ESPN’s Domestic Subs Fell 2.2% In 2016 To 90M, Disney Says In Year-End Report

In what’s become an annual tradition, Disney released its annual report on Thanksgiving eve — and it has mixed news about ESPN, the biggest profit driver, for the fiscal year that ended in September.

The sports network had 90 million subscribers in September, Disney reports, citing Nielsen data. That’s a drop of 2 million, or 2.2%, from 2015.

The company notes that Nielsen’s numbers “only capture traditional MVPD subscriber counts and do not include digital MVPD subscribers.”

Still, the recent decline was slower than last year’s 3.2% slide to 92 million, and the 4% fall in 2014 to 95 million. ESPN had 99 million domestic subs in 2013, a 1% improvement from the previous year.

ESPN2 was not as lucky. It had 89 million subs, down 3.3% from 2015 — a tick in the wrong direction from last year when its 92 million was down 3.2%. It, too, had 99 million in 2013.

Disney’s other sports channels fared better. ESPNU had 71 million subs, down 1.4%. ESPNEWS and SEC Network — not measured by Nielsen — were flat based on December data from SNL Kagan. The former had 70 million subs and the latter had 62 million.

Disney CEO Bob Iger told analysts this month that the company has “a more bullish position on the future of ESPN’s sub base.” Losses from customers moving to smaller bundles, among other things, “have abated.”

Meanwhile, the growth of streaming video services including Sling TV and the upcoming DirecTV Now “are going to offer ESPN opportunities that they haven’t had before to reach more people.” Disney plans to launch its own ESPN-branded digital service in 2017.

Among the other channels, Freeform — formerly ABC Family — was down 2.2% to 91 million domestically.

Disney Channel lost about 2 million subs to 93 million, a fall of 2.1%. Disney Junior, at 74 million, and Dixney XD, at 78 million, were flat.

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