ESPN Loses 2 Million Cable Subscribers in a Year

Allen Berezovsky/FilmMagic
ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro

While the channel is still a cash cow for Disney courtesy of hefty fees and strong ad sales, sub numbers have decreased steadily.

The cord-cutting continues for ESPN, now down to 86 million subscribers, 2 million fewer than the leader in sports programming had a year ago.

Disney made the disclosure in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Wednesday in what has become practically a tradition for the conglomerate: the issuance of falling subscriber numbers a day before Thanksgiving.

While ESPN is still a cash cow for Disney courtesy of hefty fees and strong ad sales, sub numbers have decreased steadily. In 2013, ESPN boasted 99 million; that number has fallen almost 13 percent in five years.

Disney also said in its Wednesday filing that subscribers to the Disney Channel fell from 92 million last year to 89 million in 2018.

The company is addressing cord-cutting with direct-to-consumer initiatives like ESPN+, a streaming service launched in April, and it has Disney+ lined up for next year. That service will be home to family movies and shows from Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Disney.

The conglomerate run by CEO Bob Iger is also purchasing much of 21st Century Fox for $71 billion and some of the product from the Fox film and TV studio will make its way to Disney+.

That transaction also includes Fox's 30 percent stake in Hulu, which will give Disney a controlling stake of 60 percent in the streamer, and Iger has said harder content from Disney and Fox will reside there.

Disney, of course, isn't the only company with TV assets to see the effect of cord-cutting that comes primarily courtesy of Netflix. By year's end, about 33 million U.S. households will have canceled their cable and satellite TV services, according to eMarketer.