Already a member? Log In

Sports Media’s Three-Headed Monster

Lachlan Murdoch, David Zaslav, Bob Iger
Disney, Fox, and WBD are obviously performing their own sort of game theory here, and betting that pay TV distributors will continue to carry their channels, even if they are available as part of a streaming service. Photo-Illustration: Puck; Photos: Luke Hales/Drew Angerer/Phillip Faraone/Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images
John Ourand
February 8, 2024

A senior distribution executive emailed yesterday in a fit of apoplexy after learning about Disney, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery’s blockbuster deal to create a new, Hulu-esque, joint sports streaming service—a veritable cable-killer super-app that could entice cord-cutters and cord-hangers-on, alike. As was the case with just about everyone else, this executive was blindsided by the news. And, like many of his colleagues in the old TV business, he was mad as hell. “This will accelerate the linear bundle decline,” he wrote to me. “With the linear channels for the three partners included in the new platform, renewals of expiring distribution agreements will be D.O.A.”

Of course, nobody involved with the Disney-Fox-WBD deal is describing it as a cable killer. During News Corp.’s earnings call, Lachlan Murdoch stressed that Fox remains committed to the pay TV bundle, a declining but still massively profitable enterprise that generates enormous cash flows for all three companies. Indeed, as I discussed with Matt Belloni on The Town, the expected price point for the new all-in-one sports offering—likely in the range of $35-$45 per month—seems perfectly calibrated to target the sort of people who don’t already subscribe to a pay TV service. But distribution executives feel understandably threatened and unanimously predicted a tough renewal cycle when affiliate deals with these networks expire.