The appeal of live sports on streaming platforms has just culminated in a collaboration among three media giants. The Walt Disney Company (DIS), Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) and FOX (FOXA) Corp. announced yesterday (Feb. 6) they will be forming a joint streaming service dedicated to live sports. The platform will include each of the three companies’ existing live sports linear channels, including Disney’s ESPN, Fox’s FS1 and FS2, and WBD’s TNT along with the streamer ESPN+.
Disney CEO Bob Iger, Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch and WBD CEO David Zaslav released a joint statement calling the deal exciting and significant. According to the release, each company will own one third of the platform, and the service will have an independent brand and its own management team.
“At WBD, our ambition is always to connect our leading content and brands with as many viewers as possible,” Zaslav said in a statement. “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.”
Disney’s Iger made an early bet on streaming live sports with the launch of ESPN+ in 2018. He said on an earnings call this time last year that the service was growing nicely for the company. But Disney’s linear channel ESPN was problematic and one of the many factors causing Disney’s financial strife last year to the point where the company considered selling it off but ended up keeping it. Now it will have a new home on the joint venture with WBD and Fox.
Investing in live sports seems to be a breeding ground for the streaming wars. Netflix (NFLX) launched its first live sports tournament, The Netflix Cup, last year, in partnership with the PGA and Formula 1. Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos was previously hesitant about adding sports programming to the platform, apparently unsure how to make it profitable. Though the company was later to live sports streaming than others, the decision showed a shift in attitudes among the most resisting players in the industry.
Amazon (AMZN) is also shifting its focus to live sports. Last month, the company laid off “several hundred” of its Prime Video and MGM Studios staff to make room for more live sports programming in the future.
Comcast (CMCSA) and NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock also recently reported that its live sports programming was growing. In January alone, almost three million new subscribers signed up for Peacock to watch the NFL’s AFC Wild Card playoff between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins. Peacock also streams huge international sports events and franchises, such as the Olympics and English Premier League.