ESPN, the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, has been a staple on cable TV dating back to 1979. However, its days could be numbered with the rise in live TV streaming, subscription deals, and cord-cutters.
We’ve heard a lot of rumors about ESPN’s future over the last few years. According to various reports, the network will eventually shift its strategy and become a direct-to-consumer option similar to ESPN+ but for its entire programming lineup. The big question is when.
During Disney’s 2023 earnings call for quarter one, CEO Bob Iger said, “Regarding ESPN and when we might make the shift, if you’re asking me, is the shift inevitable? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you any sense of when that could be.” The CEO mentioned it’d need to make the shift when it makes sense for the bottom line and when pricing and subscriber counts could align best.
The shift to online streaming has been a long time coming. For the first time since 1994, the NFL Sunday Ticket is no longer available from DirecTV, and starting this year will be available directly to consumers through YouTube or the YouTube TV streaming service. We’ll have to wait and see how that move plays out, which is likely part of the reason ESPN is so cautious about the switch.
Currently, you can only watch the full lineup of ESPN sports programming through traditional cable TV or with the ESPN app when it’s connected to a cable TV service. Essentially, you still have to have cable. The company does offer a decent selection on ESPN+, its streaming platform that costs $10 per month, but it’s only a fraction of the traditional service.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro gave us a few updates. Going as far as to say, “We’re going to get to a point where we take our entire network, our flagship programming, and make it available direct to consumers.” He followed that up by saying that’s a “when,” not an “if.”
That’s a bold statement that suggests the company is doubling down on its end goal. It’s only a matter of time before one of the biggest things holding traditional cable TV together, ESPN, jumps ship.
When that could happen, though, is anyone’s guess. ESPN has several deals in place through at least 2025. However, we’re already seeing Disney try to push the entire NBA season onto ESPN+ by 2025, which could be the first of many moves before the platform finally ditches cable TV.