Streaming Media’s Growing Interest in Legalized Gambling

Live sports and gambling have a long co-dependent relationship, which has been expanding beyond casinos to over-the-top video — especially during a pandemic. But the wheels in motion began years before the coronavirus kept gamblers away from Las Vegas and Atlantic City, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 striking down a federal anti-sports gambling law.

Fox Sports became the first major media company in the U.S. to acquire a stake in sports gambling after paying $236 million for a 5% ownership of The Stars Group.

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“Digital sports wagering represents a growing market opportunity that allows us to diversify our revenue streams, connect directly with consumers and expand the reach of the Fox Sports brand,” said Eric Shanks, CEO of Fox Sports.

Fox Bet Super 6 just added nearly 3 million players during the just-ended NFL season, bringing its user base to more than 4.3 million players. It claims to be the biggest free-to-play online game of its kind in the country. The platform also seeks to entice non-sports fans with wagers on the recent Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs, the stock market and a weekly quiz.

Speaking on the Feb. 9 fiscal call, Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch said Fox Bet aims to be more than an online gambling site. The platform is rolling out in states that have legalized wagering, including most recently Michigan on Jan. 26. Fox also owns a 18.5% stake in FanDuel, the daily fantasy and online sports book.

“A key differentiator for Fox Bet has been across promotional power of all of Fox’s assets to ignite the Fox Bet brand,” Murdoch said. The executive said sports gambling factors into ongoing distribution negotiations for NFL games.

“The NFL is very aware of the importance of sports wagering, I’m sure to us, I’m sure to sort of others as well,” Murdoch said.

FanDuel in 2019 inked a deal with fubo TV, making it the exclusive sports book, online casino, horse racing and DFS (distributed file system) partner of the TV streaming service. The agreement was FanDuel Group’s first partnership with an online TV service aimed at expanding fubo TV’s sports offering for consumers while integrating betting data on the platform.

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“We are always looking for ways to add value for consumers and enhance their premium experience with fuboTV,” said Min Kim, VP of business development at Fubo. “Gaming and sports are natural complements.”

Adam Kaplan, VP of content business & operations at FanDuel, said the company’s data analytics will change how people watch live sports on TV and the Internet.

“We can enhance the live-viewing experience by allowing cord-cutting sports fans to view the content that matters to them the most from their TV, phone, tablet or computer,” Kaplan said.

But FanDuel’s relationship with fubo TV could change as the latter branches out into its own sports gambling. The 6-year-old service last year acquired Balto Sports, a backend developer of fantasy sports gaming software. Last month, fubo TV expanded to live sports by acquiring Vigtory, an interactive sports gaming company.

The valuations around sports betting operators are so huge, why not take a punt on being one?” said Andy Clerkson, an advisor for Fox Bet and partner at Red Knot Communications, a gambling PR firm. “You could be a super-affiliate worth hundreds of millions. Or you could try and be an operator worth billions.”

The Motley Fool’s Rick Munarriz contends fubo TV can open the “spigot of sports gambling” without raising eyebrows the way  Google or Disney might with regulators.

“Fubo TV can go places where others can’t,” Munarriz wrote.

Disney-owned ESPN has partnerships with Caesars Entertainment, offering sport-betting-related content on ESPN and ESPN+, the brand’s SVOD platform.

“The sports betting landscape has changed, and fans are coming to us for this kind of information more than ever before,” said Mike Morrison, VP of business development at ESPN. “We are poised to expand our coverage in a big way.”

WarnerMedia Entertainment inked a deal with Caesars Entertainment to build a branded Vegas studio for its Bleacher Report (B/R) platform.

Regardless of its legality, Disney remains defensive to deflect the family-based media giant’s tacit support for gambling.

“We’ve already done some [gambling-related] things that we would integrate it into our programming, but not to the extent that we would be facilitating gambling as an entity,” former CEO Bob Iger said in 2019. “In other words, we’ll provide programming that will, I guess, be designed to enlighten people who are betting on sports. But that’s as far as we would go. We just don’t intend to go into the gambling business.”

