The ESPN+ subscription-video service, which has been positioned as a means of helping Walt Disney’s sports-media giant weather a storm of consumers cutting the cord on its flagship cable outlet, has garnered more than one million paying subscribers in just over five months, the company said Thursday. ESPN+ launched in April of this year.
“Reaching one million paid subscribers is an important milestone for any video subscription service, but reaching this benchmark in such a short amount of time is an incredible testament to the teams from DTCI and ESPN who have worked tirelessly to bring this product to market and continually improve it since our April launch,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman, Direct-to-Consumer and International, The Walt Disney Company, in a prepared statement. “We’re thrilled so many sports fans have quickly come to love the service. The future is bright and we believe growth will continue as we add features, distribution partners and more exclusive content in the coming months.”
ESPN has packed the new service with sports programming like worldwide soccer games and new matches from Major League Baseball and, soon, the National Hockey League, along with original programming featuring basketball star Kobe Bryant and popular digital-sports personality Katie Nolan. The service costs $4.99 a month, or $49.99 per year.
But there’s a reason for the emphasis on streaming. ESPN, like most other cable giants, has suffered from consumers migrating to other kinds of video distribution, including slimmer programming packages made available through Sling, Hulu or YouTube. Kagan, a market-research firm, has predicted ESPN’s cable and satellite customers will fall to 85.6 million by the end of the year. That would represent a more than 14% drop since 2010. By launching ESPN+, Disney hopes to lure die-hard fans of particular sports, even teams, to keep paying money for its services, even if they choose to leave its best-known cable roost. Disney plans to unveil a general-entertainment streaming service in months to come.
“Combining sports, technology and the ESPN brand is a very powerful combination, and we are just getting started,” said Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s president, in a statement. “Very quickly, a wide range of sports fans have seen the value of ESPN+. With high quality programming and an outstanding user experience, ESPN and DTCI are expanding the ways Disney is serving sports fans.”
Hitting one million subscribers is often viewed as a sort of benchmark. As more consumers embrace digital technology, media outlets pushing people to subscribe to their new offerings are finding it easier to get there. Pandora took eight months to gain one million subscribers to its premium service, and Hulu and AT&T’s DirecTV Now each required a year to capture that number of customers.
In August, ESPN put subscribers to ESPN Insider, a subscription service that offered sports analysis, under the aegis of ESPN+. The company has yet to disclose how many people subscribed to Insider. On Thursday, an ESPN spokesman said via Twitter that the majority of subscribers to ESPN+ are new customers, and that ESPN Insider subscribers accounted for “a minority” of the ESPN+ audience.
ESPN+ does contain commercials, but only during breaks in live games. The service contains no display ads and does not embed pre-roll ads within video content.