ESPN dove into the digital world on Thursday with the launch of ESPN+, a $4.99 per month direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service, and a new-look ESPN app.
The content offered includes live events, personalized experiences, niche sports, signature programming, and the full library of “30 for 30” films.
New ESPN president and co-chair of Disney Media Networks, James Pitaro, introduced the new service to media members at the network’s Los Angeles base earlier this week, where he described it as a “new era of innovation at ESPN to serve sports fans in new ways to expand our audience, expand our reach and expand our engagement.”
Pitaro was named as the replacement to former president John Skipper on March 5.
“We are looking at it through two lenses — number one, the maniacal, the fanatic … the sports fan who just wants more sports,” Pitaro said. “And then number two, the sports fan who has been underserved by traditional linear television, who feels like he or she has not had direct access to the sports or teams they love.”
The app will be the next generation of existing the ESPN app, he continued. “It will be our best and most modern expression of our brand. It will be clean and easy to navigate … the basic premise and principle is ‘let’s get out of the way of the content and let the content shine,'” Pitaro said, adding that experiences will be personalized, so that they are “serving the right content to the right user at the right time.”
Included in the 10,000 live events on ESPN+ (which will be identified on the app by a gold flag) are MLB, NHL and MLS games (but no NFL as of yet), and also fringe sports that are usually harder to find, such as rugby, cricket, PGA tour events, English Premier League, lacrosse and boxing.
Former Cornell Big Red football player Pitaro was also very excited about ESPN’s partnership with the Ivy League — which he swears was set in motion before he became president — along with over a dozen mid-major college conferences.
“When you compare it to what is available right now and what is upcoming from our competitors, we very much like our hand here,” he said.
Pitaro also stressed that this was just the beginning of ESPN’s digital offerings. “We love the breadth of content that we are launching with, but this is the first inning and we are going to be adding more content on a regular basis,” he said.
“There will be three core pillars [of the ESPN app], as it really is a three-in-one service,” Pitaro explained. Those are: a first layer of news, scores, highlights, audio, live radio and podcasts; a second layer of TV Everywhere with access to live linear programming; and the third layer is ESPN+, the direct-to-consumer subscription service.
The first content to launch on ESPN+ will be “30 for 30” doc “The Last Days of Knight,” tracing the rise and fall of Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight through investigative reporting by director Robert Abbott.
“In addition to the deep storytelling, ESPN+ will bring fans closer to their favorite teams and favorite athletes,” said Connor Schell, ESPN’s executive Vice President of content, who co-founded “30 for 30” with Bill Simmons in 2009, said.
The service will also include new shows such as “Draft Academy,” following a handful of top prospects heading to the NFL Draft, “Quest for the Cup” in partnership with the NHL, and Kobe Bryant’s analysis show “Detail,” where the Lakers legend breaks down “the smallest, smallest level of basketball” action during the NBA playoffs.
The other shiny object that the network executives are most proud to share on ESPN+ is the company’s archive dating back to 1979, making the platform the “single place you can watch every ’30 for 30’ film, to dive in and come out a few days later,” plus boxing libraries, vintage college basketball games, and film from each year of the Masters or Indy 500.