A report from earlier this week indicates ESPN will soon be announcing its first web-based streaming television package, which will offer up smaller, minor sports leagues and possibly some college sports.
The Information reports the new package is seen as the Disney-owned sports network’s first, small step toward a full-scale online service, someday offering pro-level sports such as football, basketball, and baseball.
Plans by ESPN to offer a package of live sports programming directly online will help the sports network learn about what works online. The package won’t include high value content but rather more niche leagues.
Viewer Numbers Beginning to Slide
ESPN will likely play it cool for the near future, to avoid risking its cash cow deals with cable and satellite providers. Sports is still a big draw on pay TV, even though a trend toward cord-cutting and online streaming entertainment has seen the network’s viewer numbers begin to slide.
But by going direct with a narrow offering, ESPN can capture people who aren’t subscribing to pay TV and can learn about what will and won’t work online. The audience that doesn’t subscribe to pay TV has slowly expanded in the past couple of years, including both millennials who’ve never subscribed to pay TV and other people cutting off their subscriptions.
ESPN saw subscriber numbers fall to 92 million as of October of last year, down 3 million from the previous year’s numbers. ESPN is one of parent Disney’s crown jewels, and concerns about the sports network’s prospects have taken a toll on Disney’s stock in the past year.