ESPN Subscribers Growing, Disney Chief Bob Iger Claims

“We’re not going to sit back and let the disrupters just disrupt, we’re going to participate in some of that disruption,” CEO says

Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger defended embattled cable flagship ESPN Tueday, saying that the sports network has added subscribers.

“We’ve seen an uptick recently in ESPN subs,” Iger told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin on “Closing Bell” Tuesday just after the company reported first-quarter earning for 2016. “We did reference in the August call that we had seen some sub erosion and that was the case. But the last few months in particular have been encouraging.”

Iger said that the growth in subscriber levels was due in part to increased consumer interest in so-called “skinny bundles” such as Dish Network’s Sling, and that the trend would not be reflected until the second quarter of 2016.

ESPN contributed to declines in operating income for Disney’s cable networks for the first quarter of 2016, according to the company’s earnings report filed Tuesday.

Subscriber losses at ESPN have fueled industry concerns over cord-cutting — the movement of cable consumers to cancel their subscriptions as they gravitate toward digital streaming services. From 2013 to 2015, the network shed 7 million subscribers.

Iger also indicated that the company had no immediate plans to offer a direct-to-consumer streaming service of its own in the U.S.

“We’re not going to sit back and let the disrupters just disrupt,” Iger said. “We’re going to participate in some of that disruption. And we’ll decide when the time is right to be more disruptive than we have been if we really think the business model is shifting rapidly. So far we do not see that.”

Later Tuesday, on a conference call with investors, Iger brushed off repeated questions about ESPN’s future viability.

“The idea that ESPN is cratering from a sub perspective in any way is just ridiculous,” Igar said. “Sports is too popular.”

Iger also on the earnings call defended cable television as a business model.

“What we have seen recently is subscriber trends going in the negative direction have abated somewhat,” he said. “We believe that the predictions that many have made are more dire than they should be.”

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