Disney CEO Bob Iger doesn’t “retract or in any way change” the disclosures about subscriber losses at ESPN that rattled the media industry three months ago. he told analysts today. “We decided to be candid, maybe refreshingly so….There certainly should be no reason to panic over comments like that.”
But with the spotlight on the sports channel, especially after recent layoffs, he and other execs sought to give it an unequivocal vote of confidence.
“There’s a glass half full perspective,” Iger says. “We’re bullish about ESPN.”
As for the recent layoffs of 300 people, about 4% of the workforce, COO Tom Staggs says that ESPN “is quite healthy operationally” but — like with other Disney channels — “we won’t let any of them stand still…ESPN has been innovating all along and will continue to do so.”
Iger dismissed as “not factually correct” a recent article in Sports Business Journal that said ESPN has tried to secure higher rates from cable and satellite operators by agreeing to let them reduce their guaranteed distribution of the channel to about 80% of subscribers from 90%.
Speaking broadly about cable losses, Iger says there’s been “some attrition from large bundle subscriptions.” Some people feel they can’t afford to pay the rising costs. In addition, “young people are not signing up as quickly as they once did.”
To appeal to them “the user interface has to be great.” So-called skinny bundles also “tend to be attractive to young people.” Iger says he doesn’t mind seeing new entrants offering these smaller packages. “The more the merrier in terms of new platforms…They need Disney and ABC.”
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