ESPN, Fox, Warner Bros. Discovery plan to launch new sports streaming service

Arrival puts Peacock, Paramount Plus, YouTubeTV on notice

In huge sports media news, three major media companies – The Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros. Discovery, and Fox Corporation are teaming up to launch a brand-new sports streaming service likely to launch this fall – perhaps just in time for the NFL season. The news broke on CNBC this afternoon.

No launch date was announced, and no pricing point was set. But the new proposed service could be a game changer as it brings together a lot of sports properties under one app for one price. Disney owns ESPN and its family of networks; Warner owns TNT and TBS; and Fox owns FS1, FS2, and part of the Big Ten Network.

The platform will cover all the major sports leagues – Warner and ESPN each have rights to the MLB, NBA, and NHL; Fox has MLB and the NFL; and Disney has rights to all major sports leagues, plus the WNBA and the new United Football League, whose games will also air on Fox. It’ll also include programming from fifteen linear cable networks all three have an outright ownership or a stake in. These include ESPN, SEC Network, NBA TV, and more.

And subscribers to the three conglomerates’ streaming services – Disney Plus, Max, Hulu, etc. would have credentials to stream the service.

“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,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “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.”

“We believe the service will provide passionate fans outside of the traditional bundle an array of amazing sports content all in one place,” Fox CEO and Executive Chair Lachlan Murdoch said in a separate statement.

The news comes as both Disney and Warner are looking to renew their current NBA rights deal, which expires at the end of next season.

The new joint venture wouldn’t affect ESPN’s plans to offer a direct-to-consumer version set to launch next year or its ESPN Plus service, nor Warner’s Bleacher Report, who makes TNT and TBS sports fare available on its app. Even though Fox owns Tubi, it doesn’t stream live sports on the service, but does make Fox Sports programming available to for those who have cable and satellite subscriptions.

But there’s another angle to this – the new streaming product is targeting sports fans of course, but chatter on X (nee Twitter) suggested the new virtual multiple video programming distributor (known as vMVPD) could be a future competitor to YouTube TV as a majority of its users watches sports. Local broadcasters aren’t happy with vMVPDs such as YouTubeTV and Hulu + Live TV, as they don’t receive the same kind of retransmission consent revenue they do from cable and satellite companies as the major networks negotiate on their behalf as vMVPDs are not designated as such. It’s not known if local stations would be a part of this new service as ABC and Fox has more than 200 affiliates, and their live, linear networks – sports and general entertainment programming – is.

Earlier today, YouTubeTV announced it has surpassed eight million subscribers (disclaimer: the person writing this blog is now a YouTubeTV subscriber, switching from DirecTV last month.)

Two others who could be affected are Comcast (owners of NBC) and Paramount Global (owners of CBS). Both offer streaming services Peacock and Paramount Plus, both offer a lot of sports including the NFL. Comcast still owns traditional cable systems and has been battling cord-cutting, leading to lost revenues. The future of Paramount Global is uncertain, as the company is likely to be sold within the next year as it is floundering.

The new service itself didn’t escape scorn on X as a lot of posters compared it to the cable TV bundle.

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