A report over at the Information claims that ESPN is planning to take a baby step towards offering its shows direct to consumers. The Disney-owned sports broadcaster is working on a package of live programming that cord-cutters will be able to purchase without a cable subscription. Naturally, the content on offer won't include premium events from the NFL or NBA, instead you'll find "niche" sports up for grabs. Details are thin, but that could run from college sports all the way through to eSports, which the network has recently embraced. It's a toe in the water, for sure, but also shows just how far online video has come along in the last five years.
It's not the first time that the company has broken out a non-core sport and sold it as a standalone product to online viewers. In 2015, it offered a subscription to the Cricket World Cup, showing 49 matches over six weeks for a fixed price of $100. But ESPN has frequently distanced itself from the idea that it would ever ditch the requirement for a cable or satellite subscription for access. That position softened a little at the start of the year, however, when president John Skipper said that the firm would only consider online sales if it "will help us grow our business."
ESPN has been a major component of Disney's business for years, and a major driver of profit for its Media Networks business. But the report explains that subscriber counts actually fell between October 2014 and 2015 from 95 million to 92 million. It's one of the reasons the firm spent big to buy a third of Major League Baseball's Advanced Media division. That's the company behind the MLB's online streaming services, and serves as the technology that's underpinning HBO Go as well as the NHL and WWE's streaming platforms. Gaining access to that technology, at least, paves the way for ESPN to win back departing customers with cord-free sports.