ESPN+ (pronounced ESPN Plus) is an over-the-top video streaming subscription service available in the United States, owned by Walt Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, in partnership with ESPN Inc., which is a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company (which owns a controlling 80% stake) and the Hearst Communications (which owns the remaining 20%). It is one of Disney's three flagship subscription streaming brands in the United States, alongside Disney+ and Hulu.
|Founded||April 12, 2018|
|Area served||United States|
|Owner||The Walt Disney Company (80%)|
Hearst Communications (20%)
|Key people||Russell Wolff (EVP, general manager)|
|Users||7.6 million+ as of February 2020[update]|
|Launched||April 12, 2018|
ESPN+ is marketed as an add-on subscription on top of ESPN's core linear networks, with content similar to or having been exclusively moved to the service from ESPN3 (thus having been paywalled in comparison to WatchESPN, which offered the content at no additional charge to ESPN subscribers), such as combat sports (including coverage of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Top Rank boxing), college sports, cricket, rugby union, soccer (including out-of-market Major League Soccer matches), golf (including coverage of the PGA Championship) and tennis.
The National Hockey League and Major League Baseball's out-of-market sports packages (which are both, as with ESPN+, operated using technology of Disney subsidiary BAMTech) are sold through the platform as add-ons. The service also features archive content and ESPN original documentaries, and access to premium content on ESPN.com.
ESPN+ does not include access to the full ESPN linear channels, as they continue to only be available through "traditional or non-traditional" television providers. Thus, ESPN's major professional sports rights, including National Football League, National Basketball Association, and Major League Baseball coverage, are not included in the service.
As of March 2019, ESPN+ is the exclusive outlet for UFC pay-per-view events, sold for an additional fee. As of February 3, 2020, the service has over 7.6 million paying subscribers.
In August 2016, The Walt Disney Company acquired a minority stake in BAMTech, a spin-out of MLB Advanced Media's streaming technology business, for $1 billion, with an option to acquire a majority stake in the future. It was also announced that Disney subsidiary ESPN was planning to develop an over-the-top service based on BAMTech technology as "an exploratory OTT project", drawing primarily from ESPN-owned rights for events not broadcast on television. ESPN already used BAMTech's platform for its TV Everywhere service WatchESPN. Disney CEO Bob Iger remarked that despite declines in the pay television industry due to cord-cutting, "live sports has really thrived, even in a world where there's so much more for people to do and to watch."
In August 2017, Disney invoked its option to acquire a controlling stake in BAMTech, and announced that it planned to launch its ESPN OTT service in 2018, followed by a Disney entertainment OTT service in 2019 (thus ending its relationship with Netflix). At this time, Disney stated that the new ESPN service would draw from ESPN-owned sports rights, as well as MLB, NHL, and Major League Soccer content (although lacking major ESPN-owned rights such as the NBA and NFL), and that an accompanying redesign of the ESPN app would make it a "premier digital destination" for sports content. During Disney's fourth-quarter earnings call, Iger revealed that the service would be known as ESPN+. In December 2017, Disney announced its intent to acquire 21st Century Fox after the spin-off of certain businesses. The deal was to include the Fox Sports Networks group of regional sports networks (which Disney was ordered to divest under antitrust grounds), which led to suggestions that Disney wanted to incorporate FSN's regional sports rights into the service.
In February 2018, Iger stated that ESPN was aiming for a monthly price of $4.99. ESPN+ and BAMTech were placed into the newly formed Disney business segment, Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International, on March 14, 2018. On April 2, 2018, ESPN announced that ESPN+ would officially launch on April 12, 2018, and confirmed its $4.99 per-month pricing.
On August 21, 2018, ESPN announced that it had merged its existing ESPN Insider subscription service into ESPN+, adding access to premium ESPN.com content (such as exclusive beat reports, and advanced sports statistics and analytics tools) to the service. Both services shared the same monthly price, but ESPN Insider's existing annual subscribers were grandfathered under its previous $39.99 per-year price (as opposed to $49.99 for ESPN+), and all former ESPN Insider subscribers continued to receive the complimentary subscription to ESPN The Magazine that was part of the subscription. The magazine ended print publication in September 2019.
On October 31, 2018, ESPN executive Russell Wolff was named executive vice president and general manager.
On August 6, 2019, Disney announced that it will offer a bundle of ESPN+ with Disney+ and the ad-supported Hulu for $12.99 per-month. The bundle will be available on November 12, the same day of the launch of Disney+.
In October 2019, ESPN+ began to add pre-roll advertising to on-demand content on the service.
The service focuses primarily on overflow content similar to that of ESPN's existing digital service ESPN3 (which is distributed to subscribers of participating internet and television subscribers), though some of ESPN3's content has been shifted exclusively to ESPN+, such as most Canadian Football League coverage.