NFL Wildcard Weekend Broke Broadcast/Streaming Molds

The NFL’s just-concluded busy wildcard playoff weekend saw 12 teams reduced to eight advancing to the divisional round, beginning Jan. 16. Notably, for the first time playoff games were live-streamed (ESPN+, Peacock) and broadcast on a children’s network (Nickelodeon), in addition to the usual TV networks.

During the New Orleans Saints’ win over the Chicago Bears, Nickelodeon viewers got see trademark green slime sprayed virtually into the end zone and across the screen after Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas scored a touchdown. The game drew Nickelodeon’s largest audience in four years with 2 million viewers.

While the simulcast with CBS Sports underscored ViacomCBS’s desire to involve its brands (Nickelodeon) across new markets, for the NFL, the game represented an opportunity to reach a new demo early.

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“Our entire model is based on reach,” Hans Schroeder, EVP and COO of NFL Media, said in an interview Sunday night. “The positive responses have been overwhelming [for the Nickelodeon game], but what we did with CBS was a continuation of what we did across Sunday.”

On Disney-owned ESPN+, streamers saw analytics on steroids with an individual play’s likelihood of succeeding put on display. Indeed, an interception thrown by Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson only had only a 28% chance of being caught by the receiver initially.

Amazon Prime Video and sister company Twitch were the first streaming platforms to offer live NFL coverage through “Thursday Night Football,” featuring the sport’s first female broadcast team.

“When you have as broad appeal as we’re fortunate to have, we want to make sure we’re putting out a broad set of experiences on as many screens as we can, and increase the way our fans engage and enjoy the games,” Schroeder said.

Indeed, ESPN will feature tonight NCAA College Football National Championship Game between The Ohio State Buckeyes and University of Alabama Crimson Tide across 14 separate broadcasts, including streaming.

Hulu Bows $1.99 Monthly Service for College Students

Disney-owned Hulu Jan. 11 announced it is cutting the price of its $5.99 ad-supported on-demand subscription streaming video service to $1.99 for college students attending any accredited school in the U.S.

The price includes access to Hulu’s Watch Party feature enabling subscribers to watch and comment on programming with friends and family in separate locations.

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Hulu, which touted 38.8 million subs at the beginning of December, remains bundled with ESPN+ and Disney+ in a $12.99 monthly promotion. The separate Hulu with Live TV subscription service recently raised pricing 18% to $64.99 from $54.99; $70.99 for no ads.

In 2017, Hulu partnered with Spotify for a student-oriented promotion that later included Showtime as well.

Disney’s ESPN+ Streaming Service Raising Annual Fee 20%

ESPN+, the sports-themed subscription streaming arm of Disney’s OTT offerings that also includes the Disney+ and Hulu platforms, will increase its annual fee 20% to $59.99 from $49.99 for new subscribers, effective Jan. 8, 2021. Existing subs will see renewal price hikes around March.

ESPN+, which is increasingly being promoted as a live-sports alternative to pay-TV, had more than 11.5 million subscribers earlier this year — more than double from a year ago.

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Disney is also increasing the cost of its UFC pay-per-view fights — exclusive to ESPN+ — to $69.99 from $64.99. The fights were $59.99 when ESPN+ launched in April 2018.

Disney’s OTT video universe topped 137 million subs earlier this month — partially due to combining ESPN+ with Disney+ and Hulu in a $12.99 monthly promotion that remains for the time being. The Disney+ monthly fee is increasing to $7.99, from $6.99, on March 26, 2021.

Hulu Adding Access to ESPN+, Exclusive 20th Century Movies, 5th Season of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ SEC College Football; Hulu With Live TV Tops 4 Million Subs

SVOD pioneer Hulu will offer its 38.8 million subscriber access to the ESPN+ sports streaming service in 2021. Hulu’s online TV platform, Hulu With Live TV, now tops 4 million subscribers, making it the top online TV platform and fifth-largest pay-TV operator in the U.S.

