When ESPN+ launched in April, it seemed like a very viable growth opportunity for ESPN, but it looked like more of a long-term strategy. Now, five months later, ESPN says they’ve already hit 1 million subscribers. On the surface, that’s incredible. But how seriously should we take that number?

ESPN’s press release touting the news was heavy on shareholder lingo, which shouldn’t be a surprise as ESPN+ exists as a bulwark against the potential carriage fee bubble ESPN faces.

The Walt Disney Company’s Direct-to-Consumer and International (DTCI) segment announced today that ESPN+, the multi-sport, direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service from DTCI in collaboration with ESPN, has surpassed one million paying subscribers in just over five months since its April 2018 launch.

“Reaching one million paid subscribers is an important milestone for any video subscription service, but reaching this benchmark in such a short amount of time is an incredible testament to the teams from DTCI and ESPN who have worked tirelessly to bring this product to market and continually improve it since our April launch,” said Kevin Mayer, chairman, Direct-to-Consumer and International, The Walt Disney Company. “We’re thrilled so many sports fans have quickly come to love the service. The future is bright and we believe growth will continue as we add features, distribution partners and more exclusive content in the coming months.”

Yay! Party in Bristol! Except there’s an important word that only comes up once in the entire press release, in the second to last bullet point: Insider.

ESPN Insider has long been the ESPN.com paywall feature, behind which sits writing from people like Keith Law, and more niche areas like recruiting information. Last month, ESPN bundled the existing ESPN Insider subscribers into ESPN+, a move that makes a ton of sense. It’s hard to imagine many people paying for a subscription to ESPN editorial content and features and also paying for a streaming service; the move essentially removed internal competition while making services more valuable to subscribers.

The release, though, makes it sound like since April 2018, a million people have sought out ESPN+ and subscribed, which hasn’t exactly been the case. How do the numbers break down? ESPN isn’t really saying, as this tweet from ESPN PR’s Paul Melvin indicated:

Melvin stuck with the “vast majority” talking point with The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch, too:

Again, on that second point Melvin is clearly right. The decision to merge Insider and ESPN+ was a good one, long-term. But to say a “vast majority” are new subscribers without giving a number comes across as cagey. If there have been, say, 750,000 new ESPN+ subscribers in five months, with 250,000 Insider subscribers added to the total to hit the 1 million figure, that would still be great news for ESPN, without leaving the door open for anyone to question just how they got there.

But they’re clearly banking on the headline being 1 million new subscribers in five months without much dive into the Insider move, and so far that seems to be working.

Regardless of how they got there, ESPN+ now has a more than viable user base. That can only help sustain it going forward, and as this rush to proclaim a million users shows, ESPN cares very deeply about its success, real or (perhaps especially) perceived.


About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a columnist at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer. He is probably talking to a dog in a silly voice at this very moment.