ESPN is reportedly considering making all of their channels available on an Internet TV service for a fee, according to The Verge. The online provider would pay for all of the channels under the ESPN umbrella as well as for access to Watch ESPN at a comparable rate to what cable companies like Comcast and Time Warner pay. ESPN is talking to Sony, Apple, Intel, and Google about the package.
With more and more people cutting the cord and moving away from cable and satellite, the option to receive ESPN without having a cable or satellite contract to deal with would likely end up pushing more people towards that avenue. If this really ends up happening, I can see providers going nuclear and a standoff happening when the first contract ESPN has expires.
From ESPN's perspective, this is a risky, but wise, move. The behemoth has begun the slow leak of subscribers tied to people cutting the cord, and by cutting a deal with an Internet TV provider, they'd be effectively hedging their bets against any further drop in cable or satellite subscribers. Yet, because of the potential for a major showdown with a provider (something that Time Warner seemingly relishes), there's a huge risk involved for them if providers balk at their massive fees and continual hikes.