“Users can sign up or enjoy existing ESPN+ subscriptions without ever having to leave the Hulu app,” Hulu president Kelly Campbell said on Disney’s Investor Day Dec. 10. Campbell said the SVOD platform in 2021 would bow original movies from 20th Century Studios and Searchlight. The platform also greenlighted a fifth season of original hit series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

ESPN+, which had 11.5 million subscribers as of Dec. 2, will begin streaming select Southeastern Conference college football games in 2021. ABC TV (and ESPN+) will become the exclusive SEC broadcasters in 2024 for 10 years, including the SEC Championship. The SEC, which is currently broadcast on CBS and ESPN, includes perennial national champion contender University of Alabama, in addition to the University of Georgia, University of Florida and Louisiana State University, among other schools.

“This is a significant day for the Southeastern Conference and for the future of our member institutions. Our agreement with ESPN will greatly enhance our ability to support our student-athletes in the years ahead and to further enrich the game day experience for SEC fans around the world,” Greg Sankey, SEC Commissioner, said in a statement. “One of our primary goals was to improve the television scheduling process in ways that will benefit our students, coaches, alumni and fans. By working in collaboration with ESPN, we were able to secure an agreement that includes more lead time for many game time announcements, and in many ways modernizes the college football scheduling process.”

Disney Reorganizes With Focus on Streaming Video

With much of its business units idled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disney CEO Bob Chapek Oct. 12 announced internal restructuring that puts the focus on what is working: streaming video.

Kareem Daniel

Disney is combining ad sales with distribution into a new Media and Entertainment Distribution group led by Kareem Daniel, who has served as president of consumer products, games and publishing. The media giant said the move is to put a “focus on developing and producing original content for the company’s streaming services.”

The new group will be responsible for all monetization of content — both distribution and ad sales — and will oversee operations of the Company’s streaming services. It will also have sole P&L accountability for Disney’s media and entertainment businesses.

This means that while Alan Horn and Alan Bergman, Peter Rice, and James Pitaro will continue to lead Disney’s studios, general entertainment and amusement parks, respectively, they will do so separate from streaming video.

Rebecca Campbell

Rebecca Campbell, who headed direct-to-consumer operations, which includes Disney+, ESPN+, Hulu, and pending Disney+ Hotstar, was upped to chairman of international operations and direct-to-consumer. All five executives report directly to Chapek, with Campbell reporting directly to Daniel.

“Given the incredible success of Disney+ and our plans to accelerate our direct-to-consumer business, we are strategically positioning our Company to more effectively support our growth strategy and increase shareholder value,” Chapek said.

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The CEO said separating content creation from distribution would allow Disney to be more effective in making the content consumers want most, delivered in the ways they prefer it, i.e. over-the-top video, transactional VOD and PVOD.

Indeed, Disney+ had more than 60 million subscribers in August. The bundle of Disney+ with Hulu and ESPN+ has 105 million.

“Our creative teams will concentrate on what they do best–making world-class, franchise-based content — while our newly centralized global distribution team will focus on delivering and monetizing that content in the most optimal way across all platforms, including the coming Star international streaming service,” Chapek said.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to work with the talented and dedicated teams that will comprise this group, and I look forward to a close collaboration with the outstanding and incredibly successful team of creative content leaders at the company, as together we build on the success we’ve already achieved in our DTC and legacy distribution business,” Daniel said in a statement.

A 14-year Disney veteran, Daniel has held leadership positions across a variety of businesses, including consumer products, games and interactive experiences, publishing, studio distribution, and Walt Disney Imagineering. Prior to that, Daniel was VP of Distribution Strategy at Walt Disney Studios, where he worked closely with the leadership in developing the company’s film content distribution strategy across multiple platforms and played a key role in the commercialization of the studio’s films.

