Disney’s ESPN, Fox, Warner Bros. Discovery team on JV for sports streaming service

Three major players are joining forces to deliver live pro and college sports via a new streaming app slated to launch in the U.S. this fall. On Tuesday Disney’s ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery announced reaching an understanding on principal terms to form a new joint venture that will see the partners build a direct-to-consumer streaming app that combines the companies’ sports networks, certain DTC sports services and sports rights.

According to the release, the parties still need to negotiate a definitive agreement.

That said, it would bring together sports assets of three media companies to aggregate content, including linear networks and DTC sports services, in an offering particularly targeting those outside of the traditional pay TV bundle. The preliminary agreement has all three companies working together to develop, launch and operate the streaming sports service, with each entity owning one-third of the JV and having equal board representation. It also said each entity would license their sports content to the joint venture on a non-exclusive basis. The yet-to-be-named app would have a new brand and independent management team.

Categorized as a “focused, all-in-one premier sports service,” subscribers would have access to a wide array of linear sports networks including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, SECN, ACCN, ESPNNews, ABC, Fox, FS1, FS2, BTN, TNT, TBS, trueTV, as well as ESPN+.  The partners said subscribers would also have the ability to bundle the app, including with Disney+, Hulu and/or WBD’s Max.

“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,” said Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, 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."

The new app could prove to be a boon for fans currently frustrated by the increasingly fragmented sports viewing experience and pricey pay TV bundles. However, how much the service costs will be key and hasn’t yet been disclosed. Details, including pricing, are expected at a later date.

At the jump, the partners said the streaming service will offer thousands of major sporting events including pro leagues NFL, NBA, WNBA, MLB, and NHL. It will also have an array of college sports spanning “thousands of games and events, multiple sports, across nearly two dozen conferences” including ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, SEC, 40 NCAA Championship events, NCAA Men’s & Women’s Basketball Tournaments and the College Football Playoff. Additionally it would have golf with the PGA Tour, PGA Championship, The Masters, TGL, as well as Grand Slam Tennis, Cycling, the FIFA World Cup and U.S. Soccer, UFC, and Formula 1, and NASCAR auto racing, among others.

“At WBD, our ambition is always to connect our leading content and brands with as many viewers as possible, 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,” said WBD CEO David Zaslav in a statement. “This new sports service exemplifies our ability as an industry to drive innovation and provide consumers with more choice, enjoyment and value and we’re thrilled to deliver it to sports fans.”

The move could also signal some shifts on the sports streaming front for all three companies. Disney leadership had previously said a flagship ESPN offering was inevitable  – separate from its existing ESPN+ app. That is still on track, with the JV sports offering serving in addition to a forthcoming ESPN flagship service. The release noted the service will bring together sports linear networks and the ESPN+ DTC service, as the existing ESPN app will be incorporated.  

WBD, meanwhile, has already taken a step towards live sports streaming with its Bleacher Report Sports add-on to Max, which launched last fall at no extra cost for a limited time. The B/R Sports add-on is supposed to get a $9.99 per month price tag (on top of the Max subscription price) after February 29. If the B/R Sports add-on will continue to be offered on its own or become part of the new JV-built service also remains to be seen. STV will update if we hear back.

As for Fox, it represents a pivot from what executives have said on recent earnings calls and at investor events. As recently as September, Fox’s CFO Steve Tomsic said the company continued to believe the traditional cable bundle was the best way to get premium sports in front of consumers in a way that drives value for media companies like Fox.

“Right here, right now, the most-effective way for a consumer to receive sports and news is still the bundle, and the most-effective way to monetize our content remains the bundle," Tomsic said at a Bank of America investor event in September in response to a question about Disney’s then-plans to bring ESPN to streaming.

That said, with the three partners at play, the forthcoming app that includes linear channels looks to be its very own premium sports bundle of sorts. And it’s important to note the preliminary terms says partners would license content on a non-exclusive basis, meaning linear channels could still be available on traditional pay TV and virtual MVPDs, not necessarily only found on the forthcoming app.

“We’re pumped to bring the FOX Sports portfolio to this new and exciting platform,” said Lachlan Murdoch, CEO of Fox, in a statement Tuesday. “We believe the service will provide passionate fans outside of the traditional bundle an array of amazing sports content all in one place.”

Article updated with information on ESPN flagship app.