Disney CEO Iger: ESPN a la carte? Absolutely… eventually

By Jim O'Neill on Jul 27 2015 at 12:00 PM
Disney CEO Iger: ESPN a la carte? Absolutely… eventually

“Technology is the most disruptive force that so-called traditional media is facing,” Disney CEO Bob Iger told CNBC’ Squawk Box today. That technology – and the consumer’s appetite for a la carte programming – “inevitably” will lead Disney to offer ESPN direct to consumer… but not immediately.

"If we end up seeing more erosion in the so-called multichannel [cable and satellite TV] bundle, quality will win out," he said.

“Five years out, I don't think you see significant change ... I think eventually, ESPN becomes a business that is sold directly to the consumer," Iger said. “Where there's an engagement that ESPN will know who their consumers are, will use that information to customize the product, enable personalization, to essentially engage in a much more effective way and also to offer advertisers more value as well."

Iger said ESPN’s live sports fare was a differentiator from other channels.

ESPN is the bell cow for the cable bundle, taking a huge bite – it’s estimated to be at least $6 and rising -- from the monthly cable bill.

But recent surveys have cast some shadows on the sports network’s future, pointing out that live sports may not be as critical to a pay-TV subscriber as is often thought.

A survey from ClearLeap said two-thirds of respondents to a recent survey specifically said sports were not the reason they kept pay TV; more than half (51%) of self-described sports fans said they wouldn’t subscribe to all-sports service at any price and fewer than 10% of self-identified football fans said they’d be willing to pay more than $20 a month (NFL Sunday Ticket fans currently pay about $58 a month).

"I have very bullish feelings about ESPN long term," Iger said, "but I'm a realist in terms of the disruption of the business. I happen to believe that if we end up seeing more erosion in terms of the so-called multichannel bundle, quality will win out, and popularity will win out, and while the business model may face some challenges over the next few years, I think long-term for ESPN ... they'll be fine. They have pricing leverage too."

Stay tuned.

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