When it comes to the biggest sports media empire, one would think that ESPN would be well ahead of the game in giving audiences sports in the most advanced ways possible, but the network is still quite behind the times when it comes to the world of streaming. Its next attempt to capitalize on the cord-cutting population will reportedly be an over-the-top streaming package that isn't directly tied to its TV offerings. But hold on a sec before you get excited about unlimited sports on your mobile devices.
ESPN may gain its biggest audiences from Monday Night Football and some of the NBA's biggest games, but don't go expecting any of that top-tier programming to be a part of ESPN's streaming bundle when (or if) if gets released. According to The Information, this relatively slow jump into direct-to-consumer programming will initially keep its focus tight around niche sports leagues that don't get covered so heavily on the flagship network, and there's the potential for college sports to get in the spotlight, too. (Though probably not NCAA football playoffs or the College World Series, if this limited first push is an indication.)
The example being used as similar direct content is 2015's Cricket World Cup, which ESPN streamed for anyone, regardless of whether or not they had a cable or satellite subscription. Perhaps the company is just testing the waters to see how well this type of service would run before diving in with all of the major sports properties. It wasn't that long ago that ESPN had some major problems streaming the World Cup through its WatchESPN app, and I'm sure that's the kind of nightmare everyone wants to avoid in the future. So I guess that solution is to give people all the rugby, shuffleboard and table tennis footage they can handle in the meantime.
ESPN has been one of the big network pulls behind other non-cable/satellite services that have come out in recent years, including Sling TV and similar companies. But it still hasn't gone the route that, say, HBO and CBS have gone with their own standalone services. For what it's worth, though, nobody else is getting into live-streaming major pro sports either, outside of special events like the Olympics or the Super Bowl. CBS isn't doing it yet, and even Fox's recent announcement for its revolutionary new live-streaming option was wary about bringing sports into it. So perhaps ESPN can figure out a way to come on top in that scenario.
Unfortunately, there's no set date or even a window of time when we might expect to see ESPN unveiling its over-the-top service for consumers. Considering ESPN is a part of most homes' subscription packages, you'd think the network would be focused more on snatching up the non-TV population that has adhered to watching things over the Internet over the years. Perhaps one day soon. Until then, don't forget to get your cricket bats waxed or whatever you're supposed to do with them.