- ESPN removed the WatchESPN video streaming app from app stores and migrated its content to the core platform in a move to simplify its mobile offering, the sports programmer announced. The Disney-owned sports channel had teased the shift for several weeks by notifying users of the standalone streaming app that they should download the core ESPN app to continue watching.
- WatchESPN launched in 2011 to give authenticated subscribers access to its pay-TV service. The move to merge the two apps aligns with the company's broader strategy of creating a "one-stop app destination," Lori LeBas, SVP of affiliate partnership development and operations for Disney and ESPN Media Networks, said in the announcement.
- The ESPN app still has access to ESPN+, the video-streaming service that costs $4.99 a month, for additional live sports programming not found on its cable channels. Disney launched ESPN+ last year as its first foray into over-the-top (OTT) programming. The media giant plans to launch Disney+ to compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime this fall.
The removal of the WatchESPN app and migration of its programming to the main ESPN app aims to keep viewers engaged in a single mobile location that's more user-friendly and could drive content discovery. Instead of forcing mobile users to open and close multiple apps, which increases the possibility that audiences will look elsewhere for information and entertainment, ESPN can maintain a higher level of continuity for its mobile viewers at a time when competition is growing in mobile streaming video as more players enter the space. Subscription video service DAZN was the top-grossing sports app in May with about $11.5 million in user spending, 9.5 times more than a year earlier, according to Sensor Tower. ESPN was the second-highest grossing sports app at $4.7 million.
While the average time spent on mobile devices has increased to overtake TV viewing time in the U.S., per eMarketer, other studies have suggested that mobile consumers open just half of the apps downloaded on their phone. That means app developers, including major media companies like Disney, need to make the most of their mobile engagement from loyal fans.
Facebook appears to be taking a similar strategy in merging standalone video apps with core platforms. Instagram announced earlier this year that it would bring IGTV content into its main app, amid lackluster results for the image-sharing platform's standalone video platform that it launched last year to compete with YouTube.
By migrating WatchESPN users to the main ESPN app, the sports channel likely hopes to boost efforts to upsell value-added services like ESPN+ to sports fans who are hungry for more live programming. Disney must expand the audience for ESPN+ to reverse operating losses that are forecast to reach $650 million both this year and in 2020. The company expects to turn a profit on ESPN+ by 2023 and boost subscriptions to between 8 million and 12 million by the end of fiscal 2024, per Reuters. Disney in February said it had doubled subscriptions to ESPN+ to 2 million, per CNBC.