Given the high cost of sports content and the decline in subscriber numbers, ESPN may no longer be the darling brand of the Disney organization. And at a recent conference, John Malone, Chairman of Liberty Media speculated "that The Walt Disney Co. could spin off ESPN, merging the rest of its operations with a deep pocketed suitor, perhaps Apple", according to Multichannel. But is ESPN such an albatross and does a sale make sense.
Truthfully, sports programming costs are high and continue to go higher. It has forced the channel to continue to raise subscriber fees and advertising rates, and push more ad minutes into every hour. The result has been consumers no longer watching and a drop in ratings. Still, could ESPN be fixed instead of sold. They could drop expensive programming deals like NFL and pursue other programming choices. They could deliver a streaming model, ala HBO Now, with exclusive content not accessible elsewhere. Sports has been a driver of consumer interest and the opportunity to recapture eyeballs seems viable.
Regardless of whether Disney sells or spins off ESPN or not, a partner like Apple does seem to make sense. The two had a very close relationship when Steve Jobs was alive and sold Pixar to Disney. And content is what Apple needs to drive its Apple TV device. Hopefully other synergies, including the theme parks would help to drive Apple product sales. Malone claims to not have an inside scoop to this idea, but he certainly sees the possibility, as do I.