ESPN, Fox, Warner Bros. Discovery announce

In a major move for streaming TV, three of the largest media companies are teaming up for a joint venture that will offer access to every major-league sport and several others.

Disney’s ESPN, Fox Corp.’s Fox Sports and Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT, TBS and other networks will offer a comprehensive package this fall that includes NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL games. You won’t be able to watch every game, but It’s an appealing bundle for cable cord-cutters who are sports fans.

Each company will own a third of the service, which does not yet have a name, pricing information or a specific launch date, and is subject to finalizing agreements. But it’s a further acknowledgment of the splintering of the cable bundle as more consumers gravitate to streaming. NFL games consistently top Nielsen ratings, and for several years professional sports have led other live programming as a key to preserving the cable-TV ecosystem, which has lost more than 25% of its subscriber base over the last several years.

The new service will also have its own dedicated management team separate from its owners, the companies said in a statement.

Analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson called the deal the streaming “bundle we’ve been waiting for,” and said in a report Tuesday that it marked “the ultimate play to take ownership of their own sports destinies, foregoing their reliance on the current distribution system.”

“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,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger, in a statement. Disney has been mulling plans to create a standalone ESPN streaming service (the current ESPN+ lacks rights to major sports), and the new agreement does not appear to prevent it from doing so in the future.

“We’re pumped to bring the Fox Sports portfolio to this new and exciting platform,” said Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch, in a statement. “We believe the service will provide passionate fans outside of the traditional bundle an array of amazing sports content all in one place.”   

YouTube already offers the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package, which streams out-of-market games to YouTube live TV subscribers for about $200 extra per season, depending on discounts. But subscribers can’t watch their local teams.

What sports are included in the new sports streaming service?

In addition to the Big 4 ― NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL ― the service will feature NASCAR auto racing, UFC, PGA Tour golf, Grand Slam tennis, the FIFA World Cup and several college sports, among others.

Which channels will be featured in the sports streaming service?

Subscribers will have access to all the broadcast and cable channels owned by each of the companies that feature sports: For Disney, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SECN, ACCN, ESPNEWS and ABC. For Fox Corp., Fox, FS1, FS2 and the Big 10 Network. And for Warner Bros. Discovery, TNT, TBS, truTV. Disney’s ESPN+, a standalone streaming service with 26 million subscribers, will also be part of the new entity, though it lacks rights to major sports and is often bundled with Disney+ and Hulu. Not included: Paramount Global’s CBS Sports, which carries most NFL AFC conference games, and Comcast, whose NBC network airs “Sunday Night Football” and owns the No. 2 cable system. Both already stream their NFL games on Paramount+ and Peacock, respectively, while the new joint venture partners do not.

How much will the streaming service cost?

The companies have not announced any pricing plans, but said the new service will be offered in bundles with existing streaming services they own, including Max, Disney+ and Hulu. Fox has no current subscription-based service.

Will the new service have commercials?

Of course! Ad revenue, along with subscription income, is a key to securing profits as sports rights escalate. Other streamers that carry sports, such as Amazon Prime (“Thursday Night Football”) and Apple TV+ (Friday night MLB games and Major League Soccer) have included commercials even when the rest of their programming hasn’t.

Will cable TV systems suffer?

Most definitely. The ability to stream major sports, all in one place, knocks down one of the last major pillars of cable, removing one of the last reasons to pay steep monthly fees to buy a package of channels that many subscribers don’t watch. But the growing number of streaming services can also approach the cost of cable when purchased separately.

You’d still need cable or a broadcast antenna to watch news coverage, local stations, syndicated programming and some entertainment programming like awards shows that aren’t streamed live.

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