ESPN still pondering standalone streaming service, but not the one you want

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A common refrain among cable subscribers is that they’d cut the cord if they could still watch sports in general and ESPN in particular. But ESPN isn’t exactly going to help them out.

In an interview with Re/code’s Peter Kafka, ESPN President John Skipper said the sports network is considering a standalone streaming service, similar to what Netflix offers. However, it won’t include any of the popular shows or live sports broadcasts found on ESPN’s cable channels.

"I do want to be clear, we are not looking to disrupt our linear channels and the content that’s owned in that,” Skipper said. “We’re going to go acquire new content and new kinds of things to go direct to consumers.”

As an example, Skipper mentioned that ESPN has secured the rights to out-of-market Major League Soccer games. A standalone streaming service might include soccer and other sports broadcasts that don’t already air on ESPN’s channels. “We think about, are their sports events we could offer that the consumer would pay us [for] directly?” Skipper said.

Much of ESPN’s current revenue comes from carriage fees paid by cable and satellite providers, to the tune of about $6 per subscriber per month. Those contracts often prohibit or discourage networks from bypassing cable and satellite providers and offering their content on a standalone basis. ESPN currently offers a streaming service called WatchESPN, which includes live sports such as college football and NFL Monday Night Football, but most of the content is only available to cable subscribers.

The good news is that sports fans will likely have a chance to cut their costs later this year, when Dish is expected to launch an online-only TV service for $20 to $30 per month. The streaming service won’t have nearly as many channels as traditional cable and satellite TV packages, but it will include ESPN.

Skipper said Dish’s plan will be aimed primarily at “millennials” who aren’t currently paying for cable, with hopes that they’ll eventually graduate to a full TV package. “We want to figure out products to try to get those people to buy something,” he said.

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