Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek Says ESPN Could Become Sports Streaming ‘Clearinghouse’

Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek Says ESPN Could Become Sports Streaming ‘Clearinghouse’

Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek says the media giant’s flagship ESPN brand could become a singular gateway for consumers looking to stream live sports.

Chapek’s comments, the first since he was abruptly fired in 2022 after 16 months as Disney’s boss and replaced by former CEO Bob Iger, are part of CNBC documentary ESPN’s Fight for Dominance, which highlights the 40-year-old sports network’s evolution in the digital era and debuted today (March 21).

Specifically, Chapek envisions ESPN becoming a clearinghouse for sports viewers looking to live-stream sports. As media companies increasingly look to offer marquee events such as NFL regular season, playoff games, “Thursday Night Football” and college basketball’s March Madness on streaming platforms, finding the appropriate service remains confusing.

While NBCUniversal says the Peacock SVOD platform added 2.8 million net subscribers following its record-setting first-ever exclusively streamed NFL Wildcard playoff game in January, the game led to some frustration for diehard TV consumers unfamiliar with Peacock — a situation Amazon faced a few years earlier when the Prime Video platform became the exclusive home for “Thursday Night Football” — long a mainstay on Fox Sports.

Chapek believes ESPN could become an outlet to do what Prime Video, Apple TV, Roku, and others do in offering one-stop streaming access movies.

“If I’m on my Apple TV and I want to watch a movie, I have no idea whether it’s on Prime or Netflix or Disney+ or Hulu or wherever it’s at,” Chapek told CNBC.  “The way I find out is I go to Apple TV, I plug in the movie that I’m looking to watch, and they direct me exactly to where that movie is. And then they connect me seamlessly without me then having to exit and go to another app to go find the show on that app. I think ESPN should be that source for a central clearinghouse.”

ESPN’s digital presence is set to expand significantly this year as part of a joint venture streaming app between Disney, Fox Corp., and Warner Bros. Discovery. Disney is also re-launching the ESPN+ streaming service in 2025.

Chapek believes Disney may sell minority stakes in ESPN as a means of funding its acquisition of Comcast’s 33% stake in Hulu. Disney has already committed $8.6 billion to Comcast as part of 2019 agreement that valued Hulu around $27.5 billion.

“Obviously, the benefit of doing that is that you make available some cash,” Chapek said in the documentary. “And given some of the conversation that’s been happening between Comcast and Disney in terms of needing to buy the final share of Hulu to make it wholly owned by the Disney company, it’s possible that maybe that cash itself is what they’re after.”

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