- Two years ago, ESPN parent company Disney signed a deal with Google to place video content on YouTube's premium Red subscription service, but the sports network didn’t join in and actually pulled its videos from YouTube at the time. The Wall Street Journal now reports that ESPN, with little fanfare, has begun posting to YouTube once again.
- ESPN content began appearing on YouTube over the weekend during its Winter X Games coverage, and Wednesday it started posting clips from staple programs like SportsCenter and First Take on YouTube as well as the ad-free YouTube Red.
- The Journal quoted an ESPN spokeswoman who said, "We were able to come to terms on a short form video agreement for YouTube and YouTube Red as part of our larger deal with The Walt Disney Company."
ESPN’s original reticence at the time of the Disney deal was related to rights and legal issues, a Google spokeswoman told the Journal, but the paper pointed out that it isn't clear what has changed in the meantime. The Journal did note that the sports network's change of heart comes at a time when Google is actively signing up networks for a planned web TV service that will likely include Disney properties.
ESPN, for its part, has been struggling on the linear TV homefront. Last year, Nielsen suggested that the channel was bleeding cable viewers by the hundreds of thousands. In October alone, it reportedly lost 621,000 subscribers — its worst month ever — and November fared little better with an estimated 555,000 lost. As the trend toward cord-cutting doesn't appear to be slowing in 2017, the Disney property might be hoping to reach a bigger digital audience, with YouTube providing an opportunity.
It’s not clear if ESPN was under pressure from its corporate parent for the change in policy, but it does seem to at least indicate YouTube’s ongoing value as a source of online video and the potential ad revenue that content can generate for producers like ESPN. The ESPN short video clips on YouTube’s main platform don’t currently feature advertising, but ESPN is expected to begin selling ads directly for its content, per the Journal.
Alphabet, Google's parent company, put a fresh focus on YouTube in the company's recent Q4 earnings call. EMarketer also recently forecast that YouTube’s net U.S. video ad revenue could reach $2.59 billion in 2017, accounting for 20% of total U.S. video ad revenue.