|Founded||April 12, 2018|
|Area served||United States|
|Owner||Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International
(The Walt Disney Company)
|Launched||April 12, 2018|
ESPN+ is an over-the-top subscription service, provided by the U.S. sports broadcaster ESPN Inc. and Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. ESPN+ will carry sports content similar to ESPN's streaming service ESPN3 (which is exclusive to participating internet and television subscribers), and subsume some of its content.
The service will be delivered through an updated version of the ESPN mobile app, and be available with monthly and annual subscription options; some content will be available for free, while the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball's out-of-market sports packages will also be sold through the platform as add-ons. The service will also feature archive content and ESPN original documentaries.
The service is not intended to cannibalize ESPN's core linear networks, so it will not carry ESPN's core professional sports rights or offer access to ESPN's linear programming. ESPN+ will instead serve as a complement to them as part of the ongoing market trend of cord cutting and over-the-top pay television, with a focus on events such as combat sports, college sports, cricket, rugby union, soccer (including out-of-market Major League Soccer matches), and tennis.
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 majority 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 will include the Fox Sports Networks group of regional sports networks, which led to suggestions that Disney wanted the networks to order to incorporate their respective local 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.
The service will focus 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 will be shifted exclusively to ESPN+, such as most Canadian Football League coverage. Its launch content includes boxing (with exclusive US rights to the Amir Khan vs. Phil Lo Greco bout, as well as archive content from ESPN and Top Rank's libraries), 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), the PGA Tour Live service, coverage of Tennis Grand Slams, as well as international cricket (Cricket Ireland and New Zealand Cricket), soccer (including the English Football League, Major League Soccer, UEFA Nations League, and the United Soccer League) and rugby events (including SANZAAR tournaments, Bledisloe Cup, Currie Cup, Major League Rugby, Mitre 10 Cup, and the World Rugby Sevens Series).
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. It also carries ESPN original programming and documentaries, such as the 30 for 30 franchise (one entry, The Last Days of Knight, was released exclusively on ESPN+), and exclusive original series. It will not include access to the full ESPN linear channels, as they will only be available through "traditional or non-traditional" television providers. ESPN's major professional sports rights, including MLB, National Basketball Association, and National Football League coverage, are not included in the service.
In May 2018, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced new five-year media rights deals with Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International, and 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.
Exclusive original series have also been produced for ESPN+:
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