Level 33 to Bow Sports Drama ‘Finding Tony’ Via On Demand June 18

Level 33 Entertainment will release the sports drama Finding Tony via on demand June 18.

In the film, former NBA star Tony Greene is a depressed alcoholic whose wife was violently murdered. After getting a DUI, he begins coaching a women’s college basketball team where he meets Destiny, a basketball phenom with a bad attitude and an incredible jump shot. Their personalities clash, but Tony sees her potential. Just when Tony thought he had lost it all, his star player helps him find his destiny.

The film stars Stephen Bishop (Starz comedy series “Run the World,” MoneyBall), Raquel Justice (POP series “One Day at a Time,” comedy series “Sunnyside Up”), Josh Ventura (Pain Hustlers, The Suicide Squad, The Highwaymen, Netflix series “Raising Dion”), David Banner (Grammy Award nominee, Ride Along, The Butler, Footloose, Fox Series “Empire”), Columbus Short (“Sisters,” “True to the Game 1-3,” Death at a Funeral, ABC’s “Scandal”), Rodney Perry (The Leap, Madea’s Big Happy Family, Easter Sunday, Coming 2 America), Brook Sill (High Expectation, Netflix series “Cobra Kai,” Netflix series “Stranger Things”) and Jock McKissic (TV miniseries “Clipped,” Showtime’s “Your Honor”).

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‘Hard Knocks: Offseason With the New York Giants’ Headed to HBO, Max July 2

HBO, NFL Films, Skydance Sports and the New York Giants are joining forces for “Hard Knocks: Offseason With the New York Giants,” a new iteration of the franchise that will document the NFL offseason for the first time. The series was announced May 15 by Casey Bloys, chairman and CEO of HBO and Max content, during the Warner Bros. Discovery Upfront presentation.

The five-part original series debuts July 2 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and on Max, with new episodes debuting subsequent Tuesdays through July 30.
 
“Hard Knocks: Offseason With the New York Giants” will bring viewers inside the New York Giants organization as the team prepares for their 100th season. Camera crews will chronicle the team’s every move as general manager Joe Schoen and other members of the team’s front office and staff navigate the critical offseason period from January to July 2024, from the NFL Scouting Combine to free agency, to the NFL Draft, and team minicamps.

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“We are incredibly proud that ‘Hard Knocks’ is widely thought of as one of the most successful and entertaining unscripted sports franchises ever produced,” Ross Ketover, senior executive at NFL Films, said in a statement. “To be able to expand on the ‘Hard Knocks’ universe, and with an elite franchise in the Giants while they celebrate their 100th season, is a privilege for all of us at NFL Films.”
 
“We are beyond thrilled that the New York Giants have opened their doors to the Hard Knocks cameras for the first time ever,” Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller, EVPs of HBO documentaries, and Bentley Weiner, VP of HBO sports documentaries, said in a statement. “The NFL offseason is a fascinating period that we’ve always wanted to explore and we can’t wait to show football fans everywhere what NFL Films has been capturing behind the scenes at the team’s headquarters.”
 
“As we enter our 100th season, we look forward to providing our fans with the opportunity to see what it takes to build an NFL roster,” Nilay Shah, SVP of marketing and brand strategy for the New York Giants, said in a statement. “Beginning the moment the previous season ended, we gave NFL Films unprecedented access to this critical time of the year. We know viewers will gain insight from moments that have never been captured before and are excited for them to learn more about our Giants history.”
 
“Hard Knocks,” the recipient of 18 Sports Emmy Awards, has previously documented NFL training camps and the regular season. The longtime series is produced by the team at NFL Films, a division of NFL Media owned and operated by the National Football League. Skydance Sports will be co-producing this all-new iteration with Liev Schreiber narrating.

Fubo Ups Q1 Subscribers, Narrows Fiscal Loss

Online sports streaming TV service Fubo May 3 reported an 18% increase in paid subscribers to 1.51 million in the first quarter (ended March 31). The platform ended the previous-year period with 1.28 million subscribers.

Quarterly revenue increased 24% to $394 million from $318 million in the prior-year period. The net loss from continuing operations narrowed 32.5% to $56.3 million, from a net loss of $83.3 million in the previous-year period.

The company’s French-based Molotov streaming TV service added almost 20,000 subscribers to end the fiscal period with 397,000 subs. Revenue increased 7% to $8.4 million, from $7.85 million in the prior-year period.

The company continues to believe in the merits of its antitrust lawsuit filed against Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery regarding the planned launch of a sports streaming joint venture app. Fubo said it remains encouraged by the public support of companies such as DirecTV and Dish, as well as a federal court’s recent decision to set a hearing date for its preliminary injunction motion. Fubo alleges Disney, Fox and WBD have conspired to force the streamer to carry non-sports content in order to license their sports rights, a move the streamer says stifles competition. In addition, the company contends it pays upwards of 50% more to license the defendants’ content than other non-streaming competitors.

