Iger Says ESPN Subscribers Are Up

Related: ‘Star Wars' Helps Disney More Than ESPN Hurts

After shaking the TV world last year by announcing that ESPN had lost subscribers, Disney CEO Bob Iger says the sports network has seen an uptick in subscribers recently.

ESPN’s sub loss suggested that cord-cutters were damaging the lucrative cable bundle and media stocks plummeted.

Speaking on Disney’s earnings conference call Tuesday, Iger said the uptick was recent and didn't have much of an impact on first quarter results. "We we have seen recently is subscriber trends going in a negative direction have abated somewhat," he said.

He declined to predict whether that would be a trend going forward. But he added that "the predictions many have made are more dire than they should be."

Iger said Disney is also encouraged by the results of Dish’s Sling TV skinny package, which includes ESPN.

Iger said Sling is growing nicely, adding younger subscribers, overindexing among millennials and “bringing cord-cutters back to pay TV.”

Disney is working with a variety of distributors on new services and light packages that would similarly include ESPN, he said.

Iger said demand for sports programming is up and consumption is at an all time high. ESPN has locked up the most important sports rights for the next decade, and ad sales at the network remain strong.

“The bundle is the dominant product for convers, but competition from new products and services will only grow,” Iger said.

"The notion that either the expanded basic bundle is experiencing its demise or that ESPN is cratering in any way from a sub perspective is just ridiculous. Sports is too popular," he added.

Iger said that Disney’s brands are tailor made for over-the-top direct-to-consumer products, and said investors should expect the company to push innovation and new opportunities.

Related: Hotels.com Checks in With ESPN, TNT Sports

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.