Iger: ESPN-BAMTech Service Will Be Focused

Disney chief says direct-to-consumer play could offer specific teams, seasons, dates

Walt Disney Co.’s planned ESPN-branded direct-to-consumer offering with recent investment BAMTech could feature specific sports and even specific seasons and subscription periods, chairman and CEO Bob Iger told an industry audience Wednesday.

Disney announced plans for the direct-to-consumer service in August in conjunction with its decision to purchase a one-third interest in BAMTech, the technology and streaming service formed by Major League Baseball.

At the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference Wednesday, Iger offered more color on the service, adding that the plan is to launch it next year. While details are still sketchy, Iger said the idea is to monetize the “treasure trove” of digital rights to sports that ESPN controls but that don't necessarily make it to the signature service. He added that the offering would be complementary to what ESPN already airs and that pricing is still being worked out.

More From Communacopia:DirecTV Now Set to Offer ‘100-Plus’ Channels | Sapan: AMC Networks Underpriced by Traditional Distributors

“One of the things that we have been talking about is that it shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all,” Iger said. “We think where the market could be going in terms of some of these sports is being able to buy it very, very selectively, a specific sport, maybe even for a specific season or a specific date or a specific weekend.”

He added that U.K. satellite TV service Sky does something similar with its Premier League soccer rights. “We think that could be really interesting for a fan that may not want to buy another bundle of sports rights but maybe want a very specific sports that they are willing to step up and pay for, provided it gives them mobility and the ability to watch wherever they are,” Iger added.

Iger also downplayed any speculation that ESPN is being pushed into the direct-to-consumer business because its core TV business is eroding.

“We’re looking at this as a complementary service of what we already have,” Iger said. “We’re not doing this because we think the current business model is in any way crumbling. We’re doing this because we think we have more opportunity to reach more sports fans.   And we’re also doing it because we can’t predict where the business goes over time or when it goes someplace over time. But we certainly feel we need to be fully prepared for dramatic shifts should they occur. This is one step in that direction.”