Skipper: ESPN Mulling Its Streaming Options

ESPN is in talks with Dish Network and other distributors about joining slimmed-down pay TV bundles, including some that are delivered over-the-top, ESPN president John Skipper said Wednesday at Re/code’s annual Code/Mediaconference in Dana Point, Calif.

ESPN is already being distributed by Sling TV, Dish Network’s OTT-TV service for cord-cutters, and is apparently looking to broaden its opportunities as it seeks new ways to be part of slimmed-down programming packages. Those discussions could lead to more digital distribution opportunities for ESPN. .

“A number of people have expressed interest and we’re in discussions with a large number of people,” Skipper said. “I think other people will enter into some markets with lighter packages in this calendar year,” he added, but didn’t elaborate on who those new, potential partners are.

Among the possibilities, Apple’s been pursuing deals for a national OTT TV service focused on skinny packages that include the major broadcast TV networks but that service has reportedly been bogged down in carriage talks.  Amazon, meanwhile, has shown interest in becoming a virtual MVPD, and now sells standalone access to Showtime and Starz and other services to Prime members via its new Streaming Partners Program.

As for Sling TV, that service “has brought in new people to the pay TV universe…and ESPN is a driver of that package,” Skipper said.  “We plan to discuss bringing in new packages with other providers.”

Skipper also reiterated that ESPN still has no interest in being sold on a standalone basis – something that HBO and Showtime are now doing on the premium end of the pay TV market – but would rather continue to be included in bundles that include other Disney-owned channels.

“We can sell ESPN as a standalone product, but we do not believe it right now to be good business," Skipper said. “There are lots of people who want ESPN, and it’s our task to figure out how to get packages to ESPN that work for them.”