ESPN, which has already seen some subscriber losses, must be mulling this future -- even as it touts the strong loyalty of its viewers going into this upfront advertising selling period.
Estimates are, the big network still has financial and advertising strength. ESPN still collects around $7 billion in subscriber fees and $4 billion in advertising revenues per year.
Backing up ESPN’s positive future, a survey from the Center for Digital Future/USC Annenberg and sports content producer The Post Game, says 56% of sports fans would spend more for online streaming channels than for cable/satellite channels. The survey wasn’t specific about exactly what channels — sports, non-sports, ESPN, or otherwise.
Though over-the-top services are tempting to all TV viewers because of price and efficiency, reality is setting in with some sports fans, according to the survey: 90% are willing to pay something for sports programming.
Other positive signs for traditional sports channels: Young sports fans age 15-36 will spend more for sports programming than older fans. The survey was also positive about mobile sports consumption. About a third of millennials (age 29-36) said they would watch a sporting event on someone’s else’s mobile phone.
All this meshes with the sharp rise of mobile usage in key ESPN brands. The network says there is a 74% year-to-year increase in online viewing for its ubiquitous “SportsCenter”programming.
How much will high usage sports TV consumers pay for an OTT ESPN network? $7 a month? Or $8? Maybe $20?
Intense sports fans need to do their own financial entertainment math -- no doubt coming at a price for other non-sports channels they don’t need.
Can ESPN get there? If modest pricing doesn’t persuade enough, ESPN -- and TV networks of its type -- will continue to play the card that increasingly means a lot to viewers and advertisers: It’s live programming, and carries premium value for all involved.