clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ESPN is getting more digital sports, but it still won’t let you watch them without paying for ESPN on TV

A new deal with the ACC means a new online network — but only for pay TV customers.

Duke v Wisconsin Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

One day, you may be able to buy ESPN over the web without paying for any other TV. Like you can with HBO.

But that isn’t happening anytime soon. In the meantime, ESPN’s digital plan involves getting you to pay more for digital programming that’s not on ESPN.

One way to do that is with direct-to-consumer extras like the cricket package it started selling a couple years ago. Another is by bundling more digital rights into the package its regular subscribers get.

That appears to be what ESPN is doing with ACC, where it intends to launch a digital channel for the college sports league this fall, followed by a cable channel in a couple years.

As Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand and Michael Smith have reported, ESPN’s “ACC Network Plus” will get bundled into WatchESPN, the streaming service that’s available to everyone who gets ESPN via a pay TV service.

That is: You can’t buy the ACC network on your own — you can only get it if you get ESPN. So there’s no extra consumer revenue for ESPN here.

But the ACC isn’t giving ESPN access to this stuff for free, and it already had a distribution deal with the network — which means they have a new deal, which means ESPN will be paying more for those rights, just like it did with the Big Ten. Guess who pays for those rights in the end?

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what exactly goes into the new ACC channel.

I’m assuming it won’t be the league’s most popular stuff — basketball games featuring schools like Duke and North Carolina, and football games featuring the likes of Miami and Florida State — since ESPN wants to show that stuff on ESPN and Disney’s ABC, where it will get the biggest audiences.

Let’s assume that, instead, it’s stuff like soccer, baseball and other games that draw much smaller audiences.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.