New streaming service Disney+ launches on November 12, and it’s taking ESPN+ – and therefore fight fans – with it. Disney+ will be bundled with Hulu and ESPN+. And while, at first blush, the only thing that seems likely to change is pricing, a second glance is more intriguing.
Disney has announced that Disney+ will not carry any R rated content, and has commented on their desire for the streaming service to feature family friendly material. PG-13 is plenty edgy enough, according to the ‘Mouse.’
While ESPN knew well enough what it was acquiring last spring, there was at least the illusion of distance between Disney and the UFC. Currently, the Disney+ interface offers a first choice of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars or National Geographic. How users will access ESPN+ (and therefore the UFC) is not yet clear, but the decidedly kid friendly design does not look like where one goes to find a Justin Gaethje fight.
Among the streaming platform’s planned offerings, one of these things is not like the others—and it may eventually create tension at the UFC offices in Las Vegas. Robert Iger, CEO of Disney and Genghis Khan of the entertainment world, has a reputation for being hands off. Possibly Dana White will be allowed to run his small fiefdom in peace. However, over a long enough timeline it could also be that the closer proximity between Disney and the UFC will force the MMA giant to smooth out some of its rough edges. Especially given the symbolic importance of ESPN+’s partnership with the UFC.
The deal was the very first brokered by new ESPN president James Pitaro. The former head of media at Yahoo was hired by Disney, which owns 80% of ESPN, to save the sinking ship. Over the last five years, ESPN has lost more than 13 million subscribers—and is struggling with the 18-34 demographic. The UFC has a reputation for carrying the youngest fan base among major US sports. These younger fans are a natural fit for a streaming service like ESPN+, which likely motivated Pitaro to start there in his efforts to turn things around at the sports network.
It appears Pitaro may be having some success. SportsCenter ratings are up, as are the ratings for MLB games. It is also worth noting that, as entertainment consumption evolves, only one thing remains the same—constant change. It may well be that the UFC will be a part of a new platform before Disney has a chance to mouse it up.
As for pricing, Disney+ is offering a $12.99 a month package that bundles Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+.