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Standalone ESPN streamer will bundle with Hulu, Disney CEO says

The service will also include engaging features like fantasy sports and betting, CEO Bob Iger affirmed.

The service will also include engaging features like fantasy sports and betting, CEO Bob Iger affirmed.

A sound technician with ESPN helps produce a telecast of a football game. (Photo by Maize & Blue Nation via Wikimedia Commons, Graphic by The Desk)
A sound technician with ESPN helps produce a telecast of a football game. (Photo by Maize & Blue Nation via Wikimedia Commons, Graphic by The Desk)

The Walt Disney Company will launch a streaming version of its ESPN multiplex cable network next year, the company’s CEO reaffirmed at a shareholder meeting this week.

On Wednesday, Disney CEO Bob Iger said the streaming service — which has yet to be named — will be offered as a standalone product as well as a bundle sold with Hulu and Disney Plus. The latter service will offer direct access to ESPN’s linear channels and on-demand programming through a dedicated content tile, similar to how Disney Plus recently integrated Hulu into its service, Iger stated.

The standalone ESPN service will be different from ESPN Plus, which currently offers a curated selection of live sports and documentary programming as part of certain extended telecast rights held by Disney. Instead, the standalone ESPN service will include the full slate of ESPN cable channels — including the SEC Network, Longhorn Network and ACC Network, along with ESPNews and ESPN Deportes — along with telecast rights specific to cable like live professional hockey, baseball, soccer and basketball games.

The streaming version of ESPN will also incorporate unique engagement features, Iger said, including sports betting through ESPN Bet in states where the company is allowed to offer live wagering. Some fantasy sports and e-commerce features will also come to the service, Iger affirmed, though it wasn’t clear if those features will be offered when the streaming product debuts next year.

Disney is also participating in a three-way joint venture with Fox Corporation and Warner Bros Discovery on a new streaming service that will incorporate sports-inclusive broadcast and cable networks, with a retail price expected around $40 to $50 per month. That service is targeted to so-called “cord-cutters” who have moved away from expensive cable and satellite TV packages for cheaper streaming options, and who still want to access live games from channels like ABC, Fox, ESPN, TBS and TNT.

That service won’t include general entertainment and live news channels that do not offer sports programming — a strategy that has triggered at least one legal challenge. It is tentatively scheduled to launch later this fall, and recently announced the appointment of former Apple media executive Pete Distad to serve as the joint venture’s chief executive.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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