Photographer: Chris Ware/Bloomberg

ESPN Subscribers Drop to 14-Year Low, Putting Pressure on Disney

ESPN lost 2 million subscribers last fiscal year, underscoring the challenge owner Walt Disney Co. faces attracting young people who don’t pay for cable.

The network, one of the most watched on the cable dial, had 88 million U.S. subscribers at the end of September, including people paying for online versions, Disney said in its annual report Wednesday. That’s down from a peak of 100 million in 2010 and marks the lowest total since 2003.

To ensure the long-term future of one of its most profitable businesses, Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger is negotiating to include ESPN in new digital forms of pay TV, such as Sling TV and DirecTV Now. He’s also planning the rollout of an online-only ESPN subscription service that would include live games that aren’t available on the network’s regular channels.

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