Sports programming is crucial to the success of any mainstream TV service, and ESPN is at the core of that lineup. Apple is reportedly struggling to persuade networks to sign up for its long-rumored streaming TV package, but ESPN President John Skipper says he’s open to working with Cupertino.
“They are creating a significantly advantageous operating system and a great television experience and that television experience is fabulous for sports,” Skipper told the Wall Street Journal this week. “We are big proponents of believing it would be a fabulous place to sell some subscriptions. We have ongoing conversations. They have been frustrated by their ability to construct something which works for them with programmers. We continue to try to work with them.”
ESPN already has a deal in place with Dish Network’s Sling TV service, which offers a bundle that includes ESPN for $20 a month. Sling TV has so far been unable to convince broadcast channels like ABC to come on board, and Apple has reportedly delayed its streaming TV package for the same reason. The company introduced its fourth-generation Apple TV with an App Store just for TV apps in November. A streaming TV service was expected to launch alongside the hardware and App Store, but CBS CEO Les Moonves said last month that Apple had “ pressed the hold button” on the service. CBS would have been part of Apple’s bundle, which was rumored to cost between $30 and $40 before Cupertino pulled the plug.
Sling TV is still racking up users, with about 400,000 people now paying for the over-the-top TV bundle.
“We see the Sling TV numbers, which are significant,” Skipper said in the WSJ interview. “We’ve had discussions with Apple. I believe in 2016 there will be further announcements on other kinds of packages…that will get younger subscribers into the market.”
Why this matters: According to Skipper, Sling TV subscribers and other skinny TV bundle buyers aren’t traditional watchers of pay TV, who shell out hundreds per year to watch sports and other types of premium programming, so ESPN isn’t too concerned that pay TV subscribers will downgrade their subscriptions to Sling TV or an Apple streaming service. But if Apple can challenge pay TV with a more affordable bundle that includes broadcast channels, sports, and even HBO, the Apple TV could usher in the TV revolution that Apple promised and hasn’t yet delivered.