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ESPN Eyeing Sport-Specific Streaming Channels

21 Sep, 2016 By: Erik Gruenwedel

On the heels of Disney’s $1 billion minority stake investment in BAMTech, the digital technology subsidiary of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, ESPN is laying the groundwork for the launch of sport-specific over-the-top streaming video channel — dubbed ESPN Live by analysts — in 2017.

Speaking Sept. 21 at Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference Brokers Conference in New York, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger said ESPN has secured digital rights to 99% of its live sports broadcasts, which he said enables the premium channel to emulate what Sky does in the U.K. streaming professional soccer.

“We think that could be really interesting for fans who may not want to buy another bundle of sports rights, but maybe want very specific sports that they’re willing to step up and pay for, again provided that gives them mobility and the ability to watch wherever they are,” Iger said.

Indeed, NBC Universal is offering subscription-streaming access to professional cycling events in Europe through June 30, 2017, via the NBC Sports Gold app for $19.99.

Iger said ESPN Live would be complementary to the namesake premium channel, including ESPN 2 & 3, among others.

“We’re not doing this though because we think that the current [pay-TV] business model is in any way crumbling, we’re doing it because we think we have more opportunity to reach more sports fans, and we’re also doing it because we can’t predict … where the business goes over time or when it goes someplace over time, but we certainly feel we need to be fully-prepared for dramatic shifts should they occur. This is one step in that direction.”

Iger said he isn’t too concerned with third-party competition since ESPN is well-situated with long-term rights to MLB, NFL and NBA games going forward. He said he was impressed with Twitter’s first-ever streaming of a Thursday Night Football game., which he added was backend supported by BAMTech.

“[That] says a lot about that platform because [the video stream] was very stable.”

That said, Iger contends ESPN, along with NBC, CBS, Fox and Turner, has the brand, distribution and clout to better monetize live sports streaming than new OTT video services.

“The new entrants, at least in the foreseeable future, would have a really hard time monetizing anything close to the level of the traditional players,” he said.

About the Author: Erik Gruenwedel

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