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Disney Could Buy Twitter, Netflix to Offset Massive ESPN Subscriber Loss

Earlier this month we brought you the story regarding media and industry speculation that Disney, panicked by massive ESPN subscriber loss, might sell ESPN in order to stop the bleeding.

Now, new reports suggest that instead of selling ESPN, Disney might make an acquisition of a massive company such as Netflix or Twitter in order to offset the losses from ESPN’s cord-cutters.

According to Bloomberg, “Acquisitions could be an integral part of Disney’s strategy. The company has looked at Twitter Inc., people with knowledge of the matter said in September, and in August agreed to plunk down $1 billion for one-third of BAMTech, the streaming arm of Major League Baseball, which powers Disney’s Watch ESPN app as well as online programming for HBO. The company has also been mentioned as a possible suitor for Netflix Inc.”

Bloomberg notes, “ESPN’s central problem is that costs are rising fast as traditional pay-TV audiences shrink and viewer ratings for marquee sports like football decline. ESPN’s revenue is expected to rise 4 percent to $12.5 billion this fiscal year after showing no growth in 2016, according to RBC. Sports costs will rise 17 percent to $6.7 billion, due largely to a $600 million increase in ESPN’s contract with the National Basketball Association.

“In the past three years, ESPN’s U.S. subscriber base has shrunk to 90 million from 99 million, according to Nielsen, whose TV ratings help set advertising rates. The number, the lowest since 2005, reflects customers canceling traditional pay-TV packages, older customers dying off and younger ones not signing up like their parents.”

That’s ESPN’s problem, though, not all agree on the solution. Bloomberg explains:

Analysts including Doug Mitchelson of UBS Group AG and RBC’s Cahall predict Disney’s media networks will resume their profit growth in fiscal 2018, which starts next fall. While profit at the cable networks fell in the latest fiscal year, Iger said in November that, “ESPN grew in fiscal ’16 and we expect that growth to continue over the long term.”

But others, such as analyst Rich Greenfield of BTIG LLC, sense Iger wants to do a big deal, whether it’s with Twitter, Netflix or someone else.

“Maybe Iger and Disney are simply trying to signal confidence in ESPN in hopes of getting their stock up as they plan to make a major acquisition,” Greenfield said in a report last month. “Hard to remember a time in history when Disney has talked so openly about not being strategically complete.”

If Disney acquires Netflix or Twitter, that would open up several new platforms for ESPN content. ESPN made a ton of sense in the old cable subscriber days, yet with a new tech-savvy generation of TV watchers, many of whom don’t have a ton of disposable income to spend on cable, Disney will have to either adapt ESPN to the changing times or sell it off.

Apparently, admitting that their business model of giving consumers liberal politics under the guise of sports, while charging the highest subscription rates of any cable network, wasn’t such a hot idea.

Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn

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