Disney launches ESPN+

The blogosphere is abuzz with the launch of ESPN+, the new $5 a month app for sports lovers. It’s available now from the app store of your choice. Should you go and get it? Let’s take a look at the details.

ESPN+ is not the app you want.

That’s right, I’m going to come out and say it. If you want a version of the current ESPN app that you can use without a cable or satellite subscription, this is not that. If you want to watch live content from the ESPN broadcast channels, you’ll still need a cable or satellite subscription.

Instead, ESPN+ is an addon to your ESPN experience. You’ll get more games, more video content, and more commentary. You can expect to see more sports, but don’t expect to see the really top top stuff that airs on ESPN broadcast unless you have a cable, satellite, or streaming subscription that allows you to sign in.

In other words, it’s like other provider apps that give you bonus content. Think of how HBO Go gives you behind the scenes stuff about Game of Thrones as well as featurettes and webisodes. Think of how the MLB.TV app (free subscription if you pay for MLB Extra Innings on DIRECTV) gives you all those extra shows and stats.


They want you to pay for ESPN+

That’s right, bonus content that’s usually free will cost you about $5 a month after the 30-day trial.  You can still get the ESPN app, even if you don’t have a TV subscription, and it will give you some of what you want, but for good bonus content you’re now expected to pony up $50 a year (you get a break if you buy a year at a time.) Cheaper than the good seats at most stadiums, but not free, and most bonus content is free.

I think the “completist” will be happy with ESPN+, because there will be some content that they won’t get anywhere else. Plus, it comes with a significantly redesigned app and if you pay for it, you don’t get any advertising on the app anywhere. That should make the entire ESPN experience better, if you’re willing to pay.

It’s also worth noting that they say a lot of MLS games will air on ESPN+ and it’s a lot cheaper than DIRECTV’s MLS Direct Kick package.

What’s Disney’s endgame here?

Disney isn’t a poor company. They have enough money that they could crush the competition by giving you ESPN+ for free. But, they’re not. They could really prove that sports programming is still strong, and they’re not.

Millennials have been a tough nut to crack for sports. The generation whose parents wouldn’t let their angels suit up for football isn’t as invested as other generations. They like soccer, but they’d rather participate than watch. They realize they won’t get the participation trophy just for sitting down for a game.

The big motivation for cord-cutting is paying less. In an editorial from five years ago I told you that it’s possible that the up to 25% of the average customer’s pay-TV bill goes straight toward sports programming. I’ve railed at ESPN before, and told you that a majority of people would walk away from ESPN if they could cut their cable bill by $8 a month.

For all but the most avid sports fans, ESPN doesn’t represent a good value, it’s widely viewed as too expensive, and yet Disney (who owns the channel) wants to provide more content at a higher price instead of providing true value. There must be something I’m missing here.

Am I wrong?

I’m the first one to say I’m wrong sometimes. I’ll admit that I famously forecast that no one would pay for Hulu, even going so far as to say I would never use a paid Hulu service. Obviously I regret saying that. So maybe I’ll regret saying that ESPN+ doesn’t make a lot of sense. What do you think?

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.