2013 TV upfronts: ESPN not worried about a la carte or competition


ESPN President John Skipper said Tuesday he isn’t too worried about proposed legislation from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would allow consumers to pick what channels they want instead of buying a big package of networks.

“We don’t think the bill has any momentum,” Skipper said to reporters after ESPN made a presentation to advertisers in New York City. His view that McCain’s legislation is a long shot is shared by many television industry insiders. ESPN is a unit of Walt Disney Co.

Still, McCain on Tuesday made the case for a so-called a la carte pricing model for pay television at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. He said it is not fair that consumers who aren’t sports fans have to pick up the tab for ESPN and added that, “I truly believe a lot of Americans are fed up with the size of their cable bill.”


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Skipper countered that ESPN is priced appropriately given the popularity of the channel and that McCain is “dead wrong” on this issue. He added that the cost for a family of four to go to dinner and a movie is as much if not more than the cost of a monthly cable bill.

McCain’s bill isn’t the only thing Skipper isn’t worried about. He’s also not losing sleep over the two new national sports cable channels that Fox Sports is starting or competing outlets operated by NBC and CBS.

Citing all the rights to major sports that ESPN holds, Skipper said, “We have a significantly broader portfolio.”

ESPN rights include Major League Baseball games, college and NBA basketball, “Monday Night Football” and most of the big college football events. It is also now in pursuit of CBS’ rights to the U.S. Open tennis championship.

Skinner acknowledged that Fox, a unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and NBC, owned by Comcast, have deep pockets and can play the long game but countered that ESPN has most major events locked up for years to come.


“Let them chase us,” he said.

Skipper also confirmed that ESPN has had preliminary discussions with wireless carriers about perhaps subsidizing data-usage costs for customers who watch a lot of ESPN on their smartphones. However, no such agreement with a wireless carrier is imminent, he said.


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