Disney CEO Alludes to Loss of Big Ten As “Not Limiting” for ESPN

After the news that ESPN has pulled out Big Ten talks, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the company has enough sports coverage to keep hold on to its viewership.

“If you look at the college sports, we’ve got the SEC, we’ve got the ACC, we’ve got the PAC 12, we’ve got the Big 12, we’ve got the playoffs. We’ve got the most comprehensive programming, so if we don’t get rights in every single conference, we don’t believe that’s in any way limiting for us,” Chapek said on the company’s Q3 investor call Wednesday.

A source familiar with the matter confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that ESPN, owned by Disney, has backed out of Big Ten negotiations because the network would not agree to a seven-year deal at $380 million per year. This reverses a decades-long partnership between the conference and ESPN, dating back to 1982. The current deal lasts through the next academic year, allowing those games to be broadcast.

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Chapek’s comments also come after Disney+’s Hotstar, which streams in India, Southeast Asia and elsewhere, lost the streaming rights to Indian Premier League Cricket. This caused the company to adjust its streaming guidance for 2024, and separate Hotstar from Disney+ subscribers. The forecast is now for Disney+ Hotstar subscribers to reach up to 80 million subscribers by 2024, a number that can shift based on the acquisition of cricket rights.

The Big Ten news raises questions about the trajectory of a potential new ESPN direct-to-consumer streaming offering.

Disney has previously spoken to the possibility of moving its linear ESPN channel to streaming. However, in May, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy, said that product would be different from the current ESPN+ offering. And executives have said it will be difficult to transfer linear rights to digital.

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“We’re all preparing for the future of what ESPN would look like in a true direct-to-consumer fashion,” Chapek said Wednesday. “And I think the way that we’re looking at this is that we want to proactively prepare for that future without prematurely disrupting the cash flow that we get from the linear networks right now.”

“We believe there’s tremendous degrees of freedom in terms of what ESPN DTC ultimately looks like. I think we’re very proud of what we’ve done to date on ESPN+, but that no way limits how we envision what true ESPN DTC proposition would look like going into the future,” he added.

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