In what has to be one of the longest-awaited changes to the streaming television universe, ESPN will be available as a standalone streaming service in the fall 0f 2025.
Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the news during the company’s first-quarter earnings call for fiscal 2024 — and one day after it was announced that ESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery are pooling their sports assets for a super sports streaming service that’s set to launch in fall 2024. (Disney owns ESPN.)
“The full suite of ESPN channels” will be available, Iger said. And it’ll be fully interactive, with e-commerce features also available. The standalone ESPN service can also be fully personalized.
“Not only will consumers be able to stream their favorite live games and studio programing, they’ll also have access to engaging digital integrations like ESPN Bet, fantasy sports, e-commerce features, and a deep array of sports stats, all of which we know will be incredibly compelling to younger sports fans in particular,” Iger said in his prepared remarks.
The bit about younger sports fans mirrored what Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch said about the upcoming joint venture with Disney.
“ESPN has long prioritized its desire and ability to serve sports fans wherever they are,” Iger continued. “And these steps will strengthen ESPN’s ability to deliver on that promise.”
Iger said the standalone ESPN service also will be able to be bundled with Disney+, just as it’s done with Hulu.
No pricing information was announced, but Iger said it would be “significantly” less than a cable or satellite subscription. Nor were there any details about how, exactly, the standalone ESPN stream will be made available, though it would make sense for it simply to appear in the existing ESPN app across all platforms. That app also is where ESPN+ has been housed since its inception.
Iger, during the Q&A portion of the earnings call, said the standalone ESPN option would be available “in probably August of ’25.”
“We’ve been saying for a long time that taking ESPN in the direct-to-consumer direction was inevitable,” Iger said. “And that we were looking for partners to do so. This is really not a first step. It’s a second step. The first step was launching ESPN+ some years ago, which has actually been quite successful.” ESPN+ launched in April 2018.
Interestingly, the first quarter of 2024 earnings release marked the first time Disney has not released subscription numbers for ESPN+, its current sports streaming property. While ESPN+ includes a world of live sports and on-demand content, it’s always lacked the live ESPN shows and events available on linear cable and streaming services. ESPN+ had 26 million subscribers as of the end of Disney’s fiscal 2023.
“Ultimately,” Iger said, “our mission is to make ESPN into the preeminent digital sports brand, reaching as many sports fans as possible and giving them even more ways to access the programing they love in whatever way best suits their needs.”