It's happened so quietly that you may not have even noticed. Disney (NYSE: DIS) is laying the groundwork to allow consumers to cut cable on a widespread basis, and it's doing so without even announcing it to customers.
Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) added the WatchESPN app in June, and recently added Disney Channel and Disney XD apps to its device. A Disney app is also available on Roku, and some ESPN content is available on Samsung TV, but Disney's big moves are coming with Apple, a longtime partner. Right now, all of these apps require a cable subscription, but the first challenge is getting the technology and apps right before opening up new plans to customers.
Of course, Disney isn't the only company pushing streaming content. Netflix has long been the leader in streaming, while Hulu and Amazon are also available on most devices, including Apple TV, Roku, and Samsung TV. These companies were really on the frontier, but it's content owners who can really blow up the cable model if they stream live content.
Disney isn't the only network owner bringing streaming to the masses, it's just the furthest along. News Corp.'s Fox Now on Samsung Smart TV, Roku, and other devices, as well, is a small step forward for a network channel. But, at the end of the day, the real game changer isn't Netflux, Hulu, or Fox. It's Disney -- in particular, Disney's 80% owned subsidiary ESPN.
ESPN is the game changer
If you ask most men in the U.S. what channel they couldn't live without on their cable subscription, the answer would be ESPN. The channel was the first to show all sports, all the time, and it made cable TV a must-have for the masses. But the same will be true when ESPN becomes available without a subscription to cable. Suddenly, it won't be so scary to cut the cord and go with only streaming content. The cable-streaming calculus changes when we can get live sports through streaming devices, and ESPN has already made that available on a widespread basis.
Cord-cutting is on the horizon
It may not be feasible to go out and cut cable today, but it's on the horizon. Live sports are now streamed through WatchESPN, Disney's cable networks are available to Apple TV users, and networks are even beginning to develop streaming apps. Add to that the advances in technology and content that Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have made, and the cable cord is already severed. It's only a matter of time before it's cut all the way, and subscription plans are available from Disney, Fox, and other networks. That's when a true streaming revolution will take place, and we can already see Disney laying the groundwork.
Fool contributor Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of Apple. Travis Hoium is short shares of Amazon.com. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Apple, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Netflix, and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.