Here's what the merge of ESPN Insider and ESPN+ means in terms of pricing, offerings, ESPN the Magazine and more.
ESPN Insider is stronger than ever—and dead. This week, the 20-year-old online subscription service was rolled into ESPN’s newest venture, ESPN+, a three-month-old subscription play built around exclusive video. Insider subscribers are now ESPN+ subscribers, and ESPN+ subscribers now also get access to content that had been behind the Insider paywall at the same price they have been paying: $4.99 per month.
Even before the merge, Insider influenced the ESPN+ offering. “While figuring out what kind of shows we’d create for ESPN+,” says Rob King, senior vice president, digital media, “we already had a great understanding from our time with Insider about the things that would move fans to the point of passion and purchase.” Earlier this decade, Insider re-oriented itself around predictions and analytics: stuff like NFL Draft big boards, March Madness tools and gambling advice. ESPN+ mirrored that type of content with shows like “Draft Academy” and “I’ll Take That Bet,” as well as “Kobe Bryant Presents: Detail.”
“That is, in the truest sense, insider analysis,” King says. King added that the merge did not coincide with any internal staffing or structural changes.
As for some of the business decisions involved...
Timing: ESPN+ prioritized simplicity when it launched in April, touting itself as the company’s newest home for streaming video. But Andy Schneider, the product’s general manager, says the plan was always to ultimately make it the single home for bonus content across ESPN’s website and apps. Logistical concerns around international users, customer service and financial intricacies also had to be worked out before the announcement.
Pricing: “It was very important to keep the price consistent,” Schneider says. Insider was $4.99 per month, though subscribers previously on the discounted $39.99 annual plan will be grandfathered in at that price. With the products being offered individually for four months before combining, the implied two-for-one value now seems more appealing. You can imagine a fan thinking, Just a month ago, all of this content would have cost double.
Branding: Though Insider had more public recognition than its younger sibling, and likely more subscribers (ESPN declined to confirm any numbers regarding either service), E+ is clearly the brand of ESPN’s future. Now, that brand will be attached to some of the network’s biggest names, like Mel Kiper Jr. and Jay Bilas, whose content had often been Insider-only. Wednesday, Kiper’s pre-season big board was among the “Top Headlines” on the front page of ESPN.com, right next to a small E+. Expect to see that little guy all over.
ESPN The Magazine: Insider and The Mag have long gone hand in hand, with a subscription to one historically coming with access to the other, but for new subscribers, that will no longer be the case. Insider subscribers who had been receiving the magazine as part of their subscription will continue getting it, though.
While executives sweated many messaging details of the Insider-Plus merger, the print product’s role post-transition is still quite murky. In fact, ESPN’s preferred magazine subscription link takes you to one of the few active pages with an ESPN Insider header while another implies included access to “ESPN Insider Tools and Exclusive Analysis.” (espn.com/mag, meanwhile, still features Joba Chamberlain and Brandon Roy.)
Going into its 20th year as well, the magazine “just finished our most successful year, creatively,” King says. As for the future, King says the magazine is now on an independent path from Insider/Plus, focusing on print photos and storytelling rather than the video and analytical access provided by the digital service. Three times, he made clear that “the magazine’s evolution is a separate conversation.” Stay tuned. Earlier this month, new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro listed storytelling among four key areas of business growth for the company.