“We fully expect our media networks, including ESPN, to deliver bottom line growth,” the CEO says. Indeed, he says that there’s been an “uptick” in ESPN subs in 2016.
“We’re not making any predictions about them going forward because we just don’t know.” But the change suggests that those projecting continued declines have gone overboard, he says.
Investor concerns about ESPN, whose results slipped at the end of 2015, contributed to a 3.5% drop in Disney’s share price in post market trading, even after it reported record financial results for the last three months of 2015.
Disney has pretty much ruled out the theory that ESPN needs to fear the growing number of skinny pay TV bundles — offering fewer channels, and a lower price, than the popular expanded basic package. Many execs wondered whether they would cannibalize viewers from traditional pay TV, a cash cow for programmers.
Disney changed its view after Nielsen reduced its estimate of the number of homes lost to pay TV in 2015.
“Once Nielsen corrected those numbers, reducing the loss of number of subs by some 2 million households, we concluded that our sub loss was largely due to the fact that ESPN was not part of skinny bundles that had launched.”
Disney execs now believe that ESPN was helped by Dish Network’s inclusion of the sports channel in the $20 a month Sling TV skinny bundle of streamed pay TV services.
With that in mind, Disney will be talking to all distributors — cable and satellite as well as online — and “pushing ESPN into light packages.”
Iger says it’s “just ridiculous” to worry that sports TV might be in danger as viewing options grow. He also scoffs at the idea that distributors will resist ESPN’s price increases in the next rounds of carriage negotiations.
“Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, live sports ends up being among the highest rated programs across television. And ESPN has this incredible set of license agreements. It’s got the best menu of live sports out there. So we actually feel good about it.”