Warner Bros. Discovery, Fox, ESPN set to create massive sports streamer

All major sports will be represented in the as-yet unnamed service that would combine Atlanta-based TNT Sports offerings with other networks
Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) shoots from the field on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 during a game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Jason Allen for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Credit: Jason Allen

Credit: Jason Allen

Atlanta Hawks guard Dejounte Murray (5) shoots from the field on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 during a game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. (Jason Allen for the Atlanta Journal Constitution)

In a move that could upend an already rapidly shifting media landscape, three major media companies are teaming up to create a single sports-oriented streaming service.

Warner Bros. Discovery, Fox and ESPN will launch a new sports streaming company and each will have a one-third stake in the new venture, set to debut this fall. The Wall Street Journal first reported the plans and the companies confirmed the news late Tuesday.

Warner Bros. Discovery’s sports unit TNT Sports, formerly known as Turner Sports, is based in Atlanta with several hundred employees, but the implications of this new partnership on local operations aren’t clear.

The yet unnamed service will be available via an app and will be a bundle option for Disney+, Hulu and Max. Pricing has not been finalized.

Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch, in an earnings call Wednesday, said the new service is targeting younger people who have never subscribed to a pay TV service.

“There is no product serving the sports fans that are not within the cable TV bundle,” Murdoch said, noting that there are now more than 60 million U.S. households who are not in that cable and satellite world. “This is a very large market and a large opportunity that we can address without undermining the traditional bundle.”

Dan Rayburn, a New York-based streaming media expert and consultant, thinks the service will cost at least $40 a month with possible discounts to lure early adapters. But he said this doesn’t necessarily make life easier for sports fans.

“There are a lot of sports fans like me who only like one sport,” Rayburn said. “I like baseball. I don’t care about football or soccer or hockey. Why am I paying $30 to $50 a month for 12 months?”

Rayburn said this new sports streaming service lacks regional sports networks such as Bally Sports, which airs most Atlanta Hawks, United and Braves games in the Atlanta area. Murdoch said the service has no immediate plans to scoop up any of those regional sports networks or the two other major media companies that carry plenty of sports: Paramount Global’s CBS or Comcast’s NBCUniversal.

Atlanta Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell (24) catches the ball during warm-ups before the Falcons game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Dec. 10, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Cornerback A.J. Terrell cleared concussion protocol on Saturday and is slated to start.
Miguel Martinez/miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

What has kept many people attached to cable television has been live sports offerings. This new streaming option could lead to even more households cutting the cord.

The rights to broadcast sports, meanwhile, have surged in value as sports remains one of the more reliable sources of viewership. That’s pressured major networks to find the capital to pay up for those rights. The companies combining forces helps to spread that cost around, while allowing each, potentially, to pare costs through job cuts and other efficiencies.

In recent months, Disney, which owns ESPN, has been seeking a strategic partner for its landmark cable sports division.

Inside the NBA studio crew, from left, Shaquille O'Neal, Ernie Johnson, Kenny "The Jet" Smith and Charles Barkley. (Edward M. Pio Roda/Turner Sports/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT Sports has rights to games from the NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball, college basketball, wrestling and e-sports, among others. TNT airs the popular “Inside the NBA” show as well as comparable NHL and baseball analysis shows, which are all produced in Atlanta. TNT Sports also includes NBA TV, MLB Network and Bleacher Report.

Both Fox Corp. and Disney, which also owns ABC, have rights to air NFL games and other major sports.

Both ESPN and TNT Sports are negotiating new deals with the NBA, which is considered one of the most valuable sports properties. The current contracts, signed in 2014, runs through the end of the 2024-25 season. That deal is worth about $2.6 billion a year to the NBA.

The New York Times, citing unnamed sources last fall, said the NBA hopes to at least double that amount in a new deal.

While most major sporting events have remained on broadcast and cable TV, streaming services have started wedging their way in. Amazon now air NFL “Thursday Night Football” games. Peacock aired a major NFL playoff game last month. Apple TV+ exclusively airs some Friday night baseball games.

In December, 35.9% of TV viewing was streaming, followed by cable at 28.2% and broadcast at 23.5%, according to Nielsen’s Gauge.

How this impacts local sports teams

This upcoming new streaming service won’t immediately have any major impact on most local sports teams on TV. Cable TV’s Bally Sports, for instance, currently carries nearly all Atlanta Braves, Hawks and United games for metro users. (Peachtree TV on broadcast TV recently started airing Hawks games on Friday nights.) Falcons games are scattered all over the place, depending on the week and night of the week. including NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN/ABC and Amazon. College sports, including college football, is broadcast by many different networks, including ABC, CBS, ESPN, NBC, Fox and conference-specific channels such as SEC Network.