Jimmy Pitaro Credit: CNBC Events

Appearing at CNBC’s Game Plan sports business conference on Tuesday, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro reiterated the company’s long-standing plan to shift its networks towards direct-to-consumer streaming but made sure to say that he doesn’t see it impacting the traditional TV model that has served them so well.

Pitaro said “It’s not if, it’s when” when asked about the network’s plans for streaming but made it clear that Disney and ESPN do not intend to leave their 74 million cable subscribers in the lurch.

“The [traditional TV] model has been very good to Disney,” Pitaro said.

The ESPN chairman said he wants to debunk “a perception in the industry” that when ESPN eventually offers its channels a la carte via streaming to consumers, it will mean that they’ll immediately turn off the traditional TV bundle.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest questions surrounding Disney right now is whether or not they’ll take on “strategic partners” to run ESPN, as Disney CEO Bob Iger alluded to recently. Assumptions have run the gamut from private equity firms to media conglomerates to professional sports leagues like the NFL or NBA.

Pitaro deflected on specifics but did confirm that ESPN sees potential partners that can improve their content offering.

“Can’t comment on who we’re talking to,” said Pitaro when asked if he’s speaking with specific sports leagues as a partner. “I will emphasize the fact that we believe there are parties out there that can help us on the content side. You can draw whatever conclusions you want from that, but my priority is when we do launch flagship channels directly to the consumer, a la carte, that the content proposition is as compelling as it can be.”

It has been previously reported that ESPN’s plan is to go DTC no later than 2025 or 2026 and is said to already have deals to do so with at least two leagues. Coincidentally or not, NBA media rights are coming up around that time, and the timing of all that, given the speculation that the basketball league could be one of these strategic partners, creates plenty of intrigues, from how that impacts negotiations to what role it plays in that DTC offering. We got a couple of answers on Tuesday but plenty of questions about ESPN’s path forward remain.

[CNBC, CNBC Events]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.