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Week In Review: ESPN Launches ESPN+ App, Comcast And Netflix Get Even Cozier. Ditto Hulu and Spotify

1. ESPN Launches ESPN+ App

Disney launched its first app this week. Dubbed ESPN+, the name is an apt description of how ESPN sees the app—an add-on for super fans and fans of not-ready-for-prime-time sports like rugby and college lacrosse.

It is most definitely not meant to be a replacement for ESPN proper, something they’re going to have to spend the next year or so explaining to people. (Because people just don’t listen. But you already knew that.)

Why It Matters

In many ways, Plus (if we can be that familiar) is one of the old second screen apps we once fantasized about come to life. It’s got all that “additional content” for fans without a whole lot of commercials.

What’s interesting about Plus (not to mention quite clever) is that it launched as an update to the original ESPN app, not as a separate entity. (Looking at you, Messenger and Periscope.)  This means that millions of people were instantly exposed to the app and immediately became aware of its existence.

Which is where things get tricky.

There are three tiers to the ESPN app. There’s the free tier for all those GDIs without cable subscriptions of any kind. They pretty much get to press their noses up against the window. Then there’s the tier for pay TV subscribers (including, notably, vMPVD subscribers) who get to actually watch linear feeds of the main ESPN channels. And then there’s the Plus tier, which has a whole array of fairly confusing options like the aforementioned rugby, along with ad-free versions of all the 30 for 30 films, a new MLB game every day and a seemingly random range of ad-free ESPN library content. 

Oh, and some original Plus-only programming coming soon too. (They’re working on it.)

It’s laid out well enough, but I’m not sure how you’d know what to even begin looking for on the app unless you’d read about it elsewhere—the app is packed enough, and the various content buckets unrelated enough, that you’re going to need a cheat sheet.

One other clever bit: right now, ESPN is offering a free month’s subscription to Plus that’s sponsored by American Express. Bringing Amex on as a sponsor was a great move on both their part and ESPNs. ESPN gets a whole lot of trial and Amex gets a whole lot of looking cool to sports fans. And they both get lots of data about said sports fans.

Final note: the app is available on every streaming platform but Roku. I know some developers don’t like creating for Roku as they’re underwhelmed by the tech, but it is the most popular streaming device, so there’s that.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re another network: take notes. There are some great things they’ve done and some sort of awful things. The decision to put Plus inside the existing app was close to genius. Ditto striking a deal for Amex to sponsor a free month. (You know how many people will forget to cancel their subs at the end of that month? You want to bet I’ll be one of them?)

On the not so great side, there’s the confusing array of content and options. It feels like ESPN opened up its attic and threw everything that was there into the app. They are going to have a lot of blowback too from people who—no matter how many times ESPN explained that NBA games were not on the app, both in video and in writing—don’t listen. Because (all together now) people just don’t listen.

If you’re an advertiser, you’ll want to look at deals like the one Amex just did. It’s a really smart move because it 100% sounds like “look kids! Uncle Amex just bought you a new toy!!!” and people like new toys. (Even if they just don’t listen.)

If you’re an MVPD, take note that vMVPD subscribers are being treated just like your subscribers here and they get to watch live TV off the app.

Or … yet another reason for them to switch to a better interface for a lower price.


2. Comcast And Netflix Get Even Cozier. Ditto Hulu and Spotify

It’s been about a year since Comcast started integrating Netflix into its X1 cable box, allowing customers to port their existing Netflix subscriptions or subscribe directly to Netflix from the set top box.

But now the relationship is getting even deeper, and Comcast will actually begin selling Netflix subscriptions, bundling them into their double and triple play packages and essentially turning Netflix into HBO, as this time it seems Comcast will even be collecting the money for them.

In a related move, Hulu announced that they’d be expanding their deal with Spotify, offering everyone (not just college students) a bundled package for $13/month, a $5 savings over the price of each service separately (Spotify Premium is $10, ad-supported Hulu is $8—no word on whether they’d extend the deal to ad-free Hulu and/or to Hulu Live TV, their innovative new vMVPD.)

Why It Matters

We’ve long thought Netflix wanted to be HBO, at least as far as the MVPDs were concerned, given the extreme sweetness of HBO’s deal with the MVPDs: they market HBO by offering things like “three free months when you sign up” in the come-ons, and they even collect the subscription money for HBO, who’s never had to worry about tracking down deadbeats for their $15/month.

It also matters because surprisingly, no other MVPD is bothering to to do this. As we’ve noted here before this is a win for everyone: Netflix wins for the reasons stated above. Comcast wins because they get more stickiness, happier customers, and a better shot of viewers switching back and forth from Netflix to linear cable (and thus watching more linear cable) if they’re watching it on the same set top box. And viewers get all their shows in the same interface plus a single bill.

What’s not to love?

Same comment for the Hulu-Spotify deal. It combines two desirable services for less money and it’s memorable because it’s the first cross-platform deal of its type. It’s easy to see how similar bundles could be cobbled together as people tend to view all their subscription services as part of a broader category of “entertainment options.” And it should increase subscriber numbers on both ends, as Hulu fans sample and subscribe to Spotify and vice versa.

Again, what’s not to love?

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re a streaming platform, try doing what Netflix did. Or Hulu and Spotify.

The more ways you can bundle your service with someone else’s the better off you’ll be. Not only that, both parties will get more subscriber stickiness and happier customers.

(We are continually surprised that more MVPDs don’t try and strike these types of deals given that everyone wins, especially consumers who wind up with everything in one place and a single bill.)

If you’re an advertiser, we’ll repeat what we said about Amex regarding the ESPN+ deal: sponsoring a free month of anything makes you look like a hero.

Just make sure you get enough branding.