“As we now look to rapidly grow our direct-to-consumer business, a key focus will be delivering and monetizing our great content in the most optimal way possible, and I can think of no one better suited to lead this effort than Kareem,” Chapek said. “His wealth of experience will enable him to effectively bring together the company’s distribution, advertising, marketing and sales functions, thereby creating a distribution powerhouse that will serve all of Disney’s media and entertainment businesses.”

Disney reports fourth-quarter (ended Sept. 30) fiscal earnings Nov. 5.

Activist Investor Urges Disney to Increase SVOD Spending

Billionaire investor Daniel Loeb continues to see opportunity in the pandemic-throttled entertainment sector — most notably at The Walt Disney Co.

Loeb’s Third Point Management, which has more than $10.8 billion in assets, has spent much of the COVID-19 era buying up a depressed Disney stock undermined by amusement park and cruise ship closures, and waylaid studio releases, among other issues, that were reportedly costing the company $30 million in daily overhead.

Now Loeb, who is one of Disney’s largest single investors, is calling on Disney CEO Bob Chapek and the board not to authorize the company’s annual $3 billion dividend — a surprising stance considering most activist investors implore companies to give back more to stock holders; not less.

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In an Oct. 7 letter to Chapek, Loeb wants the board to re-direct dividend funds to content spending on Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+, the latter Disney’s high-profile subscription streaming video-on-demand platform the investor contends has a legitimate shot at usurping market behemoth Netflix — both in subscribers and content.

“By reallocating a dividend of a few dollars per share, Disney could more than double its Disney+ original content budget,” Loeb wrote. “The ability to drive subscriber growth, reduce churn, and increase pricing present the opportunity to create tens of billions of dollars in incremental value for Disney shareholders in short order, and hundreds of billions once the platform reaches larger scale.”

Specifically, the investor contends Disney+ has largely outdistanced subscriber growth projections by offering classic Disney, Pixar and “Star Wars” movies, with little spent on original programming except for “The Mandalorian,” among other content. Disney ended the most-recent fiscal period with more than 60.5 million subscribers. The company had originally projected 60 million to 90 million subs by 2024.

Indeed, while Disney is spending about $1 billion on original content in 2020, Netflix is reportedly spending nearly $17 billion, with plans to spend upwards of $28 billion by 2028.

“A more aggressive content roadmap will distinguish Disney as the only traditional U.S. media company able to thrive in a world beyond the box office and the cable TV ecosystem, alongside digital-first businesses like Netflix and Amazon,” Loeb wrote.

ESPN’s ‘Last Dance’ Available as Limited-Edition Blu-ray Nov. 10

Disney Media Networks and ESPN Films will release the award-winning documentary series The Last Dance as a Blu-ray Disc gift set Nov. 10.

Winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction series, the 10-part The Last Dance chronicles Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ efforts to win a sixth NBA championship during the 1997-98 season. The series originally aired on ESPN and is also available on Netflix.

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The Blu-ray gift set includes a 28-page gallery book with photos and episode recaps, a timeline poster, and more than four hours of additional material.

Extras include:

  • Exclusive never-before-seen The Last Dance bonus interviews;
  • “Game 6: The Movie”
  • A never -before-seen uncut version of Stuart Scott’s interview with Michael Jordan on “Sunday Conversation” from June 1998;
  • “In-the-Moment” archival material;
  • “SportsCenter” with Scott Van Pelt roundtables;
  • “The Jalen & Jacoby Aftershow” with Jason Hehir.

 

Disney, Verizon Expanding Disney+ Promotion to Include ESPN+, Hulu

Disney jumpstarted consumer adoption of its branded SVOD platform Disney+ by offering 12 months of free service to Verizon wireless subscribers. Beginning Aug. 19, Verizon subscribers with either the “Play More Unlimited” or “Get More Unlimited” plan will receive 12 months of free bundled Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu SVOD service.

