Connected TV

The Stream Dream Team: Companies Unite For Ultimate Sports Service

Fox, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Disney threaten to shake up sports programming forever

The Stream Dream Team: Companies Unite For Ultimate Sports Service

4 Min Read

In the spring of 1967, the first Super Bowl, then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, was held. The game was simulcast across NBC and CBS, who both used the same video feed but featured different announcers. Things were fine until the second half kicked off. While CBS was airing the game live, NBC was still in a commercial break. As a result, the ball was ruled dead while it was still in the air, and the kickoff was repeated once NBC was back. 

This was the first and last time any NFL game — championship or not — would ever air on two networks until 2007. It still remains the only Super Bowl to have aired simultaneously on two channels. Today, the television rights for the Super Bowl alternate between three competing networks, giving each the chance to air one of the most-watched primetime programs every three years. Networks, and lately streaming services, compete to outbid each other on exclusive programming rights to nightly and weekend games. 

But whether it’s opening night or the championship game, you have to turn to a specific channel, buy a cable package, or have a streaming subscription to watch the games you want. Three mega media companies are teaming up to change that forever. 

Welcome to the new wide world of sports. 

Championship CTV

Last week, just days away from the Super Bowl, NFL executives were in Vegas preparing for the game when they received a bombshell: Disney, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery are teaming up to create a new streaming service to offer all their live-sports programming. The product will contain 14 networks at the start, including Disney’s ESPN programming, Fox and its portfolio of affiliates, and Warner Bros. Discovery’s cablers. Its goal: to become the ultimate destination hub for sports fans. 

The NFL itself, a behemoth of an organization that’s used to having a seat at the negotiating table, was surprisingly cut out of the loop. And it wasn’t just the NFL. Professional sports leagues and teams including the NBA were kept in the dark, many of them not learning about the news until the Wall Street Journal broke the story. The lack of coordination, intentional or not, is a telling sign: these companies are scrambling to figure out a new business model that can work in the streaming economy — fast and at any cost. 

Professional Sports Gambling

The trio’s plans for the ultimate sports streaming service is a risk. There are obvious high-financial stakes in play, considering that the networks pay billions of dollars annually for the most valuable rights. Sports leagues are also used to having complete control and want to be involved in any shifts in business strategy. And, of course, they want to negotiate the best financial deal. But the media companies involved say this is strictly about creating a new sports streaming bundle — and they’re not looking to negotiate new rights deals. They also claim that this new venture won’t run afoul of their current agreements with sports leagues and linear pay-television distributors.

The leagues aren’t thrilled at the moment — and, unsurprisingly, neither are other streaming or broadcast networks. FuboTV, which has its own sports streaming service, quickly released a statement questioning the intent on the new business and its impact on fair market competition. Other programmers, including Comcast’s NBC, Amazon Prime Video, Paramount Global’s CBS, and AppleTV+, are left out — and a Fox Executive has already said they don’t plan on bringing in additional partners. Key players left out of this lucrative opportunity could raise antitrust concerns or bring the case to court, but so far it’s unclear whether that will happen.  

Coming for Linear TV’s Ring

Despite streaming’s success, there have been two key markets where linear TV still bests its digital successors: news and sports. Sports is currently the most popular programming on broadcast TV, taking up 61 of the top 100 most-watched primetime broadcasts. According to research firm MoffetNathanson, most of the audiences abandoning linear TV for CTV “appear to be consumers who aren’t classified as sports viewers.”

The aggressive move by Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Fox could be a watershed moment that will change all of that — potentially undercutting linear TV’s domain over sports for good. It’s just one more sign that Connected TV’s influence is continuing to climb and reshape the entire media landscape. Ten years from now, sports bars might buy subscriptions to this service and stream games all weekend from one centralized location. (Better ensure that wifi is protected!) 

The service won’t arrive unchallenged — sports on streaming does have a giant head start, specifically on YouTube TV. CEO Neal Mohan announced last week that the service has broken 8 million subscribers, making it “far and away the biggest internet-streaming subscription TV service in the country,” according to Variety. The secret to their success? YouTube’s exclusive claim of the NFL Sunday Ticket, which reportedly brought in 1.3 million subscriptions last year alone.

Other CTV News You Need to Know: