Even as more and most broadcast and cable TV channels offer their own standalone streaming apps, ESPN remains a rare–and notable–holdout.
Yes, there is the ESPN+ streaming service offered through the ESPN app, but signing up for ESPN+ won’t get you a streaming simulcast of the ESPN you’ll see on basic cable. If you want to stream live ESPN, complete with SportsCenter, you’ll need to pony up for cable TV or a streaming live-TV package. And neither is cheap.
The lack of a standalone streaming version of ESPN isn’t surprising, given the amount of money ESPN parent Disney rakes in from cable and streaming TV operators–nearly $10 a month per subscriber–for the storied sports network.
But big cable’s stranglehold on the flagship ESPN channel could be coming to an end, with Disney executives signaling that a standalone streaming version of ESPN is (eventually, anyway) a near certainty.
Here’s what we know–and don’t know–about an ESPN standalone streaming service, including whether it’s been formally announced, when it will arrive, and how much it will cost.
Updated on August 28, 2023 with recent rumors that Amazon might offer a standalone streaming version of ESPN on Prime Video in partnership with Disney.
ESPN standalone streaming service: Your questions answered
Has Disney officially announced a standalone streaming version of ESPN?
Well, yes and no. While executives at ESPN parent Disney have all but guaranteed that an ESPN standalone streaming version is coming, they’ve stopped short of formally announcing it.
Back in 2022, former Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Disney had “one foot on the dock” and “one foot on the boat” about a standalone streaming version of ESPN, and that “at some point, when it’s going to be good for our shareholders, we’ll be able to fully go into an ESPN DTC [direct-to-consumer] offering.”
Chapek went on to call an eventual standalone streaming ESPN “the ultimate fan offering.”
Of course, Chapek is no longer the CEO of Disney, but apparently Disney still wants to move ahead with a standalone streaming version of ESPN, with the Wall Street Journal (via TechCrunch) reporting that Disney is “preparing to launch” the service.
Meanwhile, current Disney CEO Bob Iger (who also happened to be Chapek’s predecessor) recently said there’s an “inevitability” to a standalone streaming ESPN.
Can you stream ESPN on ESPN+?
It’s easy to assume that an ESPN+ streaming subscription gives you live streaming access to ESPN the cable channel. Unfortunately, there is no live stream of linear ESPN on ESPN+.
Now, ESPN+ the streaming service does offer a truckload of live and on-demand sports, but much of it is different from what you’ll find on the flagship ESPN cable channel. Indeed, ESPN+ was conceived as a complement to ESPN to the cable network, not a substitute.
For example, while ESPN+ does carry the occasional NFL game, including a few Monday Night Football matchups, most of ESPN’s live NFL coverage is exclusive to the cable network. On the flip side, ESPN+ aired its own exclusive NFL game during the 2022 season that wasn’t on basic-cable ESPN.
Meanwhile, ESPN+ is sparse when it comes to live NBA and MLB action, and don’t expect to find any SportsCenter on the service, either.
So for now, if you want the true ESPN experience, you’ll need to subscribe to either cable TV or a live TV streaming service, such as Hulu + Live TV or YouTube TV.
What would be offered on a standalone streaming version of ESPN?
Given that Disney hasn’t officially announced a standalone streaming version of ESPN, it’s not surprising that we don’t know exactly what would be offered on the service.
That said, Disney executives have made it pretty clear that a standalone streaming ESPN will likely serve up everything that’s on ESPN the cable channel.
In remarks last month, Disney’s Iger said the company’s intention was “basically migrating ESPN’s flagship service as a direct-to-consumer or streaming platform,” with the caveat that “it’s a huge decision to make,” implying that the decision hasn’t been made yet.
When will a standalone streaming version of ESPN launch?
Well, that’s the big question.
For now, we don’t have an official timeline for when a standalone streaming version of ESPN might arrive, much less a firm launch date.
That said, early word has it that an all-streaming ESPN won’t happen this year or even next, with insiders telling the New York Post that a standalone streaming ESPN might not happen until 2025, at the earliest.
And while Disney’s Iger appears certain that a streaming ESPN will happen sooner or later, he may be leaning in the direction of “later,” with Iger telling investors earlier this year that “we have to do it, obviously, at a time that really makes sense for the bottom line…[a]nd we’re just not there yet.”
Could Amazon, Apple, or another company buy ESPN from Disney?
How much will a standalone streaming version of ESPN cost?
Again, good question, although it’s a good bet that a standalone ESPN streaming service will cost more than ESPN+, which currently costs $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year. (As of October 12, ESPN+ will cost $10.99 a month.)
If Disney does, indeed, strike up a partnership with Amazon, an eventual ESPN channel on Prime Video could cost anywhere between $20 and $35 a month, according to anonymous sources.
Previously, Citi Research analyst Jason Bazinet (by way of Cord Cutters News and Marketwatch) speculated that the monthly cost for an all-streaming ESPN could be as high as $22 a month.