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Disney’s five-month-old ESPN+ streaming service has hit one million subscribers.
In announcing the news on Thursday morning, Kevin Mayer, chairman of the direct-to-consumer and international group that oversaw the launch of ESPN+, called it an “important milestone.” He added, “The future is bright and we believe growth will continue as we add features, distribution partners and more exclusive content in the coming months.”
ESPN began selling its $5-per-month service in April as an add-on to the existing ESPN app, which also got a refresh at the time of the launch. The service boasts a lineup of live sports (one MLB game every day during the regular season, for example), original programming (some 30 for 30 installments are exclusive to the service) and on-demand shows (an archive of past 30 for 30 episodes and The Masters recaps). But it was seen as a disadvantage that ESPN+ would not be an exact replica of the cable network and would not be able to offer the same lineup of live major league sports, namely NFL games, because of the way sports rights had already been parceled out among the major broadcasters.
But executives at Disney and its BAMTech subsidiary designed the new ESPN app to prominently promote the content that was behind the ESPN+ paywall and make it easy for viewers to sign up for the service directly through the app.
The ESPN+ launch is one of the first successes that ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro has notched since coming on board the company in May. “Combining sports, technology and the ESPN brand is a very powerful combination, and we are just getting started,” Pitaro said. “Very quickly, a wide range of sports fans have seen the value of ESPN+. With high-quality programming and an outstanding user experience, ESPN and DTCI are expanding the ways Disney is serving sports fans.”
ESPN+ is one piece of a larger effort by Disney to make its business less reliant on legacy distribution models like linear television. Under Mayer’s group, Disney is also prepping a family-friendly streaming service, which it plans to bundle with ESPN+ and Hulu once it becomes the majority owner of that business following its acquisition of the 21st Century Fox assets. The streaming focus is a key reason that Disney acquired a majority stake in MLB’s BAMTech in 2017. That business has now been integrated into Disney Streaming Services and its leader, Michael Paull, has been named president of that group.
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