SBD/August 22, 2013/Media

ESPN Weighs Online Distribution; Skipper Downplays Google Shot At NFL Sunday Ticket

Skipper predicted the NFL's Sunday Ticket package would remain with DirecTV for now
ESPN President John Skipper said the company has had "some preliminary discussions" with online companies about distributing ESPN’s original content. The comments came during ESPN's Media Day yesterday and in the wake of reports that Google is in talks with the NFL to purchase the rights for NFL Sunday Ticket. Skipper said the companies that ESPN has spoken to would be purchasing the net’s entire "suite of services." Skipper: "We’re not interested in making our product available as a one-off. If somebody wants to replicate the model of a large collection of video products, we’ll be happy to hear them." He added, "The concept we have insisted upon is we will not advantage you relative to our current partners and distributors. If you’re interested in having a discussion about paying us for our content on a basis similar or greater than what other people pay us, we’ll be happy to have that conversation." Skipper said, "We’re pretty ecumenical about where we offer our content. It has been good for us that there are cable operators who have new competition with satellite companies, who have new competition with telephone companies. Anybody who wants to offer our video products, in whatever way, we’re happy to discuss it with them." Skipper specifically addressed reports of Google and the NFL Sunday Ticket, saying, "My guess would not be that it’ll end up at Google. My guess would be that would end up at DirecTV." He added, "I’ve always been pretty skeptical that rights holders of significant events are going to put those events on digital platforms. The leagues all love to float the idea that that’s a possibility because it creates the sense of more competition and accelerating prices. I don’t believe that’s going to happen. Those sites are not built for appointment viewing. ... YouTube has been doing all these channels, they’re having a tough time getting some traction on those channels." He added, "I don’t think it’s meaningful, I don’t think it’s going to happen" (Adam Harris, Assistant Editor).

EARLY DAYS: ESPN Senior VP/Corporate Communications Chris LaPlaca said that talks with alternative TV providers are "exploratory and any new platform would have to offer a package of channels comparable to what other operators provide." RBC Capital analyst David Bank in an e-mail wrote that "to get deals done with ESPN and other networks, the new providers will have to guarantee minimum subscriber numbers and pay the associated fees even if fewer viewers sign up." Bank, who has an outperform rating on Disney shares, wrote, "They have to be 'take or pay' contracts. If you can’t sign that many up, you still have to pay" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 8/21).
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