ESPN makes a big investment in streaming its future

Cable TV is not dead, nor should we expect it to be anytime soon, but there are indications that it may soon get smaller.

With more and more people “cutting the cord” and opting to go only with streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Roku, TV networks are finding themselves with fewer cable subscribers. Especially hit hard is Disney, which has seen its cable operations fall 3% and its operating income drop 23% in the most recent quarter, according to SportsBusiness Daily. That’s rough as ESPN is faced with large rights fees to show pro and college sports.

MLBAM_logoThis week, Disney announced it was buying a majority stake in BAMTech, increasing its stake from 33% to 75%. BAMTech, which was spun off from MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM) in 2015, is the streaming platform originally created by Major League Baseball to show its games online. It has been so successful, it has become the industry’s state of the art. Disney has used it to stream WatchESPN and ESPN3 programming. MLBAM also runs the NHL’s websites and streams its games.

MLBAM will still own 15% of BAMTech while the NHL will own 10%.

With its investment in BAMTech, Disney plans to start an ESPN streaming service in 2018 and a Disney-branded direct-to-consumer streaming service in 2019. The ESPN stream will be available through an updated version of the ESPN app.

“The media landscape is increasingly defined by direct relationships between content creators and consumers, and our control of BAMTech’s full array of innovative technology will give us the power to forge those connections, along with the flexibility to quickly adapt to shifts in the market,” Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “This acquisition and the launch of our direct-to-consumer services mark an entirely new growth strategy for the company.”

The ESPN service, which will not merely duplicate what is on TV, is set to have more than 10,000 live events per year, featuring major league baseball, the NHL, MLS, Grand Slam tennis and college events. It would be the first time ESPN has shown NHL games since 2004.

The plan will also result in Disney ending its new-release movie deal with Netflix, beginning in 2019.


Meanwhile, CBS is planning a streaming sports channel of its own.

CBS CEO Les Moonves said this week the company will base its service on CBSN, its streaming news service.

Moonves said CBS will attempt to differentiate itself from ESPN and Fox. CBS already has an online sports unit based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.


Three notable broadcasters with health issues this week:

  • NBC’s Ed Olczyk will miss the start of the NHL season as he undergoes treatment for colon cancer. The Chicago Sun-Times reported Olczyk had a tumor removed last week. Olczyk, who also is an analyst on Chicago Blackhawks games, played for six teams, including the Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. He has been with NBC since 2007, working with Mike Emrick and Pierre McGuire. In addition to hockey, Olczyk has recently added Triple Crown horse racing to his NBC repertoire.
  • Jerry Remy, analyst for the Boston Red Sox, is not expected to return to the broadcast booth this season. Remy had surgery for lung cancer on June 26 and is expected to start chemotherapy soon, according to the Boston Globe.
  • Len Dawson, former quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, will be stepping down as radio analyst after this season. Dawson, 82, has had several health problems recently. He started broadcasting while he was still quarterbacking, becoming the sports anchor for Kansas City’s KMBC-TV in 1966, then after his retirement, became host of HBO’s Inside the NFL from 1978 to 2001. He joined the Chiefs Radio Network in 1984. Dawson is one of only three men — joining Frank Gifford and Dan Dierdorf — to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame as both a player and as a broadcaster.


Charissa Thompson, who had rumored to be joining Mike Greenberg’s new ESPN morning show, is instead staying at Fox, according to reports. … Other reports are questioning whether Pete Rose is likely to stay at Fox after a recent alleged statutory rape accusation from the 1970s. Fox has reeled in recent months over various sexual harassment accusations on its various networks. … Still more on Fox: The network is not reeling over Jay Cutler backing out of an NFL game analyst job to sign a one-year QB deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The three-man booth he was scheduled to share with Kevin Burkhardt and Charles Davis will reportedly now become a two-man booth. …

A reminder: The PGA Championship continues Friday on TNT at 10 a.m. PDT. CBS will have the third and fourth rounds at 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. … Nationally televised baseball this weekend includes the Red Sox-Yankees at 1 p.m. Saturday on Fox Sports 1 and at 5 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. TBS will show Indians-Rays at 10 a.m. Sunday. … Prime Ticket’s schedule of high school football games starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25, with Oaks Christian visiting Chaminade. NBCSN’s Premier League soccer season starts at 11:45 a.m. Friday with Leicester City at Arsenal. There will be three games on Saturday: Liverpool-Watford at 4:30 a.m. on NBCSN, Burnley-Chelsea at 7 a.m. on NBCSN; and Stoke City-Everton at 7 a.m. on CNBC. … The Women’s Rugby World Cup from Ireland starts on NBCSN at 6:35 a.m. Sunday with U.S.-Italy. … Wednesday marked six months from the start of the Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang, South Korea.


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