Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share
23 January 2019
UFC sets the future of ESPN+
UFC fans are ushering in the future of streaming television, and ESPN+ is reaping the rewards. The streaming app collected more than a half million new subscribers after offering UFC Fight Night last Saturday night.
That represents a 50% boost to the number of subscribers ESPN+ held last September. And it points the way to how streaming television will eventually dismiss all other media platforms, including cable and satellite TV.
As I wrote last year, the success of ESPN+ largely depends on content. Because there’s already a shitload of sports on cable television, especially ESPN itself, what could ESPN+ hold exclusively?
UFC, long residing on FoxSports and pay-per-view, is a rising sport, especially among the younger target audience advertisers love so much. (Because they spend money and switch loyalties more often than other age groups.) ESPN+ captures that audience for $4.99 a month plus advertising. (Yes, there were ads during UFC Fight Night.)
“But ESPN+ acquiring the rights to UFC signals the new way. Once streaming services buy rights, the jig is up. Or, more accurately, you’ll see networks get smart themselves with their own streaming apps.”
ESPN+ ushering in the new frontier
Sports may seem like a niche, especially compared with the behemoths of Netflix and even network TV. But they serve as the last Rubicon of streaming television.
Streaming services have had difficulty tapping into live events even though the technology exists. It’s just that sports are wrapped up into long-term TV contracts with networks that don’t come due very often.
But ESPN+ acquiring the rights to UFC signals the new way. Once streaming services buy rights, the jig is up. Or, more accurately, you’ll see networks get smart themselves with their own streaming apps. They’ll add a streaming component to complement their network programming.
Truth be told, I am an ESPN+ subscriber. I signed up because it carries a ton of college basketball. Basically, there’s a good game to watch every night.
Maybe that is a true niche. But if streaming apps can own a particular sport or at least a segment of it, they will change how we consume sports.
The big kahuna, of course, is the NFL. And I expect streaming to play a part when the network TV contracts are negotiated in 2022. The league is already experimenting with streaming by offering some of its London games on Twitter, YouTube and Amazon Prime.
Expect there to be a larger streaming component to the new contracts in three years. Hell, by then ESPN+ might be a true streaming juggernaut.
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