Some breaking news Tuesday could change the way sports fans view sports. That’s not hyperbole.
Disney, Fox Corp., and Warner Bros. Discovery are starting a joint streaming platform that will make all of their sports programming available under one roof. That means subscribers to this new service will be able to access all of the sports programming from ABC, Fox, the entire slate of ESPN’s networks, as well ESPN+, and sporting events from cable channels such as FS1, TNT, TBS, the Big Ten and SEC Networks and so many more. The result would be hundreds of hours of games and programming from the four major sports leagues — NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL — as well as other pro sports and major college sports.
It is expected to launch in the fall. Pricing has yet to be determined, although CNBC’s Alex Sherman reported a source told him that a “logical starting point could be $45 or $50 per month.” The three companies will each own an equal third. In a statement, the companies said, “The service would have a new brand with an independent management team.”
In addition, subscribers would also have the ability to bundle the product with the companies’ streaming platforms, Disney+, Hulu and Max.
So let me get this straight: A bunch of networks are getting together to combine forces under one application for one price? Gee, this sounds a lot like … cable.
The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch tweeted, “Welcome to cable, 2024-style.”
ESPN “SportsCenter” anchor Scott Van Pelt tweeted, “This is what inevitably will happen. All this streaming and having to toggle back and forth on apps – which ends up costing more money when you add it all up – people are going to be like, can’t we just watch all this (stuff) in one place? You can. Well – you could. It was cable.”
And The Big Lead’s Kyle Koster might have said it best of all when he tweeted, “They’ve worked very hard to kill cable so they can just invent cable again at twice the cost and hassle.”
Still, this is a big deal for those who have cut the cable cord.
Variety’s Brian Steinberg wrote, “The concentration of top sports under one roof would be significant. Between them, ESPN and Warner have most rights to the NHL and the NBA, while Fox, Warner and ESPN control at present the majority of rights to Major League Baseball. Only the NFL would enjoy a large presence with entities that are not a part of the joint venture, with ‘Sunday Night Football’ at NBCUniversal, ‘Thursday Night Football’ at Amazon and a Sunday afternoon game at CBS.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint and Isabella Simonetti reported that talks about this unique merger started about four months ago when Disney CEO Bob Iger and ESPN boss Jimmy Pitaro began focusing on bundling their product with other media companies’ sports products. Iger reached out to Fox’s CEO Lachlan Murdoch, who had been having similar conversations with Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav.
There will be much more on this in the coming days and weeks, but a couple of items worth mentioning.
This does not mean cable subscribers will have to get this new bundle to watch sports. Those who get cable will still get ESPN, TNT, TBS and so on.
The other part of this is that ESPN has been exploring the idea of having its own direct-to-consumer app. Sherman reported that he has been told this new deal does not mean ESPN is moving away from the idea of direct-to-consumer service. They are still researching that.
This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.