Disney has been selling the OTT video bundle for $12.99 monthly, with the services costing $19 if purchased separately. Disney ended its most recent fiscal period with 60.5 million Disney+ subs, followed by Hulu with 35.5 million (which includes 3.4 million combined Hulu with Live TV) and 8.5 million for ESPN+.

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“The addition of The Disney Bundle to our agreement with Verizon reinforces our commitment to providing their subscribers with access to high-quality entertainment from Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+,” Sean Breen, EVP of platform distribution for Disney, said in a statement. “We are always looking for the most advantageous ways for consumers to experience our content and we are pleased to work with Verizon so that they can provide their customers with these appealing new offers.”

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Indeed, co-promotions with established pay-TV operators are seen as key to upstart SVOD platforms getting consumer traction and competing with industry behemoth/pioneer Netflix. Apple TV+ launched with free 12-month service to anyone buying a new Apple hardware product. WarnerMedia is offering free HBO Max service to select AT&T wireless customers, while T-Mobile offers Netflix free to wireless subs — a campaign mirrored by Sprint and Hulu.

ESPN Leads 41st Sports Emmy Awards; Netflix Grabs Doc Win

Disney-owned ESPN edged out Fox Sports, CBS Sports and HBO to lead the The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 41st Sports Emmy Awards. The live-streamed ceremony honored nominees in more than 35 categories. Surprise winners included Netflix, which won a documentary award (“Last Chance U”) despite eschewing live sports programming.

“The global pandemic has created unparalleled challenges in bringing a ‘live’ awards show program to the sports community,” Adam Sharp, CEO, NATAS, said in a statement. “With two hosts, seven presenters, and more than 135 acceptors coming from either a studio or their homes across the country, the sheer size and demand for new and exciting ways to recognize the great talents creating sports television has been an enormous enterprise that the National Academy has happily embraced.”

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The ceremony was streamed live on NATAS’s dedicated viewing platform powered by Vimeo, available on the Web at watch.theemmys.tv and via The Emmys apps for iOS, tvOS, Android, FireTV, and Roku (full list at apps.theemmys.tv).

Categories included Outstanding Live Sports Special, Live Sports Series and Playoff Coverage, three Documentary categories, Outstanding Play-by-Play Announcer and Studio Host, among others. This year’s competition marked the debut of a new category for Outstanding Esports Coverage.

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The full list of honorees follows and is also available at TheEmmys.tv.

The 41st Annual Sports Emmy Award by Network

Network Winners
ESPN                                  7
FOX 7
CBS 5
HBO 5
TNT 4
MLB Network 3
FS1 2
NBC   2
NBCSN                              2
NFL Network 2
ABC 1
CBS Sports Network 1
ESPNews 1
FOX Deportes 1
FS2 1
Golf Channel 1
Netflix 1
Red Bull TV 1
tbs 1
truTV 1
UFC Fight Pass 1
YouTube 1

The 41st Annual Sports Emmy Award by Network Group

Network Group Winners
ESPN (ESPN, ESPNews, ABC) 8
FOX Sports Media Group (FOX, FS1, FS2, FOX Deportes) 7
CBS Sports (CBS, CBS Sports Network) 5
HBO Sports 5
Turner Sports (tbs, TNT, truTV) 4
MLB Network 3
NBC Sports Group  (NBC, NBCSN, Golf Channel) 3
NFL Network 2
Netflix   1
Red Bull TV   1
UFC   1
YouTube   1

The 41st Annual Sports Emmy Award by Multiple Winners

 Program Winners Network
Super Bowl LIV 4 FOX
24/7 3 HBO
E: 60 2 ESPN
NFL 100 2 NFL Network
NFL on ESPN 2 ESPN
SC Featured 2 ESPN
2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup 2 FOX
The Masters 3 CBS