“We continue to believe in the merits of our antitrust lawsuit against the sports streaming JV partners and thank those who have publicly supported us,” CEO David Gandler said in a statement. “We are encouraged by reports of the Department of Justice’s investigation and look forward to our preliminary injunction hearing in August.”

Gandler believes that if all distributors were offered fair license terms, the consumer could have multiple sports streaming options to choose from, access to just the channels they want, and at a price that’s right for them.

“We continue to operate efficiently and effectively as we execute on our mission to delight consumers with an aggregated sports entertainment offering delivered through a personalized and intuitive streaming experience,” he said.

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Scoring With Sports: Live Sports Is Streaming’s Shiny New Toy

It was the most-streamed event, ever, in the United States. The groundbreaking Jan. 13 NFL Wild Card playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins drew 23 million viewers to NBCUniversal’s Peacock subscription streaming service, accounting for 30% of all U.S. internet traffic on that day.

“We felt like we were going to melt down the internet,” said Peacock boss Matt Strauss. Of course, Peacock also happened to be the only national platform where viewers could watch the game, which unlike previous playoff games wasn’t broadcast on any legacy television network, pay or broadcast.

“No one had ever done that before,” Strauss, chairman of direct-to-consumer and international at Peacock parent Comcast, said at a February event presented by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group.

NBCUniversal paid the NFL more than $110 million for the rights, with Peacock claiming to add 2.8 million net subscribers from the game. The service ended 2023 with 31 million paid subscribers.

For the nation’s most-popular pro sports league, the decision by the NFL to bypass legacy TV for streaming — even for just one game — underscores a growing strategy shift among media companies as well as sports properties and how they see their TV futures.

Streamers are embracing live sports as big media companies look to diversify distribution channels, attract cord-cutting consumers, and mitigate escalating operating costs across both linear and digital platforms. And sports teams and franchises are always looking for ways to expand their reach, particularly as viewing audiences shift from traditional television to streaming.

Live sports is currently the only genre saving pay-TV. But pay-TV continues to lose subs, so media companies want to keep those subs by offering live sports via streaming, with the goal of going full stream when the current license contracts expire in seven to 10 years. Prime Video forced their hand after it acquired exclusive rights to NFL Thursday Night Football two years ago, and when YouTube TV subsequently got Sunday Ticket, it was game on.

“As media consumption habits evolve, the NFL continues to work with our partners to put our games on digital platforms where our fans are increasingly spending their time,” Hans Schroeder, EVP of media distribution at the NFL, said in March praising the Wild Card stream.

As a result, live sports streaming is no longer a novelty sidelined to the corner of the internet, a fringe option targeting niche consumers largely on portable devices, such as Verizon’s long-running Super Bowl streams. Streaming access to Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, the NHL, Major League Soccer, NASCAR and college sports is now a legitimate business model.

In Peacock’s case, the Wild Card game’s success was so great that the streamer doubled down two months later. In late March NBCUniversal announced that Peacock would be the exclusive distributor for the NFL’s first-ever regular season game in São Paulo, Brazil, on Sept. 6. That week will be a busy one for Peacock, with the platform live-streaming four consecutive nights of primetime football, including “Big Ten Saturday Night,” and the season debut of “Sunday Night Football.”

Those who are fans of sports are more likely to follow live events to streaming than those who aren’t, according to Hub Entertainment Research, which found that upwards 80% of avid sports viewers would consider adding a SVOD service to access games. Half of NFL, NBA and Premier League soccer fans said they would “very likely” consider subscribing to a streaming service if they needed the platform to watch.

As media giants Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBCUniversal and Paramount Global grapple with the escalating cost of TV sports rights and the declining number of pay-TV households willing to pay for them, incorporating live sports into their direct-to-consumer business segments is a way to spread costs, drive streaming subscriber growth — and, ultimately, profitability.

Prime Video spent $100 million to exclusively distribute the post-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” NFL regular season game between the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, which reportedly drew 9.6 million streaming-only viewers. Prime Video secured exclusive access to one of next year’s Wild Card playoff games for a reported $120 million fee.

“For several years now, we have been consistently expanding the digital distribution of our games, and [this is] helping to shape the future of the entire sports and entertainment industry,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The NFL is not new to Prime Video. In 2021, the service acquired all rights to “Thursday Night Football” in a landmark deal that cost parent Amazon $11 billion over the 11-year agreement, which runs through 2033.

The “TNF” games account for about 25% of all internet traffic in the United States, Mike Cavanagh, president of Comcast, told an investor group in December. Cavanagh would know, since the cable operator is also the nation’s largest broadband provider, marketing the bandwidth required to stream video into connected households.

