This “strategic shift” is made possible by Disney’s acquisition of majority ownership of BAMTech LLC, the video-streaming business formed by Major League Baseball. Disney will pay $1.58 billion to acquire an additional 42 percent stake in BAMTech from MLBAM, MLB’s interactive media and internet company.
The media conglomerate previously acquired a 33 percent stake in BAMTech a year ago with the option to acquire majority ownership over the subsequent years. Today’s announcement speeds up those plans.
“The media landscape is increasingly defined by direct relationships between content creators and consumers, and our control of BAMTech’s full array of innovative technology will give us the power to forge those connections, along with the flexibility to quickly adapt to shifts in the market,” Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “This acquisition and the launch of our direct-to-consumer services mark an entirely new growth strategy for the company, one that takes advantage of the incredible opportunity that changing technology provides us to leverage the strength of our great brands.”
Iger will serve as chairman of the BAMTech board. MLBAM and NHL will continue as minority stakeholders and maintain seats on the board.
ESPN’s multi-sport service will feature approximately 10,000 live regional, national and international games and events annually, including MLB, NHL, MLS, Grand Slam tennis and college sports. Individual sport packages will also be available for purchase, including MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live.
The new service will be accessed through an enhanced version of the current ESPN app. Pay-TV subscribers — whose declining numbers contributed in part to today’s announcement — will be able to access ESPN networks in the same app on an authenticated basis.
Meanwhile, the Disney-branded service will become the exclusive subscription-video-on-demand home in the U.S. for new live-action and animated movies from Disney and Pixar. The studio also plans to invest in an annual slate of original movies, TV shows, short-form content and other Disney-branded exclusives for the service, which will also offer library content, including Disney and Pixar movies and Disney Channel, Disney Junior and Disney XD television programming.
Disney plans to offer the ESPN and Disney streaming services directly from the respective brands, in app stores and from authorized multichannel video programming distributors.