CONTRIBUTOR
Contributing Writer,

A new sports streaming venture will debut this fall, offering customers who don’t subscribe to paid TV a way to watch their favorite sports. While the evolution from paid TV to numerous streaming platform options has digitally transformed media in many positive ways, there is much to consider in regard to this recent announcement.

Disney, Fox Corporation and Warner Bros. Discovery unveiled their partnership in February, and since then have been hard at work putting the pieces in place for their vision to reshape the landscape of sports streaming. The service does not yet have a name or a specific launch date, or a subscription price, although there is a nickname floating around, Spulu, a play on the word “sports” and the streaming service Hulu. Also, analysts predict that the price will be in the area of $40 to $50 monthly.

“Think of it as Hulu, but for sports,” said Robbie Baxter, a nationally recognized analyst in the world of subscription services, in an interview with Techstrong.

According to Fox Corp., the new platform, will bring together the companies’ portfolios of sports networks and certain portions of their direct-to-consumer (DTC) sports services – including content from all the major professional sports leagues and college sports.

“The sports streaming offering, scheduled to launch in the fall of 2024, will be made available directly to consumers via a new app. Subscribers would also have the ability to bundle the product, including with Disney+, Hulu and/or Max. The platform would aggregate content to offer fans an extensive, dynamic lineup of sports content, aiming to provide a new and differentiated experience to serve sports fans, particularly those outside of the traditional pay TV bundle. By subscribing to this focused, all-in-one premier sports service, fans would have access to the linear sports networks including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SECN, ACCN, ESPNEWS, ABC, FOX, FS1, FS2, BTN, TNT, TBS, truTV as well as ESPN+.”

On May 2, 2024, the partners in the joint venture announced that it has put in place the person who will head up its communications team, Disney veteran Jessica Casano-Antonellis. She will serve as the senior VP of communications, officially, and will report directly to CEO Pete Distad.  He was named to that position on March 15, 2024, after having served as an executive at Apple, and also Hulu.

“Jessica’s extensive experience in the direct-to-consumer streaming space makes her the perfect fit for this role,” Distad said in a press release. “Her track record of navigating complex global launches and leading transformational narratives for notable brands positions her as a trusted advisor as we embark on this exciting journey.”

Casano-Antonellis said in the same press release, “It’s a privilege to join Pete at this stage in the joint venture’s development and to be part of building something destined to delight sports fans. It’s rare to get the opportunity to come in at the ground floor, and I can’t wait to get to work bringing the new streaming service to market this fall.”

But even as the joint venture takes shape, there is serious pushback to the idea, led by would-be competitors, including FuboTV Inc., DIRECTV, Dish Network, Newsmax, Inc. and other entities.

In a letter addressed to the ranking members of various congressional committees, such as the Senate Commerce Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the House Judiciary Committee, the undersigned urged them to hold hearings on the upstart streaming venture.

“We are writing to urge your Committees to hold hearings on the future of competition in pay-tv. Recent developments in the Pay-Tv market – including the programming giants’ new joint venture (“JV”), a streaming TV service that would control 80% of national live sports broadcasts – raise serious competition concerns that call for Congress’s immediate oversight.”

“The JV between Disney, Fox and Warner is expected to launch this fall, in time for the next NFL and college football seasons. In addition to controlling 80% of all national live sports broadcasts, the JV will control approximately 55% of all live sports (regional and national). We cannot think of any scenario in the history of the United States where consumer interests have been served when such an important industry – here, access to live sports – is effectively controlled by three programming giants which decided to combine forces instead of competing against each other.”

“Worse yet, these same programming giants enforce anticompetitive and inflationary contract restrictions on distributors that will insulate the JV’s streaming service from head-to-head competition because these contract restrictions prohibit competing distributors from offering consumers their own “skinny,” live sports bundle. However one measures it, the JV will eventually dominate the distribution market for live sports and will drive out competition, leaving consumers captive to the JV for live sports – unless Congress and regulators intervene.”

On February 20, 2024, Fubo filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, a lawsuit against the JV,  stating that “The Defendant television conglomerates have long been engaged in a multifaceted campaign to frustrate Fubo’s innovative sports-first streaming business, resulting in the extreme suppression of competition in the U.S. sports-focused streaming market and significant harm to both Fubo and consumers.”

There has already been some fallout.

Fubo claims it recently attempted to renew its contract with Warner Brothers Discovery “for its networks including Discovery, HGTV, Food Network and TLC, among others, and to obtain license rights for its Turner sports networks TNT, TBS and truTV.”

Fubo says in a press released that it “offered Warner Brothers Discovery market rates for its content and, despite Fubo’s efforts to negotiate in good faith, Warner Brothers Discovery did not provide any counteroffer, and insisted on continuing to offer us above-market rates for its content. Fubo views Warner Brothers Discovery’s refusal to engage in good faith negotiations as another example of its abuse of massive market power that ultimately limits consumer choice.”

“It is clear to us that Warner Bros. Discovery’s actions hurt consumer wallets and limit their choices. As a result, Warner Bros. Discovery networks have left Fubo as of April 30, 2024 at 5pm ET.”

Ms. Baxter said there are a lot of variables to consider in terms of how the JV will affect the sector. “There are a lot of questions that people are asking about this, such as what it means for cable, what it means for the leagues, what it means for the tech companies such as Apple, Amazon Prime, Netflix, because they’re also getting into sports.  Is it good for consumers? And also, there’s a big question about whether this group will then bid together, like when the NBA contracts come due, as joint ventures, that instead of competing against each other and bumping up the price, there’s just one big sports streaming entity that puts in their bid. Depending on how that works out, it could be particularly bad for the leagues. There’s a million directions this could go…”