scorecardESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros are launching a new sports streaming service. It could change TV forever.
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ESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros are launching a new sports streaming service. It could change TV forever.

Peter Kafka   

ESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros are launching a new sports streaming service. It could change TV forever.
Tech4 min read
  • ESPN, Warner Bros., and Fox will launch a new streaming service for sports.
  • It's set to launch this fall, but we still don't know how much it will cost.

Take all the sports that run on ESPN and ABC. Add all the sports that run on Fox. And all of the sports that run on TNT and TBS.

Now combine them on one streaming service.

That's what's coming this fall, via a new joint venture, co-owned by Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Fox Corp.

We still don't know some crucial details — including how much this thing is going to cost consumers when it launches.

But it's a very big deal: For many people, sports — and specifically, NFL football — are the main reason to watch and pay for conventional TV. Now a huge swath of that will be available as a stand-alone streaming product. If it takes off, it will reorder the TV landscape.

Worth noting: Paramount's CBS and Comcast's NBC are not members of this joint venture, and both of those companies have significant NFL contracts as well as other major sports; CBS, for instance, shares the rights to college basketball's March Madness tournament.

So this service — name TBD, as well as the management team that will run it — won't be a full replacement for sports fans.

But it's going to be a significant change from the past, when TV networks kept their most valuable sports programming on their linear networks, even as they tried to build up their streaming options.

People who are already watching sports on Disney-owned ESPN and the other channels that are joining the joint venture won't lose access to those games, which will stay on the linear channels.

And a person familiar with Disney's plans says the company still intends to go forward with its plan to sell a stand-alone streaming version of ESPN.

It's worth noting that all three TV giants have tried a version of a streaming joint venture before. Fox was a founding member of Hulu when that service launched in 2007, and Disney later joined the consortium as an equal partner.

The company that was formerly known as Time Warner, which is now part of Warner Bros. Discovery, also joined Hulu at one point.

And one thing we learned from that joint venture was that big TV networks often have competing interests that can make maintaining that kind of structure a touch-and-go affair.

But the big picture is this: Sports is the last major thing keeping traditional TV alive.

Now the three of the biggest players in TV are going try a very tricky balancing act — putting some of their most valuable, most expensive programming on a separate service while hoping that enough audience sticks with their existing channels to keep them going at the same time.

It's a fascinating, high-stakes bet.

The companies announced the new service with this press release:

ESPN, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, FOX and Warner Bros. Discovery have reached an understanding on principal terms to form a new Joint Venture (JV) to build an innovative new platform to house a compelling streaming sports service. The platform brings together the companies' portfolios of sports networks, certain direct-to-consumer (DTC) sports services and sports rights — including content from all the major professional sports leagues and college sports. The formation of the pay service is subject to the negotiation of definitive agreements amongst the parties. The offering, scheduled to launch in the fall of 2024, would be made available directly to consumers via a new app. Subscribers would also have the ability to bundle the product, including with Disney+, Hulu and/or Max.
The platform would aggregate content to offer fans an extensive, dynamic lineup of sports content, aiming to provide a new and differentiated experience to serve sports fans, particularly those outside of the traditional pay TV bundle.
By subscribing to this focused, all-in-one premier sports service, fans would have access to the linear sports networks including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SECN, ACCN, ESPNEWS, ABC, FOX, FS1, FS2, BTN, TNT, TBS, truTV, as well as ESPN+.
Key Highlights:
  • ESPN, FOX and Warner Bros. Discovery would form a new joint venture to develop, launch and operate a streaming sports bundle of linear networks and certain DTC sports content and services.
  • Each entity would own one-third of the JV, have equal board representation and license their sports content to the joint venture on a non-exclusive basis.
  • The service would have a new brand with an independent management team.
Bob Iger, Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company 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 Chief Executive Officer 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, Chief Executive Officer of Warner Bros. Discovery, said "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."
More details, including pricing, will be announced at a later date.