Its launch content included boxing (including Top Rank events and archive content through 2025), college sports events (including Ivy League events, with the conference having reached a 10-year media rights deal with ESPN prior to the service's launch), coverage of Tennis Grand Slams, as well as international cricket (India national cricket team, Cricket Ireland, and New Zealand Cricket), soccer (including Major League Soccer, the United Soccer League, the U.S. Open Cup, 2019 Copa America, the English Football League, Serie A, Eredivisie and UEFA Nations League) and rugby union events (including SANZAAR tournaments, Bledisloe Cup, Currie Cup, Major League Rugby, Mitre 10 Cup, Pro14, and the World Rugby Sevens Series). In October 2018, ESPN+ obtained the rights for the Swedish Allsvenskan and the Danish Superliga as well, declaring their intent to broadcast one match per week for each league.
ESPN+ features out of market Major League Soccer matches at no additional charge for subscribers (replacing the previous MLS Live service), and the service holds exclusive rights to all regionally televised Chicago Fire matches through 2020 (as the second MLS team, behind Los Angeles FC's deal with YouTube TV, to sell its regional rights to a streaming service). MLB.tv and NHL.tv (which are operated by BAMTech) are also available for purchase within the ESPN+ platform, and offer daily games during their regular seasons for ESPN+ subscribers.
PGA Tour Live (which was also ran by BAMTech) was included for the 2018 PGA Tour season, but moved to NBC Sports Gold in 2019. ESPN+ will offer supplemental feeds during the PGA Championship beginning 2020, including during CBS broadcast windows. In 2022, PGA Tour Live will return to ESPN+ as part of a new long-term deal with the PGA Tour through 2030.
In May 2018, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced new five-year digital and linear television rights deals with ESPN, effective January 2019. 20 live UFC on ESPN+ Fight Night events per-year will be streamed exclusively by the service, as well as preliminaries for 10 live UFC on ESPN Fight Night events per-year. ESPN+ will also hold rights to supplemental content such as Dana White's Contender Series, archive content and PPV encores, and offer sales of UFC Fight Pass within the platform. The first ESPN+ event, UFC Fight Night: Cejudo vs. Dillashaw, generated 525,000 new subscribers on the day of the event alone.
On March 18, 2019, it was announced that ESPN had reached a two-year extension of its contract with the UFC. Beginning at UFC 236, it is also the exclusive U.S. carrier of all UFC pay-per-view events for residential customers. Viewers must have an active ESPN+ subscription in order to purchase future UFC pay-per-views, and they are no longer sold through television providers.
ESPN+ also carries ESPN original programming and documentaries, such as the 30 for 30 franchise (with some premiering on ESPN+ prior to their premiere on ESPN), and exclusive original series and studio programs:
- Detail - A franchise of programs featuring analysis of sports by associated players. The initial, basketball version of the series was hosted and produced by Kobe Bryant until his death in January 2020. In October 2018, ESPN announced that Peyton Manning would host an NFL version of the program. On June 29, 2019, ESPN announced a mixed martial arts version of the program hosted by Daniel Cormier. In April 2020, it was announced that Golden State Warriors head coach and former Chicago Bulls player Steve Kerr, along with former Bulls coach Phil Jackson, would host special Bulls-themed episodes of Detail as part of ESPN's ambitious documentary series, The Last Dance, focused on the Michael Jordan-led Bulls dynasty in the 1990s..
- ESPN FC - A studio program focusing on soccer; it moved from airing on the networks to exclusively being on ESPN+.
- In The Crease - a daily NHL highlight and discussion show hosted by Linda Cohn and Barry Melrose.
- Quest for the Stanley Cup - A documentary series following the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs (moving from Showtime).
- Last Train to Russia - A documentary series previewing the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
- Year One - A documentary series following the 2017-2018 NBA Rookie Class, featuring Jayson Tatum, Ben Simmons, and Donovan Mitchell.
- MLS Rewind - A weekly recap of Major League Soccer action, hosted by Taylor Twellman and featuring analysis from Alejandro Moreno.
- I'll Take That Bet - A series focusing on sports betting, in conjunction with The Action Network.
- Ariel and the Bad Guy - A weekly mixed martial arts discussion show hosted by Ariel Helwani and Chael Sonnen.
- The Fantasy Show - A fantasy football analysis show hosted by Matthew Berry. Originally aired on ESPN2 in its first season.
- Always Late with Katie Nolan - A late night talk show-inspired series hosted by Katie Nolan, serving as a successor to her previous Fox Sports 1 program Garbage Time. The start of its second season in late September 2019 will see it being carried on the mainline ESPN2 network on Thursday evenings, in addition to continued ESPN+ carriage.
- Peyton's Places - A documentary series hosted by former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning.
- NFL Primetime - Hosted by Chris Berman and Tom Jackson, a digital-only version of the popular NFL highlight show that aired on ESPN for nearly 30 years. The program airs live at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday nights during the regular season, recapping the afternoon's games. The show is updated with segments recapping the Sunday and Monday-night games after their completion, which are respectively hosted by Scott Van Pelt and Joe Tessitore.
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