In September 2021, a deep dive into how ESPN may transition to direct-to-consumer sales within the next five years was launched after conversations with internal and external executives, agencies, and broadcasters. An update on this topic was provided last week, with the most relevant new information being shared. ESPN will eventually offer a standalone service similar to ESPN+ that will include all of their programming, including “Monday Night Football,” the College Football National Championship, and the NBA, among other things, bringing its mothership network directly to consumers. Linear network distribution will expand, and consumers will be able to use the network over cable or without cable.
According to sources, ESPN expects to transition to DTC within two to three years. That will not happen this year, and sources say it’s unlikely to happen next year at this point. “Monday Night Football” and all shows currently airing on ESPN will likely be available as direct-to-consumer services within the next three years, with the earliest start date expected in 2025, though 2026 is also a possibility. ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro has said many times that there’s no exact schedule, and Disney and ESPN are closely monitoring market trends.
In 2011, ESPN’s pay TV subscribers reached 100 million. That number has since declined and is now at 74 million, with the magic number expected to prompt the launch of ESPN DTC being when ESPN’s cable home numbers drop to 50-60 million. ESPN+ already has 25 million subscribers, and the hope is that the addition of all programming will draw in more viewers. However, there is no guarantee that cable TV will completely disappear, even with the launch of ESPN DTC.
In other news, Matt Ryan will spend his first season as an NFL analyst in the game booth and studio every week. ESPN will be making more job cuts this week, according to sources. TNT NHL Studios’ analyst Paul Bissonette is bringing energy and levity to the show. Apple TV+’s new MLS package is not doing well, and there are doubts about its success. Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch said it was “very unlikely” that Fox would bid for the NBA. Finally, WBD Sports laid off 50 employees this week, and it is unclear whether ESPN has any interest in Pac-12 at this time.