You'll eventually be able to buy ESPN without a cable subscription, though it won't be any time soon. Speaking on CNBC's Squawk Box this morning, Disney CEO Bob Iger said that ESPN will one day be sold straight to consumers, much like HBO has started to do by selling subscriptions online and through the Apple TV. The move would be a big shift for ESPN, which has made a killing for Disney thanks to its high per-subscriber cable fees. It'd also be a huge moment for people trying to shift from cable to streaming services, as a lack of sports programming is often cited as one of the key reasons for sticking to a traditional subscription.
Discussion of pricing "would be conjecture at this point."
But that change isn't coming to ESPN immediately. Iger said that this is something that would happen five or more years out, seemingly in response to declining profits from the cable model. "While the business model may face challenges over the next few years, long term for ESPN ... they'll be fine," Iger told Squawk Box. Disney Channel could be sold straight to consumers as well, he said. As for how much ESPN would cost on its own? Discussion of a price "would be conjecture at this point," Iger said.
Disney and ESPN's shift toward streaming subscriptions is evidently at an early stage. Still, Iger clearly wants the public to be aware of Disney's thinking. ESPN will be available online only eventually, but probably not until the money works out just right for Disney.
Verge Video: ESPN and the future of sports coverage