Disney says skinny bundles are hurting ESPN, but will help ESPN

“Disney says skinny bundles have hurt ESPN,” Peter Kafka reports for Re/code. “Disney says skinny bundles will help ESPN.”

“No, that’s not a typo,” Kafka reports. “That’s a summation of Disney’s earnings call yesterday, when company officials repeatedly argued that the move to smaller pay TV packages had hurt ESPN — and that ESPN would grow by embracing smaller pay TV packages.”

“Disney says that the subscriber losses it has seen at ESPN, which it first started noting out loud last summer, come from people signing up for smaller pay TV packages, which don’t include ESPN,” Kafka reports. “Disney also says that it is pleased with the traction it is seeing from Sling TV, a Web-based skinny bundle — it offers a couple dozen channels for $20 a month — that includes ESPN. Sling isn’t a giant hit — it likely has no more than 500,000 subscribers — but Disney CEO Bob Iger and his lieutenants repeatedly called it out on Tuesday, suggesting that ESPN would be working with other skinny bundles in the future.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: As we’ve been saying for what seems like forever: Apple’s Internet TV service will have to have ESPN. It will also likely require the “Big Four” networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC) – although it could launch with three out of four and eventually hammer out a deal with whichever one is being the most reticent. That said, having already missed the launch of the new Apple TV, Christmas 2015, and the Chinese New Year, Apple might as well wait until they have a full dance card.

What others networks should be considered to be must-haves?

Beyond the Big Four, if you go by primetime ratings (total viewers), the top 20 U.S. cable networks are:

2. Fox News Channel
2. USA
3. TBS
4. Disney
5. Discovery Channel
6. History Channel
7. TNT
9. Nickelodeon
10. AMC
11. Adult Swim
12. FX
13. Cartoon Network
14. Food Channel
15. Lifetime
16. ABC Family
17. Syfy
18. TLC
19. Hallmark
20. Investigation Discovery

Source: Nielsen estimates, Live plus-3 for Dec. 29, 2014 – Dec. 16, 2015 (M-Su 8-11 p.m.)


  1. ESPN is to sports what MSNBC is to “news”, naked, SJW-inspired propaganda. ESPN is not a requirement for Apple’s TV service. It’ll wither and shrink and then finally come begging to join the Apple club.

    1. No doubt ESPN has truckloads of “propaganda” but they also have truckloads of rights for live Sports. Just try watching the college football bowls without ESPN.
      You can’t really replace that draw with anything else, Lifetime movies notwithstanding.

    2. This is one of the weirdest comments I’ve ever read on MDN. What lucid adult thinks that a skinny bundle is going to work without sports? And who thinks you can have televised sports in the US without ESPN? And given Apple’s deep relationship with ESPN’s parent, Disney, why would it be a holdout?

    3. And when I hear “propaganda” and “sports” in the same sentence, all I can think of is how NBC tries to turn the Olympics into a soap opera about how every potential medal winner overcame the severe tribulation of a carbuncle or having to lance a bunion in order to fulfill their childhood fantasy of making the Olympics, all prepackaged in a tape-delayed, smarmy Hallmark, soft-focus blob of soppiness and schmaltz.

      Just show me the events as they happen and let me figure out the drama as it happens!

      What ESPN does is nothing compared to that.

  2. I’m all for paying a reasonable price for a basic channel line-up like the one above, but I’d also like an alacart menu of other channels I can add to the basic line-up for around $5 a channel/month. Gots to have my DIY!

  3. MDN Take: “whichever one is being the most reticent.”

    MDN, “reticent” might be what you meant, but take a look at the definition of “recalcitrant” to see if it is more apt.

  4. Science Channel should be on that list, if its not in the top 20, its not much farther down the list. I find it hard to believe Investigation is in the Top 20, but that’s just me

  5. Millions and millions of people have little interest in sports. ESPN really isn’t all that a lot of people think it is. Disney has really sold everybody a bill of goods.

    IMO it’s pretty much a modern-day, tech media fairy tale that no sort of Apple TV deal will work without ESPN. It reminds me of the Emperor who has no clothes.

    A recent TVWeek newsletter had an article about a small independent survey of cable viewers and what they would be willing to pay for ala carte network pricing. The article also indicated ESPN would have to charge about $30 per month ala carte to make what it makes now.

    The interesting part of the survey? Only about 8% of the respondents would be willing to pay $9 per month for ESPN. The other 92% didn’t even want to pay that much.

    1. Hear, hear. ESPN is not art, and therefore, it has no intrinsic value. It’s only worth what people are willing to pay for it.

      I look forward to the day that ESPN, MTV, Lifetime, and a whole slew of other garbage channels all go up in flames.

  6. I don’t think Apple is going to be impressed by predictions of “it just won’t work unless you do it THIS way”. That’s conventional wisdom. Defying conventional wisdom has made Apple the richest company in the world. Disney, ESPN, and whomever else can go pound sand and I hope Apple makes them.

    A la carte or die.

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