ESPN Makes Direct-to-Consumer Pitch With ESPN+

Today, ESPN launches its much-anticipated ESPN+ direct-to-consumer streaming service featuring thousands of hours of live sports events and library content. The $4.99 offering – part of the network’s new re-imagined app that offers more personal and customizable elements for sports fans – will feature live Major League Baseball games through ESPN’s telecasts as well as the MLB.TV out-of-market package; all games from the MLS Live Major League Soccer package; live Top Rank Boxing fights; PGA Tour Golf and Canadian Football League contests.

Along with the ESPN+ service, the ESPN app will continue to offer authenticated live and on-demand programming for pay TV ESPN subscribers as well as scores, news, highlights and audio.

“I consider these offerings the beginning of a new era of innovation at ESPN,” said James Pitaro, ESPN president and co-chair, Disney Media Networks, who would not provide an  estimated subscriber count for ESPN+. 

“Our DNA is all about innovation – it’s a big part of our legacy – and we believe that we now have an opportunity to serve sports fans in new and innovative ways that quite honestly no one else can,” he added.

ESPN executive vice president and CTO Aaron LaBerge spoke with Multichannel News senior content producer – programming R. Thomas Umstead to take a more in-depth look at the new and improved ESPN App as well as to talk about the value of ESPN+ in a very crowded TV sports field. An edited transcription of the interview appears below

Multichannel News: What should sports fans expect to experience with the new ESPN app?

Aaron LaBerge: First of all we're saying sports fans are going to see a completely re-imagined ESPN app which is going to have more high fidelity, visual interface enhancements – in short, the app is just going to feel better. It's going to have a completely new video section. We're leveraging the best of [BAMTech Media’s] video streaming technology, including cloud based DVR, pause and rewind and restart, within the app. Of course, we're going to be introducing ESPN+, which is the first time through the ESPN app that a fan will be able to buy a video subscription directly from us.

MCN: How important is ESPN+ for the company in an environment where competition in the TV sports arena continues to grow across all platforms?

AL: We still have a lot of people watching TV and authenticating in our app and taking full advantage of the cable subscription within our app; this is just another outlet that gives us more options to sell directly to fans and establish a more direct relationship with them. I think if you step back and think about the ESPN app as the ultimate marketplace for sports fans, you think about the fact that we want to serve every need of every fan in the world. You do that by offering scores, news and information, which is what we do today. We do that through our distributors -- when you subscribe to cable you can consume that same content in our app. And now we can sell our content directly. All those things sum up to be the ultimate sports experience. We don't look at one versus the other -- instead we see it as giving more options for consumers.

MCN: ESPN+ joins other sports-themed direct-to-consumer services launching this year. Why is this such an important time strategically to launch ESPN+?

AL: There's just an incredible amount of sports content - we did somewhere between 19,000 live events last year give or take. There’s so much content from all different sports that exist out there, it makes for a very rich environment for doing this. As we move into a more personalized world where we're serving the needs of the individual fan versus all fans, I think this becomes more critical so that we can serve every fan who may have some niche interest. We want to be able to serve that fan as well as the people that are interested in the Yankees and the Red Sox.

MCN: On the programming side, what will be most appealing to viewers?

AL: ESPN+ is really an incredible value for sports fans. You get all of the MLS games; you get the 30-for-30 library of the best sports documentaries in the world, along with 5,000 to 10,000 other events throughout the year. I think it’s an incredible value for any of those things alone, let alone all of it and much more. 

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.