Last week, the big headline was that ESPN was preparing to finally offer an over-the-top service for those who have chosen to not to subscribe to cable or satellite service. It was the natural next development to Disney’s $1 billion investment in a one-third stake of MLB Advanced Media’s BAM Tech.
Those who read beyond the flashy headline, however, quickly learned that this news didn’t mean a full version of ESPN, complete with all the programming the network broadcasts, would be available via streaming services or a set-top box. In other words, anyone expecting ESPN’s over-the-top product to automatically include the NFL, NBA, college football and college basketball is sure to be disappointed.
The network has been quite clear since rumblings of such an offering began to circulate. ESPN is still in business with its cable and satellite partners, and has no intention of alienating those providers by offering the exact same content available on their linear networks, like ESPN and ESPN2. The product available may resemble something closer to what ESPN offered in the early days of its existence, when it didn’t hold live rights packages to all of the major professional and college sports.
With the deal between Disney and BAM Tech now official, Bob Bowman, MLB president of business and media and the man behind BAM Tech, spoke with Sports Business Journal‘s Eric Fisher and explained that the product resulting from this partnership will be developed deliberate and carefully.
“You have to be really careful. More is not always more, and you want to have a good amount of content, enough content, but not too much. In some ways, we’re almost trying to replicate ESPN of 20 years ago, where they had a good amount of programming, but not everything.”
Given BAM Tech’s pre-existing relationship with several clients, however — some of whom do not broadcast sports programming — it stands to reason which sports entities will be seen on ESPN’s new service. MLBAM is already in business with the NHL and PGA Tour, providing the technology behind their streaming services and online content. (The NHL also holds a minority stake in BAM Tech.) Bowman said that tennis, rugby and cricket, along with college football and basketball, will also be a part of the service. And since this service was created under the MLB umbrella to begin with, baseball will also be a part of the programming offered by ESPN to over-the-top customers.
As previously reported, Disney does have a four-year option to acquire another 33 percent stake, and thus a controlling interest, in BAM Tech. From there, the next step will likely be for Disney to eventually offer over-the-top content that isn’t tied to sports, in addition to become more of an independent operation from MLBAM.