Bloomberg News is reporting that Disney has begun "preliminary talks" for providing ESPN's channels to Internet-only television providers.
UPDATE: Business news site Quartz is reporting talks between Disney and Apple specifically.
ESPN president John Skipper wouldn't say who he's been discussing these matters with, but examples of potential partners that Bloomberg gives include Google, Sony (via PlayStation), Intel, and Apple. According to Skipper, these companies would have to pay at least as much as the cable and satellite providers do, which is currently around $6 for the main ESPN channel alone.
I know what your next question might be. Will the ESPN-run SEC Network be available? Yes, it would have to be:
A Web-based service would have to buy "the whole suite of products," Skipper said. "We’re not going to offer one-offs." The network includes the flagship channel, plus others such as ESPN2, ESPN News and mobile applications offered to existing pay-TV subscribers.
It's still early yet, and of course these talks could end up going nowhere soon. Still, it's a tantalizing view of a future in which a cable or satellite subscription is no longer required to watch ESPN programming. That future is coming sooner or later, so it's at least good to see the worldwide leader being proactive about it.
With the SEC's future so inextricably linked with ESPN, any news on this front is news around here. And considering how everyone thinks of live sports as the only DVR-proof vehicle for TV advertisements anymore, this is seismic news for the entire television industry.