THE first week for ESPN+, a sports streaming service that Disney, owner of ESPN, launched in America on April 12th, had none of the razzmatazz associated with a firm known for blockbuster openings. Forget marquee matchups from the National Basketball Association. The games come from lesser-known football (ie, soccer) leagues, minor college sports and international fixtures with limited American audiences, like rugby and cricket.
This was tactical, says Kevin Mayer, the boss of Disney’s first shot at streaming in America. At $5 a month, the aim is to create a sort of mini-Netflix for sports. But Disney is loth to take customers away from the company’s lucrative ESPN networks on pay-TV. It wants to avoid the own goal of disrupting itself.
The delicate positioning of ESPN+ reflects an industry in flux. Cable networks are losing millions of subscribers to “cord-cutting”, whereby customers drop expensive pay-TV packages in favour of much cheaper internet services like Netflix. In response to this threat Disney decided to pull its films from Netflix and to develop its own internet-only entertainment service, which is scheduled to debut next year. In December the company agreed a $66bn deal to buy much of the entertainment business of 21st Century Fox, in order to gain the heft to compete with Netflix. Disney is betting that streaming is the…
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