Friday, May 19, 2023

Is ESPN about to kill cable?

Recent reports are saying that ESPN plans to move from cable TV, and that the move could kill cable TV.

I read the reports, most notable from the Wall Street Journal [subscription, but covered well in Cord Cutters News] that discusses the plans by Disney to move ESPN to a direct-to-consumer streaming service:

ESPN has begun securing flexibility in its deals with cable providers to offer the channel directly to consumers, the people said. The financial terms of those deals couldn’t be learned. The company is having similar discussions with pro sports leagues as those rights deals come up and has secured the same flexibility from at least two major leagues, the people said.

The sports-media giant took its first step into streaming in 2018 with the launch of ESPN+, a monthly streaming service whose live programming includes golf events, certain Major League Baseball and professional hockey games, as well as a variety of scripted and unscripted programming. It has 25.3 million subscribers.

But ESPN+ doesn't offer access to the ESPN channel itself, including high-value programming like National Basketball Association and National Football League telecasts that are only available on TV. Project "Flagship" is about helping ESPN transition the full channel to streaming.

While the headline of the Wall Street Journal article, as well as the Cord Cutters News story, mention the removal of ESPN from cable, the actual WSJ article does not cite any source for ESPN leaving cable. Rather, the implication seems to be that making ESPN available directly to consumers will allow customers to drop cable.

Well, I dropped cable a long time ago, even though ESPN was exclusively on cable at the time.

Today, I can watch ESPN, but need a streaming service such as Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu+Live TV, Fubo, Vidgo, or the like to watch the service. In fact, during college football season, the only reason I ever watch ESPN, I'll subscribe to Sling TV, then cancel when the season is done. I actually put a little more effort into it than simply that, and wind up paying for service for only four 30-day subscriptions, and that covers the entire season. I've given those details before, and will again, just not right now.

Back to the article, the idea is that with a streaming option for the full ESPN, more people will drop cable. Well, there already are streaming options. This may indeed make it easier for people to drop cable, but I must wonder how many are actually subscribing to cable simply for ESPN. There is no reason for that. If anyone wants to drop cable and still watch ESPN, they can.

My Streaming Life broke free of cable TV over a dozen years ago. More and more are doing the same. And if Disney does make ESPN available directly as a standalone app, I'd be very happy with that option.

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