Fox, ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery are joining forces to create a new streaming platform using their vast sports assets to compete with Amazon and Apple in a stunning move that changes the landscape for how fans watch their favorite teams.
The three media giants announced Tuesday that the yet-to-be named, stand-alone service will launch in the fall and be available to ESPN+, Hulu and Max subscribers.
Each company – which between them owns the rights to all the major sports leagues and the top college conferences – will own a third of the new service and their content will be licensed to it on a non-exclusive basis.
The move comes as the price of sports rights skyrocket and traditional media companies grapple with the migration of their last TV cash cow — which generates strong and steady viewership, and with it advertising dollars — to streaming giants vying to get a larger piece of the pie. Even Netflix recently signed a 10-year, $5 billion deal to be the exclusive home of World Wrestling Entertainment.
The three companies have been in talks for six months with the primary purpose of trying to lure back sports fans that have already cut the cord.
“We’re pumped to bring the FOX Sports portfolio to this new and exciting platform,” said Lachlan Murdoch, Executive Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Fox Corp. “We believe the service will provide passionate fans outside of the traditional bundle an array of amazing sports content all in one place.”
Disney CEO Bob Iger added: “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. 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.”
David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, said: “ This new sports service exemplifies our ability as an industry to drive innovation and provide consumers with more choice, enjoyment and value.”
The new service will offer a massive trove of sports content under one roof, including from Disney-owned networks such as ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SECN, BTN, ACCN, ESPNEWS. Fox, and ESPN, provide rights to the biggest prize, NFL games, along with Major League Baseball – as well as content from cable channels FS1 and FS2.
Warner Bros. Discovery offers NBA and NHL content through TNT, along with college basketball’s March Madness, which also airs on TBS and TruTV, and rights to European soccer tournaments like the Champions League.
The networks also own rights to golf, tennis, NASCAR and Formula 1.
Pricing will be announced at a later date, the companies said, though it is expected to be significantly lower than the typical cable sports package, which can top $100 a month.
Subscribers will also have the ability to bundle the product with Disney+, Hulu and Max, among others.
The big announcement comes as Disney has been looking at strategic alternatives for ESPN, which has suffered an eroding cable subscriber base.
Disney has been in talks with various sports leagues, including the NFL, about taking a stake in ESPN.
As for Fox, the company has resisted putting its sports content on streaming platforms. Murdoch denied in November that he would put Fox’s sports content on its streaming hub Tubi, saying: “We don’t envisage having significant live sports on Tubi.”
Meanwhile, WBD is poised to launch a pay tier on its Max streaming platform devoted to sports under the Bleacher Report brand, which broadcasts content from TBS, TNT and truTV, and is currently being offered free on Max under a trial run.