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Zaz’s Sports Moneyball

For WBD C.E.O. David Zaslav, almost anything is up for grabs if it generates the revenue needed to pay down the company’s whopping $47.5 billion in debt.
For WBD C.E.O. David Zaslav, almost anything is up for grabs if it generates the revenue needed to pay down the company’s whopping $47.5 billion in debt. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
Julia Alexander
September 26, 2023

There’s one question that I have been hearing among media industry insiders, over and over and over again, since Warner Bros. Discovery announced that it would offer its Bleacher Report Sports Add-On package on Max, its streaming service, for an additional $10 a month: why are the cable companies putting up with this? The package allows subscribers to stream NBA and MLB games, among others, without a cable subscription. And unlike ESPN+ and Prime Video, which are moving certain games exclusively to streaming platforms, the Bleacher Report package will share the broadcast rights with TNT. So why in the world, executives are privately wondering, are the cable providers OK with WBD offering sports fans yet another reason to cut the cord?

For a generation, the linear sports industrial complex was in total and fully-monetized alignment: cable networks paid gargantuan fees for sports rights, which they monetized via advertising and hefty carriage fees from the cable and satellite providers, which extracted hefty fees from consumers who, frankly, had no other options. (Of course, the beauty of this model was that it was paid for by people who had zero interest in live sports. But that’s a story for another time…) It was inelegant but it was profitable and, importantly, simple.