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Is Disney's ESPN+ Worth Subscribing to?

By Daniel B. Kline – Updated Apr 10, 2019 at 2:50PM

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The $4.99 a month service has a somewhat limited selection of events, and does not include access to the regular ESPN feed.

Some streaming networks save consumers money. If you drop cable because Netflix and Hulu offer enough choices to keep you happy, for example, then you've saved money.

If, however, you're like me, and you add streaming networks on top of a robust cable package, you're probably spending more than you need to. Of course, cost isn't value -- you can spend more money than you used to on entertainment and still be making the right choice when it comes to your budget.

It all depends on how you consume content, what you would do if you weren't watching whatever services you pay for, and what choices you made prior to adding a streaming service. That's a value proposition that's difficult for most services (it's hard to argue against the value of Netflix), but it's especially perplexing when it comes to Walt Disney's (DIS -2.31%) ESPN+.

A person points a remote at a TV.

Deciding what streaming services make budgetary sense can be challenging. Image source: Getty Images.

Why is ESPN+ especially challenging?

ESPN+ is not a streaming version of ESPN. Instead, it's a collection of additional programming, live events, and archival shows. The $4.99 a month service acts as a sort of enhancement for big sports fans -- people who almost certainly would want cable or streaming packages that include the various ESPN channels.

In most cases (though there's one big exception), that makes ESPN+ additive to what you're already spending. It seems unlikely, for example, that a consumer would want ESPN+'s enhanced coverage of the NFL or the NBA if they did not already have access to its regular coverage of those sports.

The big exception, however, is UFC and boxing. Disney has bet big that having pay-per-view (PPV) level boxing and mixed martial arts will drive subscriptions, and it has made deals with UFC and a number of major boxing promoters to make that happen. As a consumer, if you formerly bought even a single PPV at around $60 a month, not doing that and getting ESPN+ instead offers a tremendous value.

In many ways, Disney is making the same argument WWE made when it launched its network for $9.99 a month including access to all of its PPV shows. Even if a consumer only watched two big shows a year previously, a network subscription makes sense, as you're spending the same money for access to a lot more content.

Check out the latest earnings call transcript for Disney.

Is ESPN+ worth it for you?

I pay for WWE Network and use it to watch a handful of PPV shows a year. The catch is that I almost never paid for PPVs in recent years. Basically, I find access to those premier shows and the rest of the network content for $9.99 a month a good value, while I don't consider paying $60 for a single PPV a good deal. I'm watching more WWE programming because I pay for it each month and, for me, that's a value.

ESPN+ offers a similar calculation. For people who would have paid for some of the boxing or UFC PPV specials that will be included -- really just one makes it a wash -- then it's clearly worth it. It's also worth it for people who did not purchase that content but would consume at least a couple of PPVs and other ESPN+ content due to the value being offered at the $4.99 a month price tag.

Aside from the folks for whom the pure math makes this an obvious deal, hardcore sports fans may also find value in a subscription. ESPN+ offers select live Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, National Hockey League, golf, and tennis events. It also has an array of college sports, including football and basketball games that go beyond what the parent channel offers, along with less popular college sports.

So if you binge watch 30 for 30 documentaries or want to catch some college lacrosse, $4.99 might be worth it when you look at a cost-per-hour of entertainment figure. There's no exact science to it, but Disney offers a free seven-day trial, so you can use that period to gauge whether you use the service enough for it to make sense.

Stay on top of it

Disney allows consumers to join ESPN+ with no contract, meaning you can come and go as you please. For some consumers, that means joining for a month when there's an event they want to see, consuming a bunch of other content in that month, and then canceling.

However you use the service, or any streaming service, it's important to regularly audit your usage. If you're not taking advantage of a subscription, shut it off until a time comes when you will get a reasonable return on your investment.

Daniel B. Kline owns shares of World Wrestling Entertainment. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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