Throughout its 35 years of existence, ESPN has been looking for ways to remain relevant with sports fans. Whether it’s streaming online or producing its own products (remember the ESPN phone?), the Alleged Worldwide Leader keeps looking ahead and not behind.

ESPN has grown to become one of the most popular cable networks and a a result, charges the most per subscriber to cable and satellite providers.

Now, ESPN is considering selling its service directly to consumers. It’s rumored to be part of a direct-to-consumer service that Dish Network is proposing and is in talks with other companies that want to develop similar services.

And there’s talk that ESPN could go over the top and begin selling its programming like Netflix.

Network president John Skipper told the Code/Media New York conference that ESPN is looking for other ways to distribute its content. He said ESPN is “open for business” when it comes to streaming its content on the web, but the main thing is to figure out the business model and how to profit off it.

Skipper said “there are six or eight million people,” many of them millennials, who don’t pay for television and he wants to tap into that market. He said many watch video through smartphones, tablets or other wireless platforms while eschewing television and he wants to deliver the linear ESPN to those platforms while getting them to pay for it.

Skipper said, “It is remarkable how quickly people are adapting to watching video on screens other than their televisions.” He added, “People go to bed at night and pull out the tablet and watch there instead of watching on the television.”

In regards to the Dish service, Skipper said it’s a way of attracting those who don’t have a cable subscription, getting them hooked and then having them trade up for cable and TV. He said people are getting their first cable subscriptions later in life instead of right out of college.

Will this strategy work? It’s a mystery right now, but ESPN is thinking outside the proverbial box in hopes of attracting younger viewers. As television viewers get older and the manner how people get their content changes, ESPN hopes it can remain relevant and in the conversation. Whether it can find the business model it’s looking for on the web as it did in cable is the $1,000,000 question.

You can see Skipper’s entire interview with Peter Kafka of re/code below:


About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.