Station group supports new ESPN-Fox-WBD sports streaming service


Questionable if others are on board; cable group opposes effort

With the surprise announcement of a new sports streaming service this week involving three big media conglomerates, reaction is pouring in and as expected, it’s mixed.

Local station broadcaster Gray Television said it would support the new planned effort between Fox, Disney-owned ESPN/ABC, and Warner Bros. Discovery under one condition – if it paid their affiliates fairly.

“Local affiliated stations not only carry nationally televised sports but also provide local sports coverage, local news and weather, local jobs and extensive community service,” officials at Gray Television told The Desk, who first reported this item. “We believe that including ABC and Fox stations in a new virtual multichannel video programming service could offer benefits to viewers, their local communities, and local broadcasters.”

Founded in 1946 and based in Atlanta, Gray owns and/or operates 180 stations nationwide in 113 markets as in Illinois, Gray owns CBS affiliate WIFR Rockford and downstate, owns NBC affiliates WGEM Quincy and WEEK Peoria. In recent years, Gray purchased the former Raycom, Meredith, and Quincy Newspapers chains to expand their reach. Of the stations Gray owns, a third are either ABC or Fox affiliates, whose respective networks plan to be part of this new streaming platform.

The new service is a virtual multiple video programming distributor – or vMVPD for short – whose main competition would be YouTubeTV and Fubo, whose shares dropped 25 percent in trading Wednesday. Since vMVPDs are not classified as cable or satellite providers, the major networks handle retransmission consent negotiations on their behalf. Local stations want Washington to re-classify vMVPDs as cable companies to get the same kind of payments they do from them, but any kind of help is currently bogged down under the usual partisan bickering.

In Chicago, Disney’s ABC owns WLS-TV and Fox owns WFLD-TV and WPWR-TV so all three local stations as O&Os would be part of the new sports streaming service as is linear cable networks owned by the three companies (with the possible exception of Fox News and Fox Business, who are under separate deals with most cable and satellite providers apart from Fox itself)

Meanwhile, lobbying group American Cable Association, or ACA Connects, is against the proposed service saying it would hurt smaller cable companies who serve smaller, rural areas as it would convince customers to cut the cord for the cheaper options. Cable companies fear the new collaboration would further erode subscriptions and accelerate cord-cutting since two of the country’s biggest operators (Comcast and Charter) already lost more than a million customers combined. Existing Disney Plus, ESPN Plus, and Max subscribers would have access to the new planned service.

So far, Gray is the only broadcast group who’ve spoken on record regarding the new Disney-Warner-Fox service as others – Nexstar, Sinclair, Tegna, Hearst, etc. have yet to comment given all own a significant number of ABC and Fox affiliates – but their reaction would be interesting, to say the least.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *