Disney CEO Bob Iger says ESPN will 'one day' be streaming only
Disney CEO Bob Iger predicts that ESPN will "one day" shift to a streaming-only model.
He said that it would be a "phenomenal product for the sports fan."
ESPN+, the unit's current streaming arm, ended 2022 with nearly 25 million subscribers.
Speculation has long-swirled that Disney would spin off ESPN, but that's not in the cards for newly returned Disney CEO Bob Iger — at least not right now.
Iger, who was reinstated as the company's top exec in November, is quickly making changes at the House of Mouse, including a reorganization that splits the company into three units. They include Disney Entertainment, which consists of the movie studios and streaming platforms; parks, experiences, and products; and ESPN, which encompasses both the linear ESPN network, and the ESPN+ streamer.
During an interview on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" Thursday morning, Iger said that he predicts ESPN will "one day" become a streaming-only platform.
"I think the model ultimately will change," Iger said, regarding a shift for Disney's sports content from linear to streaming. "I think it will become an over-the-top model."
"A so-called over-the-top model — a streaming model — it would be a phenomenal product for the sports fan," he added.
When asked directly if ESPN will one day largely be a streaming service, Iger said that "there's an inevitability to it."
But he cautioned that Disney wouldn't do anything "reckless" and would "time it right."
During Disney's fiscal-year Q1 earnings call on Wednesday, Iger said that Disney's streaming business "is the future," a point he reiterated during Thursday's CNBC interview, adding that Disney has to turn streaming "into a growth business."
Disney reported on Wednesday that ESPN+ ended 2022 with 24.9 million subscribers, up from 24.3 million the prior quarter.
Iger replaced his successor Bob Chapek after stepping away from the role in early 2020. Chapek himself reorganized the company — including by creating a new unit called Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution — which Iger quickly began to unravel.
"It created a huge divide between the creative side of the company — the content engines, movies and television — and the monetization and distribution side of the company," Iger said on Thursday. "It was very, very apparent to me, both while I was out and when I came back, that that was a mistake."
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