Disney could respond to the increase trend toward cord-cutting by offering direct consumer access to ESPN, says Bob Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company. This could potentially make it available as a standalone channel on Apple TV, rather than something you can only get if you subscribe to a cable package that includes it.
But don’t rush out to cancel your cable subscription just yet – Iger, who is also on Apple’s board, said in a CNBC interview that the move won’t happen in the next five years. He was responding to questions about the future of the channel in an increasingly difficult market for cable. Enterprise recently reported that the channel lost more than three million viewers in the last year.
Sports network ESPN, meanwhile, reportedly lost 3.2 million viewers over the last year as a growing number of pay-TV customers either cut the cord or sought so-called skinny packages that didn’t include the industry’s most expensive channel. ESPN accounts for about $6 of most cable bills.
Iger said that the company viewed technology as friend rather than foe, and would adapt as the industry changed.
“While the business model may face challenges over the next few years, long term for ESPN … they’ll be fine. They have pricing leverage, too,” Iger said. “Disney [Channel] is another … brand and product that could be sold directly to the customer.”
But with that five year caveat, don’t expect to find ESPN offered as a standalone service like HBO or Showtime, and possibly not even as part of the streaming TV service Apple is expected to launch in the fall.