February 7th 2018
By Mike Flaminio
ESPN's parent Disney announced plans for ESPN Plus that's essentially an add-on streaming service to the company's cable channels. ESPN Plus will cost $5 per month, but won't deliver content actually on ESPN's network of cable channels. Details aren't fully announced, but it's expected ESPN Plus will show exclusive programming that may not be of interested to the broader audience for ABC/ESPN sports programming.
Cable and dish subscribers with packages carrying ESPN will still be able to stream live content. The key point is if you want to see conventional ESPN programming, you'll still need a cable subscription even if you stream it over the net. That part probably isn't changing anytime soon.
So, it's not terribly exciting news, but it's likely a small step towards what seems inevitable de-bundling of ESPN from cable channels. The way cable bundles work ESPN heavily relies on monthly fees from people who have little to no interest in watching its programming. If ESPN were to start offering services directly to customers, it would likely further disrupt cable bundles since live sports is a big deal to a lot of people reluctant to cut the cord. If ESPN subscribers go over the top and pay ESPN directly, not only would it cut out the cable companies, but the whole basic cable bundle would likely change. It seems likely ESPN would lose more than anything it can get from direct subscribers, but who knows.
ESPN continues to bleed subscribers, so eventually, it may have to change its model.