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 plans to sell its channel directly to cable cutters as a subscription streaming service in the coming years. It is not known when Disney plans to launch the service.
The report comes as Disney and ESPN have previously said the channel would eventually become available as a standalone streaming service. Reportedly, the companies are now pushing this plan into motion with a new project internally codenamed “Flagship.” ESPN has begun ensuring flexibility in its deals with cable providers and is in similar discussions with professional sports leagues.
Disney will reportedly continue to offer EPSN as a TV channel even after breaking out into its own streaming service. Still, the shift will have a significant impact on cable TV providers, as live sports on ESPN is one of traditional cable’s biggest draws. The providers, who pay to carry the ESPN channel, would eventually have to compete with the new streaming service.
While the sports media giant already has a monthly streaming service called ESPN+, the service doesn’t provide access to the ESPN channel itself. It features live programming from select MLB and professional hockey games. Notably, the service does not include NBA and NFL broadcasts, which are currently only available on TV. With this new streaming service, ESPN plans to transition completely 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 from ESPN to a direct-to-consumer service is a huge decision, one the company plans to implement carefully.
“We haven’t really changed our position on essentially migrating ESPN’s flagship service as a direct-to-consumer or streaming platform,” Iger said on the call. “We think that’s inevitable, but it’s a huge decision to make. And we know we have to get it right, both in terms of pricing and timing.”
Disney’s upcoming plans come as companies like Apple, Amazon, and Google boast sports media rights. Notably, YouTube, which is owned by Google, secured the NFL Sunday Ticket last December in a landmark streaming deal. Apple has acquired the rights to Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer games, and Amazon has signed a deal for the rights to Thursday night NFL games in 2021.