The world of sports media is about to get a massive new player.
Disney, Fox Corp. and Warner Bros. Discovery are planning to a launch a new streaming joint venture that will make all of their sports programming — including ESPN, Fox Sports and TNT — available under a single service, according to Variety.
The streaming service will reportedly launch in the fall and will be equally co-owned by each of the three companies. Subscribers will reportedly be offered a list of networks including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SECN, ACCN, ESPNEWS, ABC, Fox, FS1, FS2, BTN, TNT, TBS, truTV and ESPN+. The service, not unlike a sports-only cable subscription, will also include hundreds of hours of NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and college sports content.
The price of the mega-service remains to be announced. It will also be available to ESPN+, Hulu and Max subscribers as part of a bundle, per the Wall Street Journal.
“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.”
The new company will be structured as a new brand with an independent management team, with each of its co-owners non-exclusively licensing its sports content, so ESPN content will still be available elsewhere.
ESPN-Fox-TNT sports streaming service could turn cable television upside down
The ramifications of this initiative in both the sports and television world are enormous. Much of the modern cable television industry owes its existence to the allure of live sports, with the networks offering those able to demand massive carriage fees in return.
This new service will give the cable subscribers who pay only for sports a chance to cut the cord and lose very little, though we’ll see how much this whole thing ends up costing.
Between Disney, Fox and Warner Bros., the companies own at least some of the national media rights for all of the major sports leagues. MLB is mostly tied to Fox and ESPN. NBA games are nationally broadcasted on TNT and ABC/ESPN. The NHL has the same combination. Fox has a share of Big Ten football games. ESPN has the SEC. Fox and ESPN both have a share of the NFL.
CBS, which has NFL Sunday afternoon games and March Madness, and NBC, which has the NFL’s “Sunday Night Football” and the Olympics, are the major networks left out here, but cable cutters could still access their biggest games through over-the-air antennas.
Other big properties had already moved to streaming exclusively, such as the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” with Prime Video and Major League Soccer with Apple TV+.
This streaming service could have repercussions for the sports leagues as well, given that some of the biggest companies that typically bid for their billion-dollar media rights will soon be in business with each other. The NBA has a media rights negotiation coming up for seasons after 2024-25 and already knows that a deal with either of its two current partners will land on the service.