When ESPN+ was announced in April 2018, it was an interesting bet by ESPN and its parent company Disney that subscribers would pay an extra $5 per month for niche sports content sans marquee teams.
Well, five months later, the service has now topped over 1 million subscribers, which equates to more than $5 million per month from viewers who are likely already paying into ESPN’s monthly linear TV subscriber fees as well.
ESPN says that its ESPN+ streaming service has more than 1M subscribers five months after launch. https://t.co/kRHIo4FOSE
— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) September 20, 2018
The draw so far? International sports have played a part, as have Major League Soccer, golf and tennis. But it’s probably college sports that are driving what’s become a “need” for fans of certain conferences this football season.
Eight different games for the Sun Belt, Conference USA and Mid-American Conference are listed on ESPN+ for this coming weekend. And the number’s been somewhere around that mark in each fo the first three weeks of the 2018 season as well. No, those leagues aren’t commanding national audiences for every single kickoff, but they’re still among the 10 conferences in Division I’s Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level in college. Those conferences are largely made up of larger state schools in football-crazed areas like the Midwest, Southeast and Texas. If you tell those fans they need to pay another $5 per month to view a couple games, that seems like money well spent to them.
As expected upon launch, this becomes a test balloon of sorts for what subscribers will pay for on top of the “standard” over-the-air ESPN programming — and which sports, conferences and teams are going to most motivate those decisions. ESPN has other “vertical” offerings already in the Longhorn Network (University of Texas sports), SEC Network and ACC Network Extra (which will be part of the linear ACC Network launch next fall). Leagues like the MAC and Sun Belt were never getting their own network through ESPN. But this is a compromise that gets games to fans and also gives ESPN a stronger group of paying viewers.
The company hasn’t been shy about telling fans about the service either, which certainly helps drive those subscriber numbers. According to iSpot.tv, the real-time TV ad measurement company with attention and conversion analytics from more than eight million smart TVs, ESPN+ ads have been all over ESPN programming since August 27.
In that time, there have been six ESPN+ spots on TV in that stretch, equating to nearly 495 million impressions. Ads appeared most during SportsCenter, NFL games, U.S. Open tennis and college football. The large majority (just under 75%) were on primary ESPN — versus ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNews (the only other networks sports appeared on).
When ads appeared, though, viewers were locked in. iSpot.tv’s impression view rates show 98.1% of ESPN+ ads were watched through at least the third quartile (if not completion). ESPN+ spots also had an attention score of 93.48 (attention score is the percentage of an ad played across the TV device).
Of the six spots, “More Sports, More Leagues, More Teams” and “Exclusive Access to Live Events and Programming” had the highest attention scores, both topping 96. However, “Duped” (featuring comedian Keegan-Michael Key was definitely in front of the most eyeballs by far, with over 465 million impressions. That spot had an attention score of 93.21, showing people were staying tuned in even with the ad’s high exposure.
Given the NHL’s potential tie-in to ESPN+ programming, ads could see a new uptick come late September/early October. But whether that happens or not, it appears fans are noticing ESPN+’s offering and continue to sign up at an impressive clip.