed unlikely, since the app didn’t have anything built-in, which is why Disney+ Hotstar had a different app to the global version.
Disney has tried to run two separate streaming services in Latin America, Disney+ and Star+, which isn’t working as well as they had hoped. If Disney+ does start getting live sports, it also opens the door of opportunity for a Star+ and Disney+ merger.
Adding sports content to Disney+ might have some other issues to overcome. This could result in the overall subscription costs rising due to expensive sports rights. There are also technical issues of streaming sports globally. Especially when it comes to advertising and commercials, plus licensing agreements vary between countries. Any major changes could be a while off.
Disney might try adding ESPN+ within Disney+ as an additional add-on for an extra charge, but other streaming services aren’t doing that, so it might be tricky to implement.
But in a changing world, Disney needs to offer variety to keep subscribers engaged. ESPN is a major global brand and could help expand the reach of Disney+ to a different audience.
It’s important to note, this is all speculation and Disney might have some different plans for its live sports content. If you had asked me a week ago, I probably would have said it wasn’t possible, or it could be years off, or maybe that ESPN+ might just launch globally instead.
But in this last week, we’ve seen ESPN content added onto Disney+ in the US, links to ESPN within Disney+ coding and a major deal with the WWE announced. So the chances of live sports being available within Disney+ without doubt increased!
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.