Earlier this week, DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH) made waves in the world of pay TV when it announced it will soon launch Sling TV, a live, over-the-top television service for Internet-connected devices.
Most crucial to Sling TV's value proposition is its inclusion of ESPN and ESPN2 among the 12 channels in its $20-per-month, contract-less core bundle. After all, the largest number of viewers in cable TV history tuned in to ESPN's new college football playoffs on New Year's Day, leaving little doubt that the sports channel is the strongest tent-pole keeping consumers from cutting the cord with their traditional cable packages. And at a price of roughly $6 per subscriber, the cost to pay TV providers for ESPN alone reflects its outsized importance.
DISH Network, for its part, insists that it can profitably sign up millions of Sling TV customers without suffering cannibalization in its core business. And that's a testament, according to DISH CEO Joseph Clayton, to their strategy of targeting both cord cutters and younger viewers who so far have opted out of traditional pay TV altogether.
Heads or tails, Disney wins
Despite DISH's best efforts to get a jump start on the future of television, there's an even bigger winner from Sling TV: The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS).
First, Disney holds an 80% stake in ESPN and its various sister channels. So if ESPN and ESPN2 command anywhere near the same premium to appear on Sling TV as they do in traditional pay TV packages, that means DISH's new over-top-service is already a big winner for the House of Mouse.
For perspective, however, the other channels in Sling TV's core $20 per month package are TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, ABC Family, and CNN. Of those, Disney claims 100% ownership of both its namesake channel and ABC Family.
In addition, DISH will offer a number of add-on packs for an extra $5 per month, arguably the most popular of which will be a "Kids Extra" package to add Disney Junior, Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV, and Duck TV. Finally, DISH promises that a "Sports Extra" add-on is "coming soon," and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if it includes other ESPN channels such as ESPNews, ESPN Classic, or ESPNU. In either case, Disney should only command an even larger share of Sling TV subscribers' proceeds.
Of course, that's not to say the contributions of the remaining networks -- which are collectively claimed by Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) Turner Broadcasting and Scripps Networks Interactive (NASDAQ:SNI) -- are inconsequential. However, though Clayton wouldn't provide specifics in a post-launch interview with CNBC on Tuesday, he unapologetically admitted:
Obviously they're not doing it for free. [...] But suffice it to say that ESPN, ABC Family, and Disney are the anchors. ESPN is the most watched channel in that 18- to 35-year-old age group. So we're pretty excited about them being the anchors.
What's more, Disney might also enjoy incredibly favorable terms on the deal, which is rumored to grant it the ability to command even higher prices or withdraw its channels from Sling TV should the number of subscribers grow too high at the expense of traditional pay TV bundles. This shouldn't become an issue, however, if DISH's no-cannibalization theory proves accurate.
In any case, it remains to be seen how quickly Sling TV takes off, or whether it indeed marks a turning point in how we think about consuming content on the small screen. If one thing is clear, however, it's that Disney will continue to thrive no matter how the television landscape unfolds.