By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man – @tvanswerman
TV Answer Man, I keep reading that Comcast will buy ESPN from Disney. Do you see that happening and would they put ESPN’s sports on Peacock? — Gene, Durham, North Carolina.
Gene, Disney CEO Bob Iger said earlier this month that his company is interested in finding a ‘strategic partner’ to buy an equity stake in ESPN. The Disney chief noted the continued decline in pay TV subscribers and said he wants another company to assist in the transition to streaming by providing additional programming and distribution for ESPN. Financial analysts quickly speculated that Comcast was the company that Iger was thinking about. Not only could Comcast provide more sports content, via NBC Sports, it has 24 million paying Peacock subscribers, 32 million Internet subs, and roughly 15 million Xfinity video customers. In addition, Comcast still owns a stake in Disney’s Hulu and the companies could include a Hulu swap as part of an ESPN deal.
Will Comcast Buy ESPN?
However, during yesterday’s analyst call following the release of its second quarter report, Comcast president Michael Cavanagh dismissed the ESPN speculation as “very improbable.”
“So, I’ve been asked about, and read the speculation that in some way we might be interested in swapping businesses as part of what’s going on in the sports space. And I would just say that that’s very improbable, given the — as you could imagine, there’s tremendous issues around tax, minority shareholders, structuring generally. So, I would put aside the idea that there’s anything inorganic that is likely to happen around ESPN in particular, which is what we’ve been asked about,” the Comcast executive said.
Of course, it’s possible, if not very probable, that Cavanagh is downplaying any ESPN deal because that’s what executives are supposed to do when negotiations are ongoing. You don’t want to create false expectations for Wall Street or your workforce. But Cavanagh certainly didn’t sound enthusiastic about the prospect. In contrast, Jason Armstrong, Comcast’s chief financial officer, said during the analyst call that the company is interested in purchasing the rights to broadcast NBA games when the league’s current TV deals expire after the 2024-25 season.
“So, obviously NBA is coming up,” Armstrong said. “That’s a fantastic property. We don’t necessarily need it, given the portfolio we have, but given its strength and our historical involvement in the sports, something I would like to see is take a look at (it)…But we will see where that goes.”
Gene, hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann