ESPN is in discussions with streaming services in a bid to expand its offerings, network president John Skipper said in an interview at Recode’s Code/Media conference yesterday, but if you’re hoping that you’ll be able to ditch your cable subscription for a standalone ESPN app, don’t hold your breath.
The network might be responsible for more cable subscriptions than any other channel, but it’s still losing subscribers as customers are increasingly moving toward other options. ESPN has already made streaming deals with a few partners, but only as a part of a bundle of other channels.
Skipper says that won’t change in the near future. While some networks have jumped into streaming with their own apps, like HBO with HBO Now, ESPN has no plans to follow suit. “We can sell ESPN as a standalone product, but we do not believe it right now to be good business,” Skipper said.
Two of the current options for watching ESPN without a cable subscription are Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, both of which offer bundles of channels similar to a cable package. Both of these packages also feature other channels under the umbrella of ESPN parent company Disney, like Disney Channel and Freeform (formerly ABC Family).
ESPN has had good results with these packages so far, Skipper said last month, mentioning Sling TV specifically. “We think that it can be a significant mover in helping us navigate the next few years. We see the Sling TV numbers, which are significant,” he said.
The network had also been in talks with Apple about its planned Internet TV service, which has been stalled since late last year. Skipper refused to mention any of the companies that ESPN is currently in discussions with in yesterday’s interview, including Apple.
“The only thing I’m willing to discuss with Apple and [media boss] Eddy Cue, and he’s a friend of mine, is that Apple understand the value of the Walt Disney Company,” Skipper said.