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ESPN in Discussions to Get on Other Streaming Services (Video)

Could happen as soon as this year.

Asa Mathat for Vox Media

ESPN is talking to digital streaming services to offer its network over the Web similar to its current deal with Dish’s low-cost bundle Sling.

“A number of people have expressed interest and we’re in discussions with a large number of people,” ESPN president John Skipper said Wednesday at the Code/Media conference at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, Calif.

“I think other people will enter into some markets with lighter packages in this calendar year,” he continued, without citing which specific services could start including ESPN, such as Amazon or Apple.

Whether or not you’ll be able to buy ESPN on Amazon or Apple or any other service going forward, the larger point is that ESPN will only be offered if it is included as part of a larger bundle of Disney channels in more of these so-called skinny bundles going forward.

The network, Disney’s most valuable media asset, has started to lose subscribers, according to recent earnings reports, as fewer people are paying for TV subscriptions altogether. But Dish’s Sling offering appears to be one of the bright spots. Being part of more skinny online packages like this could benefit ESPN — or not.

The key in any of these deals is that as far as ESPN is concerned it won’t be sold as a standalone channel the way HBO does with HBO Now.

“We do not believe it right now to be good business,” Skipper said.

That means any online offering that includes ESPN would likely have to look very similar to Sling, which includes ABC Family and Disney Channel. If Apple, for example, wanted to have ESPN as part of a TV subscription offering, it would also have to buy other Disney channels.

“The only thing I’m willing to discuss with Apple and [media boss] Eddy Cue, and he’s a friend of mine, is that Apple understand the value of the Walt Disney Company,” Skipper said.

But until there are more online skinny bundles that could include ESPN, it’ll still need to find other ways to grow.

Not to worry, according to Skipper. ESPN is already seeing larger audiences when it adds its mobile and digital consumers, which means they can charge more for ad rates. ESPN will also get higher fees from the TV distributors carrying the network. So that largely means squeezing more dollars out of a smaller audience until the world of streaming services starts to pick up — and look more like TV.

Watch MLB’s President of Media explain the difficulty scaling live sports streaming

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