In a potentially game-changing move for the TV business, Fox Corp., Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. Discovery are entering a joint venture that will make all of their sports content available in a single new streaming service.
The still-to-be-named service is expected to launch this fall, the companies announced Tuesday. Pricing for the service and a management team are also to be decided. Each entity will have a one-third stake in the venture.
The service will provide one-stop shopping for sports fans, giving them the ability to stream NFL games, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the NHL, the NBA and Major League Baseball, which represents a sampling of the media rights owned by the three partners. It will also provide the linear sports channels currently only available with a traditional pay TV subscription.
While no pricing was mentioned in the announcement, the channels involved make it likely that it will be competitive to streaming replacements for cable and satellite, such as YouTube TV and Sling.
All of ESPN’s channels will be offered on the service — making them available for the first time to consumers who don’t have traditional pay TV subscriptions. Fox, Fox Sports, ABC, TNT and truTV will also be included.
“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 Chief Executive 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.”
ESPN still plans to launch its own direct-to-consumer streaming product offering for its linear channels in 2025.
The announcement said the formation of the new service is “subject to the negotiation of definitive agreements among the parties.” It would also be available as an add-on to current streaming services Hulu, Max and Disney+.
The traditional broadcasters face increased competition from technology giants like Amazon and Google’s YouTube TV. Amazon has rights to Thursday night NFL football games and YouTube TV took over the once popular Sunday Ticket from DirecTV. Amazon is also investing in Diamond Sports, which is currently in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in Texas.
Disney has previously said it was looking for a strategic partner for ESPN, and has been in talks with the NFL about taking a stake.
Warner Bros. Discovery has been struggling to contain its mountain of debt, and also hold onto its college and professional basketball rights as well as Major League Baseball.
Fox currently has one of the strongest sports portfolios but it has been more restrained in its streaming ambitions, instead focusing energy on the free service, Tubi.
The move comes amid a sharp escalation in sports media rights fees, only expected to become more pronounced with the looming NBA contract renewal, which is expected to stretch the wallets of the legacy companies.