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Things Did Heat Up 'Formula 1' Fast In Sports Streaming Space

In my blog last month -- entitled Sports Marketing (And Advertising), What's Old Might Be New Again -- I opined that things were going to heat up in the streaming sports space... and, boy, did they ever.

While I knew things were going to heat up... I, admittedly, did not see the Disney (ESPN), Fox (Fox Sports) and Warner Bros. Discovery (TNT Sports, now Warner Bros. Discovery Sports) deal, announced on 2/6, coming. That's probably because Disney just got through buying Comcast out of Hulu, a similar streaming joint venture, that started as a four-way initiative between Disney, Comcast, Fox and Warner Bros.

The companies said in a joint statement that the yet-to-be-named, streaming sports service will be launched in Fall 2024,

While Fall officially begins on September 22, 2024, I am guessing the service will launch earlier than that -- probably on or about August 26th; that will have the launch of the service coinciding with the last week of pre-season NFL Football and the first week of U.S. Open Tennis. They may refer to the activity during these August weeks as a soft launch, or a beta test of the service, but I am, rather, certain the service will be operational by then. I am also, virtually, certain the service will be up and running, in every U.S. market, when the Kansas City Chiefs take the field in the NFL season opener on September 5, 2024.

But just because this new joint venture is -- with the exception of Comcast being excluded -- a mirror image of the original Hulu joint venture, that doesn't mean it will pass muster with the Department of Justice and other regulatory agencies. After all, Hulu was launched in 2007 when streaming was a side hustle for large media companies. Today, streaming eclipses linear TV and its dominance in the space is projected to only increase over the next two- to five-years. Not to mention, the Biden administration, which has been anti-competitive from the get go, just announced a whole new set of Merger Guidelines.

On December 18, 2023. the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) jointly issued the 2023 Merger Guidelines, which describe factors and frameworks all federal agencies will use, moving forward, when reviewing mergers and acquisitions. The announcement wasn't a little thing, in fact, it was a big thing. At the time, Attorney General Merrick Garland said, these finalized guidelines provide transparency into how the Justice Department is protecting the American people from the ways in which unlawful, anticompetitive practices manifest themselves in our modern economy.”

Oh boy!

Already one company has expressed concern with the newly-announced streaming service. FuboTV, an independent sports streamer that was launched in 2015, released a statement within hours of the Disney, Fox, Warner Bros. Discovery announcement, stating the motives and implications of this joint venture "command its scrutiny." The statement read in part, "every consumer in America should be concerned about the intent behind this joint venture and its impact on fair market competition. This joint venture spotlights a concerning trend where an alliance with significant market share, reportedly controlling 60-85% of all sports content, could dictate market terms in a manner that may not serve the broader interests of consumers."

The market has yet to hear from media heavyweights Comcast and Paramount Global on the issue. The two conglomerates control a fair amount of sports programming through NBC Sports and CBS Sports, respectively.

According to the Wall Street Journal, discussions have taken place between Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that Paramount Global has been involved in separate "streaming related discussions" with 800-pound gorilla Apple. Will Comcast and Paramount join forces and announce a sports streaming site all their own, or will they sit on the sidelines, to see how the Biden administration responds to the joint venture? Only time will tell.

The move by Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery follows moves by cash-rich, technology companies to buy their way in to the sports broadcasting business. Last year, Apple spent $2.5 Billion for a 10 year MLS deal. Around the same time, Youtube TV spent $2 Billion a year on NFL's Sunday Ticket in a seven year deal and Amazon spent $1 Billion a year in a 10-year, Thursday Night Football deal.

I'm not sure where all this jockeying will lead us and I am not sure anyone is, but one thing is for sure... it's going to be an interesting year in sports streaming.

Update to blog: On Tuesday February 20, 2024, FuboTV filed an anti-trust lawsuit to block the Disney, Fox, Warner Bros. Discovery sports streaming platform deal.


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