Liberty Media's Malone sees Disney possibly spinning off ESPN

Malone: I see split of Disney, ESPN spun off
Malone: I see split of Disney, ESPN spun off

Content distribution giant Disney is being held back from its full potential by ESPN and may consider spinning off the sports broadcast network, Liberty Media Chairman John Malone told CNBC on Thursday.

"If I had to guess, what you will see is a split of Disney with ESPN spun off and, probably, ESPN could be owned and protected by a distributor in the U.S.," Malone said.

ESPN has become something of a hindrance to Disney, Malone said, as the sports network has grown more costly over the years.

"In order to solve the issue of having to pay more every time the contract comes up, they went long," Malone said, referring to Disney's expectation that ESPN would become more profitable in the future.

"At the moment, that looks adverse," Malone added.

Malone speculated that Apple might become interested in taking over Disney if the latter were to separate itself from ESPN.

"Fundamentally, Tim Cook is a global player, and fundamentally, ESPN is a domestic service," Malone said, adding that Apple would have a lot more in common with a Disney without ESPN in terms of both brands' global reach.

Malone admitted that his views are more speculative than predictive. "When these tectonic plates start moving, it's just fun to speculate, because we're just the little guys now," he said.

The media executive said he would be interested to see Facebook's development over the next several years, especially with regards to whether the social media giant decides to compete in the content space.

"With his massive reach, at what point is [Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg] going to want to step into this video space in a meaningful way?" Malone asked. "I'm not saying he has to produce content, but it may make sense for him to own some."

Disney, Apple and Facebook did not immediately respond to CNBC's requests for comment.