ESPN’s John Skipper doesn’t see any benefits in new TV models – yet.

May 23, 2012

ESPN chief John Skipper is happy to talk to any of the so-called new over-the-top Web video players surfing around the fringes of the cable TV business. But he doesn’t see any major deals happening soon — if ever.

In a conversation with Reuters at this year’s cable show, Skipper was blunt about his skepticism over the idea his network —  the best paid in the business according to SNL Kagan data — could work with a new Web partner, a tie-up that may in some way threaten the cozy $100 billion a year cable programmer-distributor relationship which feeds the entire industry.

“We have a significant stake in maintaining the current model. There’s no advantage to us in new models that undercut what we have today,” said Skipper, speaking from the NCTA Cable Show in Boston.

ESPN pays tens of billions of dollars every year in sports rights fees to major sports and college leagues — much of which is live programming that doesn’t lend itself naturally to the subscription video-on-demand model popularized by the likes of Netflix and Amazon, he points out.

The Disney-owned sports network is the envy of the cable television business, and several major rivals, like News Corp and Comcast Corp’s NBC Universal, would love to replicate its model.

Skipper was careful to play down recent bullish comments about ESPN’s strengths versus potential rivals. But he pointed out that, while he respects his rivals, it would be difficult for them to build a new sports network to the size, scale and fees that ESPN enjoys today.

He also disputed the idea that the rising cost of sports could one day see ESPN forced onto a sports tier.

“We’re  not a niche channel, we bring a lot of value to our distributors. Nobody would benefit,” he said.

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Of course Skipper doesn’t see a problem with his network. ESPN’s true cost to subscribers is hidden by the bundling of channels, which means viewers who NEVER watch ESPN are still being charged about $5 per month in per-subscriber fees. What a sweet (unfair) deal. Think of all the fixed-income, poverty-line little old ladies helping to subsidize the true cost per-viewer of all those men out their who pay less so that she can pay more.

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