ESPN’s new over-the-top subscription service hosts a powerful lineup of MLB, MLS, and NHL live games, as well as select PGA, boxing, and tennis events. The sports network presents exclusive content like Draft Academy and Kobe Bryant’s new series Detail. There’s also an archive of on-demand content including classic games and shows like 30 for 30.
ESPN+ isn’t designed to replace the traditional ESPN network cable channel. Think of it as a paywall service that adds new shows focused on news, scores, and highlights about specific sports and leagues. It augments the cable channel with a schedule of live games from the major pro leagues and original content you won’t be able to see anywhere else.
Although it may seem like Disney is just dipping in their toes with this first streaming service, don’t underestimate the entertainment giant’s plan. Disney is moving quickly into the streaming space by acquiring seasoned delivery systems and content providers. All combined, the entertainment giant will deliver quite a punch to the streaming market.
Who’s on first? ESPN+ is the first big piece of Disney’s streaming strategy
ESPN+ is Disney’s first streaming service to launch in the Direct-to-Consumer and International segment and also the sports giant’s debut in the digital subscription arena. The streaming powerhouse BAMTech was scooped up last year by the House of Mouse to pave the way for Disney’s streaming business.
The three-pronged approach will eventually round out a full library of streaming content. Disney’s own library covers animated hits, Star Wars, and blockbusters like the Marvel franchise. The newly minted ESPN+ covers all things sports, and Hulu will showcase everything else.
ESPN+ is already live. The Disney-branded video service determined to compete with Netflix is expected to launch in late 2019. The final piece falls into place with the Fox acquisition, making Disney a majority shareholder in Hulu while also granting access to content from Fox Sports.
ESPN+ not a home run for cord cutters
If you’ve already cut the cord, an ESPN+ subscription won’t replace the content from the cable channel. In fact, without a cable subscription, cord cutters will only have access to a partial library of ESPN programming. Unlike an HBO Now subscription, ESPN+ won’t replace what you’d see on the cable channel – there are no live NFL or NBA games or Sunday Night Baseball.
ESPN+ subscribers will see some baseball and hockey with one free MLB and NHL game daily during the season. But diehard sports fans will find themselves needing paid access to the ESPN TV channels or adding an MLB.TV or NHL.TV season pass to watch every game.
Lots of content in the on-deck circle
ESPN+ includes MLS Live and Thursday/Friday coverage of the PGA Tour Live. Other live games include 180+ Major League Baseball games, 180+ National Hockey League games, and 250+ Major League Soccer games as well as college sports, golf, cricket, rugby, and tennis.
The service will include original episodes of Kobe Bryant’s basketball analysis show Detail and Draft Academy. Subscribers can also watch a large archive of ESPN content, including the popular “OJ: Made in America.” The newest episode of the 30 for 30 documentary series about Bobby Knight premieres exclusively on ESPN+.
ESPN+ is added to the lineup in ESPN’s redesigned app
ESPN+ seamlessly integrates into the ESPN app, which lowers the barrier to entry. The newly redesigned main app creates a portal into all of ESPN’s digital products with a home screen tailored to the sports and teams you follow.
The app offers three levels of access with content designated by a color-coded system.
- News, scores, and highlights that are accessible to everyone without restrictions
- Live and on-demand access to ESPN’s pay-TV content which is available to cable or pay subscribers. This includes ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, ESPNews, SEC Network, SEC Network +, ESPN Deportes, ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Bases Loaded, Longhorn Network, and ACC Network Extra.
- Subscription content from ESPN+ or other over-the-top sports content from MLB.TV or NHL.TV. A gold badge indicates ESPN+ exclusive content.
Pay to play
The service will cost $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year. New subscribers have until April 19th to take advantage of a free 30-day trial sponsored by American Express. After that, subscribers can try the service with a 7-day free trial.
The bases are loaded with platforms
ESPN+ is available as an app for iOS, Apple TV, Android devices, Chromecast, and Amazon Fire TV and Tablet in the US only.
Five concurrent HD video streams at 60 frames per second are available per account. Subscribers can pause, rewind, or restart anything they’re watching live through ESPN+.
It’s a whole new game
ESPN redesigned their entire app strategy to accommodate the new streaming directive. The UI is slicker, leaner, and pulls familiar design elements from popular streaming sites. The Watch screen now provides an integrated viewing experience that delivers recommendations based on your favorite teams and interests.
Display advertisements have been eliminated for ESPN+ subscribers, which delivers a more cohesive overall user experience. Another benefit for subscribers is that there are no pre- or post-roll ads in the games. You’ll still see video ads that play during normal breaks in play, but that’s it.
Don’t call them out too soon
ESPN is in uncharted territory with their new offering – there’s nothing else like it in the market. That gives ESPN an advantage for market share, but a disadvantage in having to explain what the service is. The biggest challenge the new OTT faces is convincing people it’s not just a channel for the games that couldn’t make the cut on the regular programming – like the fictional “ESPN 8, The Ocho” from “Dodgeball.”
The downside of the new ESPN+ service that it lacks NBA and NFL games, which are the two most-watched sports leagues. Another drawback is that some of the archive content was previously available to stream for free on the Watch ESPN app. Sports fans have other options to consider.
Don’t count ESPN+ out yet, though. For only $5/month, users eliminate ads all over ESPN as part of the subscription plan. There is definitely a market for that, and in my opinion, would be worth the cost of admission. The PGA coverage eliminates a $40/year service golf fans would have paid for previously. Add in ESPN’s name recognition, smooth integration into the current offerings, and the power of Disney and ESPN+ suddenly looks like a contender.
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