ESPN Prepares to Shake Up the Cable Industry

Network plans to sell channel as a subscription-streaming service, reports 'Wall Street Journal'
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2023 1:10 PM CDT
Updated May 21, 2023 7:25 AM CDT
ESPN Prepares to Shake Up the Cable Industry
The ESPN logo.   (AP Photo/David Kohl, File)

The cord-cutting movement has been a gradual one over the years, but a move in the works by ESPN might accelerate the shift. The Wall Street Journal reports that the sports network will sell its channel as a subscription-streaming service in the not-too-distant future. However, the timeline is vague, with the story saying it would happen in "coming years." When it does happen, ESPN would continue to be offered in cable bundles. The network and parent company Disney are "actively preparing" for the transition under a project with the code name "Flagship," according to the story.

ESPN already sells ESPN+ as a streaming service, but it doesn't offer the perks of the standard cable channel, including NBA and NFL games. The ESPN move would have "profound implications" on the cable TV industry, per the Journal, given that the channel is seen as a prime motivator for people to sign up for cable in the first place. The vague timeline might be due to the complexities of working out deals not only with cable companies but with the different sports leagues.

As Forbes notes, the "longstanding model of live TV sports" has been in flux for some years with rise of streaming and the decline of cable. Streaming services such as Amazon Prime, NBCUniversal's Peacock, Hulu, and Apple TV have been expanding their sports offerings, and ESPN would be competing against them upon making the switch. Disney's Bob Iger said in March that such a switch was "inevitable," per SportsMediaWatch, and the Journal makes that clear. Disney stock was up nearly 1.5% in the wake of the news. (More ESPN stories.)

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