Disney, Fox and Warner Bros Discovery to launch sport streaming service

Disney, Fox and Warner Bros Discovery to launch sport streaming service

Fox, Warner Bros Discovery and Disney sports broadcaster ESPN have unveiled plans to launch a joint venture streaming service this autumn.

The three companies announced on Tuesday night that they would launch an app. Subscribers would also have the ability to bundle the product, including with Disney+, Hulu and/or Max.

The platform would “aggregate content”, the companies said in a statement, to offer sport fans “a new and differentiated experience” outside the traditional pay-TV bundle.

By subscribing to one service — which has not yet been given a brand name — viewers would have access to linear sports networks including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SECN, ACCN, ESPNEWS, ABC, FOX, FS1, FS2, BTN, TNT, TBS, truTV, as well as ESPN+.

It will also include some direct-to-consumer sports content and services, but the companies did not specify the offering at this stage.

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On the one hand, it’s an extraordinary moment in global broadcasting that the US’s biggest broadcasters are collaborating in this way — not least within days of the Super Bowl being broadcast this weekend.

Live sport, alongside major news events, is one of the few linear TV formats that can still reliably bring in large ratings as audiences generally migrate to streaming and on-demand platforms.

It also would have been deemed unmanageable in a previous era due to competition concerns — whenever major players enter a merger, there is always the prospect of consumers being charged higher prices.

On the other hand, this joint venture is an obvious move for US legacy broadcasters to bulk up in the face of growing competition from Big Tech. Apple TV+ now broadcasts Major League Soccer, Netflix has just acquired rights to WWE wrestling and Amazon Prime Video streams a range of live ATP/WTA tennis, as well as a handful of Premier League football in the UK.

It’s also a recognition that sports rights are set to get even more costly in the coming years as the Big Tech players seek to justify charging higher subscription prices for their streaming services or introduce more advertising.

CEOs: ‘Important step forward for the media business’

Each of ESPN, Fox and WBD will own one-third of the joint venture, have equal board representation and license their sports content to the joint venture on a non-exclusive basis.

It will also have an independent management team, none of whom has yet been announced.

Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, said: “The launch of this new streaming sports service is a significant moment for Disney and ESPN, a major win for sports fans and an important step forward for the media business. This means the full suite of ESPN channels will be available to consumers alongside the sports programming of other industry leaders as part of a differentiated sports-centric service. I’m grateful to Jimmy Pitaro and the team at ESPN, who are at the forefront of innovating on behalf of consumers to create new offerings with more choice and greater value.”

Lachlan Murdoch, executive chair and CEO of Fox, said: “We’re pumped to bring the Fox Sports portfolio to this new and exciting platform. We believe the service will provide passionate fans outside of the traditional bundle an array of amazing sports content all in one place.”

David Zaslav, WBD’s CEO, added: “At WBD, our ambition is always to connect our leading content and brands with as many viewers as possible, and this exciting joint venture and the unparalleled combination of marquee sports rights and access to the greatest sporting events in the world allows us to do just that. This new sports service exemplifies our ability as an industry to drive innovation and provide consumers with more choice, enjoyment and value, and we’re thrilled to deliver it to sports fans.”

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