Fast Company’s Harry McCracken on today’s launch of Disney’s ESPN+ streaming service:
Jimmy Pitaro, the company’s new CEO, made that clear with almost the first words out his mouth at a small ESPN+ press briefing the company held at its Los Angeles facility, hosted by executives from ESPN, BAMTech, and Disney. “I think it’s important to highlight the fact that this service will be complimentary to our existing business model,” he stressed. “We will continue to invest in, and drive value from, that multi-channel business, which has served us quite well over the years, and we expect will continue to do so. But in parallel, we’ll now have additional ways to serve the sports fan.”
Still, even if ESPN+ isn’t meant to immediately usher in a radically new era for ESPN, it’s the first taste of a big change for Disney that’s “the apotheosis of a long-running strategy we’ve had at the company to get closer to the consumer and to be a direct-to-consumer business,” said Kevin Mayer, the newly named chairman of a new Disney division responsible for direct-to-consumer services.
Disney’s also launching an entertainment streaming service that will include content from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm in fall of 2019. And it’s buying large portions of Fox, which will also give it a majority stake in Hulu. This is an entertainment conglomerate that is aggressively making the transition to, as Mayer said, “a direct-to-consumer business.”
ESPN+ may be a curiosity now—it’s literally bonus material that doesn’t fit on ESPN’s linear networks—but it’s hard not to see it as laying the foundation for a streaming service that wraps all of ESPN’s sports content into a single package.