ESPN To Combat Cord-Cutting By Putting Once Kinda Free Content Behind A New Paywall

from the that'll-show-'em dept

In reaction to cord-cutting, a very real "thing" no matter what some cable executives will tell you, ESPN has mostly employed two strategies to combat it. The first strategy has been to stick its head as far and deep into the sand as possible, virtually ignoring reality. Once that was no longer possible, the ESPN ostrich lifted its head out of the sand and squawked out a new streaming service, for which it would bill customers $5/month. In that last link, our own Karl Bode wrote:

There's every indication that ESPN's still only paying lip service to innovation. What consumers say they want is the ability to either avoid ESPN entirely, or buy ESPN the channel on a standalone basis. But it's important to point out that's not what ESPN is actually offering here. The new streaming service won't provide access to ESPN's existing channel lineup unless you have a traditional cable subscription. Without a traditional cable TV subscription, users of the app will be directed to other content they may or may not actually want.

While all of that is still mostly true, recent revelations about the new streaming service indicate that it's actually worse than Bode described. There will indeed be more content on ESPN+ that users probably do want -- such as MLB and NHL games --, much of the rest of the content offered through the service will be cannibalized from another ESPN property that has previously been kinda sorta "free" if you're a cable subscriber.

ESPN+ is also a way to get some extra money out of current subscribers, ones who might already be used to thousands of live sports over streaming. If this new service sounds a lot like ESPN3, the current online home—provided by many ISPs*—for thousands of sports that aren’t televised on ESPN’s TV channels, you’d be right.

While certain aspects, like the MLB and NHL games, are brand new, one of ESPN3's main draws is a wealth of college games in lesser-watched sports or conferences, as well as expanded coverage of Grand Slam tennis and global competitions like cricket. The network has so far been vague about which leagues and games will get cannibalized from ESPN3, or how many, but ESPN did confirm that some of ESPN3's programming will change.

ESPN3 comes along with many cable television packages that include ESPN's TV channels. The content for ESPN3 has always been the sort that isn't popular enough to air on the channels, but which might interest some customers. College games and niche sports make up the bulk of the lineup. But now ESPN will remove some of that content and put it behind a $5/month paywall, asking customers used to getting this content free, bundled with their cable subscription, to instead pay another $60 per year for it. Same content, more money, all while further reducing the value of an ESPN cable subscription, where ESPN still makes most of its money.

How is this a recipe for increased revenue?

You'll still get ESPN3 forced on you by your cable subscription (if you have one), it will just suck a little bit harder. Most of the sports content you want will still only be available through a cable TV subscription, which more and more people do not want. And ESPN+ will cost more money, while only being moderately better in content compared with the bundled in ESPN3.

This is what we call a swing and a miss.

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Filed Under: cord cutting, paywall, sports, streaming
Companies: disney, espn


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  1. icon
    Dave (profile), 7 Apr 2018 @ 12:50am

    Tell that to fans of American soccer...

    ...because they're looking at ESPN+ as a pretty good deal. The entire MLS LIVE service, which was about $70/year, is moving to ESPN+, which is only $50/year. Plus, matches from USL (the U.S. 2nd division) will be available on ESPN+, as will select European international matches and some lower-division English matches.

    Admittedly, I'm a supporter for local USL and NWSL clubs, so I know a lot of soccer fans, many of whom are cord-cutters (myself included), and several of whom jumped on the Fulham FC bandwagon when Clint Dempsey played there, which makes ESPN+ even more appealing to them. Combine ESPN+ with Fox Soccer Match Pass ($140/year) and NBC Sports Gold's Premier League pass ($50/year), and that's pretty much an all-you-can-eat soccer buffet for $240/year without cable, and for the PL games are on cable, we can always catch those at the pub.

    ESPN+ might appear counter-intuitive, but it's going to hit this particular niche very effectively.

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