After months of rumors and speculation about what it would look like or how much it would cost, ESPN's standalone streaming service is finally launching today. It's called ESPN+ and it's priced at $5 a month, which will get you both live and on-demand content that, according to the company, is geared toward underserved sports fans. The first thing you should know about ESPN+ is that it isn't meant to replace the traditional ESPN network but rather is designed to be complementary to it. With the streaming offering, for instance, you won't have access to ESPN's flagship show, SportsCenter. Instead, ESPN+ will have its own original programming, including shows that will focus on news, scores and highlights about specific sports and leagues.
ESPN+ also won't have a standalone app: It's actually baked into the main ESPN app for iOS, Apple TV, Android, Amazon devices, as well as the web. The network says it decided to do this to create a single door to all of its digital products, a similar strategy to when it integrated WatchESPN into its namesake application in 2015. With the updated ESPN app, which arrives today as part of the ESPN+ debut, users will get access to existing features like news, scores and favorite teams alongside content from the new streaming offering. Those who have a cable or satellite account will get the full experience, though, since they'll be able to watch live and on-demand games intended for broadcast TV and shows such as SportsCenter.
That said, for $5 per month, ESPN+ does offer sports fans tremendous value, particularly the ones who have cut the cord and rely on over-the-air TV. The service will have more than 180 MLB and NHL games during the season, including one per day based on the league's schedule. There's going to to be more than 250 MLS games, as well, plus "thousands" of live college games and events from sports including baseball, basketball, football, golf, softball, soccer, wrestling and gymnastics. It's worth noting that for leagues like MLB, NHL and MLS, ESPN+ will only be able to stream out-of-market games, and those will be picked by ESPN's programming team. That means that if you're, say, a Yankees fan living in New York, you won't be able to watch your team on ESPN+ due to the blackouts.
As part of its efforts to reach "underserved sports fans," ESPN+ will also feature a year-round boxing schedule thanks to a partnership with Top Rank Boxing, which will bring a "selection of exclusive main fights" to the app. And then there's PGA Tour live golf, Grand Slam tennis matches from Wimbledon, US Open and the Australian Open, as well as rugby and cricket -- the latter two are some of the most popular sports globally and will appeal to certain groups of people living in the US.
ESPN+ is available only in the States, and the company says there are no plans to expand to other countries, which makes sense considering it would be tough to get all of these license agreements elsewhere.
Beyond the live sports, one of the main draws of ESPN+ is that it will have exclusive original content, which subscribers will be able to watch live or on-demand. That includes 30 for 30 films like The Last Days of Knight, a documentary about the controversial college basketball coach Bob Knight. Not only that, but ESPN+ users are going to get access to the full 30 for 30 library, which consists of more than 100 movies. Detail, meanwhile, is a show created, written and hosted by NBA legend and Oscar winner (Dear Basketball) Kobe Bryant that'll air exclusively on ESPN+. It's a talk show where he'll break down games during the 2017-2018 NBA playoffs.
The overhauled ESPN app was created in partnership with BAMTech, the streaming technology firm owned mostly by Disney, ESPN's parent company. It comes with a clean, card-based UI with four main sections: Home, Scores, Watch and Listen. Home is where you'll find information about your favorite teams, with Scores being the place where you can get results and schedules from leagues around the world. Watch is where you can view the videos we've mentioned above, including live games, highlights and replays. ESPN+ content has a small golden badge around the thumbnails, which helps differentiate it from those videos that can only be accessed by people with a pay-TV account. Listen, meanwhile, has podcasts and radio shows from the ESPN network.
If users of the ESPN app don't have an ESPN+ account, they can sign up directly from their iOS or Android device using Apple Pay or Android Pay. The application works seamlessly and video looks crisp at 60fps; BAMTech says the video quality will adapt based what device you're watching on or how much internet bandwidth you have. A great feature is when you're watching a game and then you can pull up stats from it in real-time, and you can also pause or rewind even if a match is live. And ESPN+ doesn't need a cloud DVR option, which streaming services like Sling TV charge extra for, because the app will have the games available on-demand after the fact.
We all know millennials love to share logins to services like Netflix or HBO Go, and ESPN says that although ESPN+ can handle up to five concurrent streams, it will be keeping an eye on "fraudulent activity." That means if you want to give your best friend your ESPN+, do so at your own risk.
ESPN+ isn't perfect, because it's missing popular shows like SportsCenter and content from the world of esports, to name a couple of things. But for $5 a month, the service is affordable enough that it will appeal to many sports fans in the US. If you combine it with over-the-air TV (where you can watch many of those prime-time games that aren't on ESPN+), it can be a great solution for cord-cutters who don't need to watch every MLB, NHL or MLS game -- ESPN says it's actively working to bring content from other leagues, too.
There's nothing similar to ESPN+ on the market, and that may be ESPN's main advantage with its streaming service. Other options for sports fans are services such as Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV or PlayStation Vue, but those cost upward of $20. That's a huge difference compared to the $5 for ESPN+, especially if ESPN keeps its promise to bring even more programming to it after launch.