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ESPN planned an escape route from Sling TV, but so far hasn’t used it

A person watching Sling TV on an iPAd.
While Sling TV’s parent company Dish hasn’t been especially public with the numbers surrounding the service, one thing is for sure: the presence of ESPN was certainly a big part of the service’s success. But while the network has been important for Sling TV, ESPN wasn’t sure about the other way around.

When talks first began between Dish and ESPN in 2014 preceding the launch of Sling TV, ESPN was worried that the streaming service might end up taking customers away from its cable and satellite partners. In order to provide itself with some security, ESPN built two terms into its contract that would provide it with an easy out if Sling TV grew too fast, or if it found that it was shedding cable subscriptions at too rapid a rate.

It’s now been a little over a year since Sling TV launched, and at least one of those criteria has been met. ESPN has lost more than 3 million subscribers, more than enough to trigger its exit, Bloomberg reports. Sling TV, meanwhile, is reported to have reached more than 600,000 already, and some estimates say that the service could reach 2 million subscribers by the end of the year, which would also allow ESPN to cancel its deal.

Even so, ESPN doesn’t seem keen on using either of the out clauses it built into its deal to extract its programming from the streaming service. As a matter of fact, it seems like ESPN has largely changed its tune when it comes to Sling TV and streaming services in general.

Earlier this year, ESPN network president John Skipper said that the company sees a promising future for streaming. “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,” Skipper said.

Meanwhile, CEO of ESPN parent company Disney Bob Iger has praised the general move toward “skinny” bundles — lower cost programming packages that allow users to better tailor their TV experience. “It’s also important that ESPN be present in the skinny bundles, whether there are 2 million of them, 5 million of them, 10 million of them,” he said at an investor conference either this month.

ESPN has doubled down on live TV streaming as well, bringing its programming to Sling TV competitor PlayStation Vue earlier this month, shortly before the service became available nationwide. It’s too early to see how ESPN will like the numbers it gains from this new deal, but it certainly doesn’t seem like the company plans to bail on streaming anytime soon.

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