ESPN DTC Service Set for August 2025 as Network Sales Hit $4.1B

A day after announcing its participation in a new sports streaming bundle set to launch sometime this fall, the Walt Disney Co. this afternoon said its long-gestating ESPN direct-to-consumer service will be made available next year.

Speaking to investors on the company’s first quarter earnings call, Disney CEO Bob Iger said the ESPN DTC platform will bow in fall 2025, before slightly revising the target date to “probably in August” of that same year. The service will feature all the programming found on ESPN’s flagship pay-TV channel, and will be integrated with ESPN Bet and a host of stats-based extras.

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“We’re excited to offer a more unified streaming experience, which we expect will deliver strong benefits in terms of higher engagement, lower churn and greater advertising potential,” Iger said. “When we launch our stand-alone ESPN service, we’ll also make it available on Disney+ for bundled subscribers, just as we’ve done for Hulu.”

While this marks the first time Disney has provided such a relatively narrow launch window—in November, Iger said only that the DTC rollout would happen at some unspecified point in 2025—the news was somewhat diluted yesterday’s big ESPN-Fox-Warner Bros. Discovery announcement.

Disney has not disclosed what it plans on charging for the ESPN DTC offering, and a similar benchmark for the joint venture may be long in coming. In a sense, one of ESPN’s biggest challenges may be in marketing its various streaming offerings, as the three-way service and flagship DTC platform will rub elbows with Disney’s legacy sports-streaming platform, ESPN+.

ESPN+ closed out the year with 25.2 million subscribers, which marks a 3% sequential decline from 26 million. That said, the app managed to boost the average amount of revenue it generates per sub 14% from $5.34 in the July 1-Sept. 30 quarter to $6.09 at the end of its fiscal Q1. Disney chalked up the increase to increased advertising revenue and a bump in retail pricing.

While Iger did not provide any additional information on the joint venture with Fox and WBD, he underscored that the linear TV business continues to serve the company well. ESPN on the quarter generated $4.07 billion in revenue on the domestic front, up 1% versus the year-ago period, while operating income came in at $255 million. When results at the international channels and Star India were tossed in with the stateside sports networks, the ESPN unit saw revenue grow 4% to $4.84 billion.

Those revenue gains were made in the face of a rapidly contracting pay-TV universe. Per Nielsen cable universe estimates, ESPN closed out 2023 with 70.2 million subscribers, down 5%, or roughly 4 million subs, compared to the year-ago period.

In a CNBC appearance Iger put in shortly before the Disney earnings call, the Mouse House’s big cheese disclosed that he has not discussed the joint venture with any of ESPN’s traditional distribution partners. “I think in many ways they probably would understand—or should understand—that what we’re creating here is a distribution mechanism to reach consumers where they are today,” Iger said.

As he summarized at the end of this afternoon’s call, Iger believes that the multi-stage shift to streaming is the wisest course of action as a generation of sports fans comes of age without having made a habit out of the old-fashioned TV that was once the centerpiece of the American family room. “We believe there are a number of sports fans out there who want to watch sports on television, but don’t want to sign up to the big fat bundle,” Iger said.

Iger also reiterated his earlier discussion about ESPN’s search for investment partners from the major sports leagues and other top-drawer media companies, but stopped short of identifying any would-be allies. Instead, Iger said that his team has “made progress toward securing deals” and that ESPN “expects to have more to share in the future.”

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