Today is the debut of ESPN +, a $ 4.99 direct subscription video service that offers some MLB and NHL action with many things that are not normally seen on ESPN when browsing through channels. There is no separate application to download; ESPN + is part of the redesigned and enhanced ESPN application that is also available today on Android, iOS and connected TV devices. A 7-day free trial version is available, and if you register before April 18, that trial period will be extended to 30 days.
ESPN + is overseen by Disney's BAMTech division, the broadcast source behind video applications for other companies, including HBO and WWE. BAMTech will also promote Disney's own family-oriented independent video service when it begins in 2019. Those two offers, combined with Disney's participation in Hulu (which will likely become majority ownership under the agreement with Fox), constitute what the company refers to as its "direct consumer and international" segment. That name sounds very smooth, but this will be a crucial area of Disney in the future as it builds a Netflix rival with animated hits and superhero successes as the base. ESPN + is literally described by ESPN executives as "the inaugural trip" of that transmission segment.
But before getting the classics of the family, we started with sports. Here is the most important thing to know: ESPN + does not replace ESPN the cable channel. It is not supposed to be. The company has made an effort to constantly underline that ESPN + intends to complement and increase the network that houses SportsCenter and a regular program of live games from the main professional leagues. You will get a free MLB and NHL game every day, as long as they are in season, yes, subject to blackout rules, with options to add a MLB.TV or NHL.TV package for more money. But that's not really where ESPN + is going to hook people.
ESPN has completely revised the Look section of its application with a design that feels very Netflix.
ESPN + is really taking its content on several other pillars: live events (led by Major League Soccer and expanded coverage of niche sports), original episodic programming, exclusive studio shows and a deep file selection that includes E: 60 and OJ: Made in America. As examples of the original programming, Kobe Bryant presents a basketball analysis program called Detail, and the original Draft Academy series offers "a behind-the-scenes look at the best prospects that lead to the NFL 2018 Draft." It sounds like the kind of thing you would expect
From now on, ESPN + is also the only place where you can see the entire archive of the company's prestigious series of 30-by-30 documentary films. After a new 30 for 30 cable tours, pay TV customers will have a small window to view on demand, and then they will go to ESPN +. And some movies will be exclusively reserved for ESPN + from the beginning, such as the entry "The Last Days of Knight" that will premiere at the service tomorrow night. Whether it's a live game, a studio series or an original program, the ESPN + content is designated with a golden icon so everyone can easily see what's behind the subscription.
The service promises to deliver "thousands" of hours of live football, golf, tennis, rugby, cricket and a host of college sports to subscribers who pay $ 4.99 each month (or $ 49.99 if paid annually). It is unquestionably a good deal for MLS fans who want to watch games out of the market. For the niche of things, ESPN states that ESPN + is aimed at fans who have felt "unattended" by the main sports offerings. Do you hear that, thirsty fans of cricket? Your call has been answered.
On the technical side, ESPN + videos broadcast in high definition at 60 frames per second, and subscribers can pause, rewind or re-start anything they're watching live on ESPN +. Five simultaneous broadcasts per ESPN + account are allowed.
If content selection alone does not appeal to you, maybe the idea of an ESPN application and website without advertising is enough to influence some people. You will not get display ads on ESPN, nor will you see ads before or after the video. It's basically YouTube Red but for ESPN, although obviously you'll still see commercials when you see live events.
ESPN + will be the only place where you can transmit the entire documentary file of 30 by 30.
ESPN has completely revised its Watch tab, which is now the central location for everything from free featured elements to live broadcasts of ESPN's linear channels (for authenticated TV customers) to the ESPN + programming, which has its own dedicated section. The Clock tab changes to a black background like Netflix, while the other tabs have a lighter white theme.
Content carousels also feel much more in line with large broadcast services; ESPN has always had a huge amount of videos available, but now it is finally making a great effort to discuss everything and reveal what it thinks it will like based on its team and its sporting interests. Why would the marathon of the company's deep sports vault be more difficult than marathoning Stranger Things?
ESPN + does not replace the ESPN channel, and the company expects sports fans to pay for both.
At first, the biggest challenge ESPN + will face is convincing people that it's not just a paid hodgepodge of things that ESPN believes are not worthy of their traditional channels. ESPN insists that this is not true and that these are events for which it never had the ideal platform. Adding the 30 to 30 file is definitely a way to help shore up the wide variety of live events, and the removal of ads across ESPN as part of your subscription is also nice.
ESPN argues that this is the "first entry" of ESPN +. In case the Disney / 21st Century Fox agreement is closed, for example, the service could add a variety of Fox Sports content. Last week, the company told The Verge that ESPN + could theoretically be a day included with the next Disney service, although it did not come with any direct confirmation. If Disney takes control of Hulu, it is not hard to imagine a combination of the three. Disney covers its properties, ESPN + does sports, and Hulu is the general service for everything else.
What you will not see is the ESPN channel that you already know as an independent video streaming service. Not for a long, long time. ESPN still makes most of its revenue from the membership fees charged by the world's Comcast, Charters, Spectrums, Verizons and DirecTV. And the decrease in the number of subscribers by cable is not enough to radically change that world. "We will do everything we can to protect that model," said a company executive during the information session last week. Again, ESPN + is positioning itself as an additive service and not as something that represents a risk of cannibalizing the main network. In fact, you may see cable providers that offer ESPN + as an optional add-on. The company says it is very interested in looking for associations there.
Even if it's only the first entry, it will be interesting to watch the release of ESPN + and its reception. Are there really many "unattended" sports fans who insert another service on their monthly subscription list? Could you?