Disney is actively preparing to launch a standalone ESPN streaming service, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal. The report indicates that ESPN is planning to sell its channel directly to cable cord-cutters as a subscription-streaming service in the coming years. It's unknown when Disney plans to launch the service.
The report comes as Disney and ESPN have previously said that the channel would eventually be available as a standalone streaming service. The companies are now reportedly setting this plan into motion with a new project internally codenamed “Flagship." ESPN has started to secure flexibility in its deals with cable providers and is having similar discussions with pro sports leagues.
Disney will reportedly continue to offer EPSN as a TV channel even after breaking it out into its own streaming service. Still, the shift will have significant implications for cable TV providers, given that live sports on ESPN are one of biggest draws of traditional cable. The providers, who pay to carry the ESPN channel, would end up having to compete with the new streaming service.
Although the sports media giant already has a monthly streaming service called ESPN+, the service doesn't offer access to the ESPN channel itself. It includes live programming of certain MLB and professional hockey games. The service notably does not include NBA and NFL telecasts, which are currently only available on TV. With this new streaming service, ESPN plans to fully transition to streaming.
Disney did not respond to TechCrunch's request for comment.
During Disney's earnings call earlier this month, Disney CEO Robert Iger said migrating ESPN to a direct-to-consumer service is a huge decision, one that the company plans to implement carefully.
"We haven't really changed our position regarding basically migrating ESPN's flagship service as a direct-to-consumer or streaming platform," Iger said during the call. "We think there's an inevitability to that, but it's a huge decision for us to make. And we know that we've got to get it right, both in terms of pricing and timing."
Disney's upcoming plans come as companies like Apple, Amazon and Google are scooping up sports media rights. Most notably, Google-owned YouTube secured the NFL Sunday Ticket in a landmark streaming deal last December. Apple has gained the rights to Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer games, and Amazon made a deal in 2021 for the rights to Thursday night NFL games.