ESPN in Talks to Widen Its Online Streaming to New Services

But ESPN head John Skipper says it won’t be selling purely online subscriptions anytime soon

ESPN John Skipper
Getty Images

Disney’s ESPN is talking to emerging digital video services about licensing its sports programming, similar to its arrangement with Dish’s Sling TV, but don’t hold out hope for a direct online subscription to just ESPN.

“We do not believe it right now to be good business,” ESPN president John Skipper said late Wednesday at the Code/Media conference in California, according to Recode. Last year, a slew of channels like HBO, Showtime and CBS launched stand-alone subscription apps, for the first time allowing consumers’ to pay directly for just their programming alone online.

Without specifying which companies were courting ESPN for its content on new streaming services, Skipper said a “number of people have expressed interest.” Gadget giant Apple, for one, has been holding discussions to launch a digital television service for more than a year.

“We’re in discussions with a large number of people,” Skipper said. “Other people will enter into some market with lighter packages in this calendar year.”

ESPN, a lynchpin in Disney’s valuable cable TV business, has been struggling with questions about its long-term health since Disney CEO Bob Iger disclosed modest subscriber losses for the network in August. Earlier this month, Iger credited online services like Dish’s Sling TV, which offers online live TV streams from small bundles of networks for monthly subscriptions starting at $20 a month, for contributing to an increase in subscribers in recent weeks.

Dish has not disclosed Sling TV’s total subscribers, but Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker estimated them at 175,000 in a note Thursday.