It’s easy to miss out on sports entertainment when you cut the cord and just rely on Apple TV, but ESPN president John Skipper tells The Wall Street Journal that may change in 2016. When asked about the potential streaming network Apple reportedly hopes to offer on its set-top box, the ESPN exec says that Apple has been “frustrated” with the process of building a service but that ESPN has been in past talks and continues to work with the company:
WSJ: Does Apple have a path to being a player in the TV industry?
Mr. Skipper: They are creating a significantly advantageous operating system and a great television experience and that television experience is fabulous for sports. We are big proponents of believing it would be a fabulous place to sell some subscriptions. We have ongoing conversations. They have been frustrated by their ability to construct something which works for them with programmers. We continue to try to work with them.
Skipper also discusses services like Sling TV which include ESPN service without a standalone cable subscription, adding that he believes announcements of similar packages to attract new subscribers will come out of 2016.
WSJ: In your view, will the people who sign up for streaming TV services from Sony, Sling TV, and possibly Apple make up for losses in traditional pay TV subscribers?
Mr. Skipper: We think that it can be a significant mover in helping us navigate the next few years. We see the Sling TV numbers, which are significant. We’ve had discussions with Apple. I believe in 2016 there will be further announcements on other kinds of packages….that will get younger subscribers into the market. We don’t think of it as an offset. It was simple before when we had subscription and television ad revenues. Now we’ve got more buckets. We have new direct-to-consumer, digital advertising [revenues].
ESPN currently has a presence on Apple TV, iOS, and the web with its watchESPN app, although it currently requires an active cable subscription to fully unlock. Dish’s Sling TV package includes live ESPN content for a standalone monthly subscription and is available on iPhones, iPads, and the web, but the app experience is subpar and there’s not an official Apple TV channel yet.
While it’s not entirely clear what Skipper is alluding to in his comments, an HBO NOW-like standalone subscription version of ESPN for a monthly rate or inclusion in Apple’s long-rumored web TV package would certainly expand access to sports content for cord cutters and a whole new generation of people who never bought into cable packages. We’ll have to wait and see on this one.