EXCLUSIVE: The launch of ESPN+ in April 2018 is not unlike the launch of ESPN+ a year and a half later with The Mandalorian Cannon and 1.1 million daily subscribers.
Originally intended to expand its programming beyond paid programming packages for die-hard sports fans, ESPN+ introduced some highlights (major league baseball, boxing and collegiate sports) and some new on-demand and library content. . Tarif Ventures attracted little attention at first, but its first round can be summed up in one word: more.
Scott Connor, executive director of sports product management for Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, recalls that "we started from second base on launch day" given the company's years of broadcasting through trusted programs like WatchESPN, ESPN+, and potential subscribers. millions" ". homes." The startup was a test case for the direct-to-consumer streaming division of Bamtech, the former Major League Baseball division previously acquired by Disney.
Analysts today estimate that there will be at least 20 million fewer households with pay TV packages in 2010 than in 2018, and the sports media business model is changing accordingly. ESPN+ has a number of high-profile events that will be broadcast exclusively through the service (such as an NFL game later this month) and will also be included in the hugely successful Disney package along with Hulu and Disney+. On July 3, The Walt Disney Company recorded 22.8 million ESPN+ subscribers, up 53% year-over-year, the best growth in the company's portfolio to date.
"Linear TV is going after something other than broadcast," John Lasker, ESPN's vice president of digital programming, said at the end of the interview. For maximum viewing, you can catch the game on ESPN at 8 p.m. We have all the games you need right up to multiple games on ESPN+. It could be five games, it could be 50, it could be 200, but it's all just one audience watching different content, but it's all on our platform at the same time.
As the company's streaming business grows, viewers and fans are increasingly connected to the programming they want, especially live. On linear television, networks such as ESPN implement what is called "carrying" from one stream to another. With Flow, all activities can exist together and be viewed separately, creating a unified whole. The audio strategy is starting to pay off. On September 17, ESPN+ aired 52 live games, the most in a single day. While the company did not release specific viewership numbers, it said last month's Kent State vs. Georgia football game was the most-watched college football game on ESPN+.
As the brand's strategy and philosophy evolved, "fan choice" became central, Luster said. The company is experimenting with whiplash-like operations online, creating these offerings driven by a growing cache of user data. ESPN+ will air 22,000 live shows in 2021 with programming across five linear networks.
Niche sports such as tennis, golf, baseball and college softball have served as hotbeds for experimentation that may soon spread to traditional sports. "The PGA Tour, broadcast live on ESPN+, saw the most club-centric appearances," Lasker said, adding that sports fans are still looking for more stand-up, "show me the best of what's going on." He advises. :
ESPN's coverage will be closely monitored by Kareem Daniels, president of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, and Jimmy Pitaro, president of ESPN and Disney Sports Content. Pitaro's career began in the 2000s running Yahoo's media business. Prior to joining ESPN in 2018, he spent several years leading Disney's interactive media, digital and gaming businesses. ESPN's linear business remains a major source of revenue, and Disney CEO Bob Chapek recently reiterated his commitment to corporate retention of the sports channel. Finally, the concept of reaching an audience is changing.
"The gods are yours." I work in TV and I work [on hair]. "What do we think most people are interested in right now?" But "most people" can be 51% of the country or 38% of the country, with the rest divided into many things.
Another priority is improving viewer access to ESPN+ videos, given the propensity of sports fans to consume news and information.
"When visitors are on our site, tiles are a way for them to navigate through that content, but if they're looking at a billboard, can we network it and connect it to our video system?" Connor talked about PGA Tour Live. There have been numerous graphic updates encouraging casual surfers to become active viewers.
"In the early stages of this stream, it cannot be assumed that anyone interested in watching Justin Turner play at the Memorial knows that the event is being broadcast," Lasker said, referring to the PGA draft. . “There's a lot of people who don't … all they can do is go on the ESPN app and check their scores.
In particular, with growing interest in legalized gambling, ESPN is experimenting with versions of PGA Tour Live that offer the traditional "stick around" experience.
"I think you're going to see us doing a lot more work," Lasker said. "We've had some success recently in providing streaming content" for the NCAA softball and baseball leagues last spring. “We've had a lot of good feedback. It's very chaotic in terms of the games that happen and it's the style of competition that we're drawn to. Each game affects the other.
Connor described another ESPN+ feature playing out on College Football Saturdays this fall: Xbox and Apple TV viewers can combine four video streams of their choice (from online or ESPN+ sources) and "quadbox" them to fill their screen.
"There are endless combinations," Connor said. "It's set up for college football. We're seeing a huge increase in multicasts on Saturdays in the fall. He added that there are some advantages to a traditional linear TV setup. It's easy to use your cable box, but you can't see anything else. … . .. With Apple TV, you can watch ESPN1, the SEC and two ESPN+ games simultaneously (No other broadcast partner is ready to add multicast capabilities anytime soon, ESPN said.)
Sports fans have recently complained about lack of coverage, from DirecTV Two's live NFL Sunday Ticket to Amazon Prime Video's Thursday Night Football broadcasts. Unlike the pay TV system, which is entirely under the control of programmers and operators, the technological challenges increase as more fans watch over the Internet, a shared network.
"I think we're in a good position," Connor said of the workload, especially given the role Bamtech has played. While working on the WatchESPN team in 2010, he said, "We've been slowly climbing that hill for ten years. The guys from Disney Stream came and uploaded it.