In a blockbuster agreement that Disney CEO Bob Iger says is “an important step forward for the media business,” The Walt Disney Co., Fox Corp. and Warner Bros. Discovery will team up on a new company that combines streaming sports rights.
The untitled streaming platform will offer live linear channels like ESPN, ABC, Fox, TNT and TBS, and games and other sports rights from all three media giants on a nonexclusive basis (meaning they will still be able to launch their own offerings). The service will be available directly to consumers, but will also be available as a bundle with WBD’s Max, Disney’s ESPN+ and Hulu. Pricing is still TBD, but it is expected to launch in the fall, in time for the NFL season.
More from The Hollywood Reporter
The three companies will each own one-third of the new venture, which will have its own brand and independent management team. The deal is contingent on the parties coming to terms on a final agreement, though they have one in principle.
Notably, NBCUniversal and Paramount are not part of the new venture. NBC has Sunday Night Football NFL rights, college rights, as well as the Olympics, while Paramount’s CBS Sports has Sunday afternoon NFL games, live soccer and other college rights.
A source says that the new venture, while a major step forward, is not expected to impact ESPN’s plans to offer a direct-to-consumer “flagship” ESPN streaming service, but is meant to complement it. In some ways, the new venture is closer to something like a “skinny bundle” of streaming networks, one that is focused exclusively on channels with live sports, rather than entertainment.
The deal would create a streaming sports behemoth, with rights to the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, college football and NCAA March Madness basketball, the FIFA World Cup, three of the four Grand Slam tennis events, the UFC, Formula 1 and NASCAR.
It is also significant in that it will be the first time that Fox’s live sports are available in a streaming offering. Right now, in order to access Fox’s NFL, MLB or college sports rights, consumers would have to subscribe to cable TV or a virtual MVPD like YouTube TV.
Right now, Disney’s ESPN offers the ESPN+ streaming service with its own set of rights (and some simulcasts), but is planning a broader streaming version of the flagship ESPN product. WBD, meanwhile, includes its live sports in Max under the B/R Sports brand, and will flip that into a premium add-on in the coming months.
“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,” 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. 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.”
“We’re pumped to bring the Fox Sports portfolio to this new and exciting platform,” Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch added. “We believe the service will provide passionate fans outside of the traditional bundle an array of amazing sports content all in one place.”
“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,” WBD CEO David Zaslav added. “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.”
Best of The Hollywood Reporter