While legacy pay-TV maintains current control of major live sports due to long-term rights agreements with their media corporate owners, the medium could be losing its sports lifeline. Streaming service operators, in search of original and exclusive content, now look to live sports to attract and maintain their subscriber base.

“For many viewers, live sports have been the thread keeping them attached to pay-TV, but that thread frays a bit more every time a streaming video provider gains control of popular live sports programming,” Tammy Parker, analyst with GlobalData Plc., wrote in an investor note.

All-In Live-Sports Streaming

Sports fans have long watched live sports through regional sports TV networks (RSNs). But that distribution channel is collapsing. Under a toughening advertising climate and consumers moving away from the cable bundle, media companies — which for years relied on non-sports subscribers to subsidize the escalating cost sports teams and leagues charged distributors such as ESPN and ABC, Fox, NBC, and CBS — are eyeing streaming.

In 2023, Diamond Sports Group and its subsidiary Bally Sports, the nation’s largest RSN, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing nearly $9 billion in debt. The RSN in January received a $495 million lifeline from creditors, plus $115 million from Amazon, which in addition to becoming a minority stakeholder in Diamond’s corporate parent, Sinclair Broadcast Group, will now look to stream MLB games on Prime Video.

TV sports viewers appear ready for the growing streaming landscape. About 95% of sports fans in the United States also stream VOD content, while at the same time household pay-TV penetration continues to decline, down to 59% through Sept. 30, 2023, from 67% two years ago, according to Kantar Worldwide data. The London-based research firm found that 46% of U.S. households consume both pay-TV and streaming video, with the NFL and college football, specifically, driving 40% of SVOD sign-ups in the third quarter.

There are about 125 million TV households in America, including more than 60 million that are not in the bundled TV ecosystem, according to industry figures.

Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max is among the streaming services that are going after those 60 million.

In March, the platform for the first time live-streamed select 2024 NCAA college basketball “March Madness” tournament games, with Paramount+ again live-streaming all CBS broadcast games, which included the Elite Eight, Final Four and national championship games. ESPN+ live-streamed the women’s tournament. The live streaming was accomplished via WBD’s Bleacher Report (B/R) Sports digital link, which was launched last September to Max subscribers. The add-on marked the first time consumers had streaming access to WBD’s portfolio of TV sports content from TBS, TNT and truTV. The link offers live pre- and post-game programming and related VOD content, including sports documentaries (from the HBO Sports and WBD Sports catalog), Bleacher Report highlights and events, special features and extended series.

According to WBD, there are 30 million people, representing a largely younger demo, on the B/R Sports app who do not subscribe to linear TV.
“We’re missing those subscribers,” CEO David Zaslav said on the company’s most recent fiscal call. “We believe that this could be a very
compelling product. We think it’s very pro-consumer.”

NASCAR

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), beginning in 2025, is for the first time including live streaming as part of a new seven-year media rights agreement with Fox Sports, NBC Sports, Prime Video, Peacock and TNT Sports for all 38 NASCAR Cup Series races. Prime Video and TNT Sports on Max will split 10 midseason races. Prime Video, NASCAR’s first direct-to-consumer partner, will also stream practice and qualifying live for the first half of the season.

“Our goal was to secure long-term stability with an optimized mix of distribution platforms and innovative partners that would allow us to grow the sport digitally,” Steve Phelps, president of NASCAR, said in a statement.

Brian Herbst, SVP of media and productions at NASCAR, said the new streaming access positions the motor sport across different TV mediums while giving fans uninterrupted access on established TV platforms.

“The media landscape is rapidly evolving, with new distribution platforms providing more options to the consumer than ever before,” Herbst said.

Joint Venture

Arguably the biggest move made yet to go after streaming sports fans involves the pending joint venture app launching in the fall from Warner Bros. Discovery, Fox Corp. and Disney. The app is aimed at streaming a variety of live sports and related programming via the media companies’ broadcast license agreements on one unified DTC platform.

In March, media executive Peter Distad was named CEO of the JV, with oversight of all aspects of the platform, including overall strategy, distribution, marketing and sales.

For the media companies involved in the JV, the need to serve consumers looking for a one-stop streaming path to sports-centric content has become a primary focus.

“As we look to the future, we’re obviously mindful of the state of the multichannel ecosystem and where people are spending their time and their money with media,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said on the company’s latest earnings call.

Iger said taking ESPN direct to consumer has been a long-time strategy. The move includes launching a separate standalone ESPN streaming service (a rebranding of the current ESPN+, which has around 25 million subscribers) in 2025.

“This is really not a first step, it’s a second step,” Iger said. “The first step was launching ESPN+ some years ago, which has been quite successful. Ultimately, our mission is to make ESPN into the preeminent digital sports brand.”

In the Hub survey, about 31% of respondents said they often watch non-sports content promoted during a game or other sports content. When watching a live game, 27% said they often stay on the same platform to watch the programming that comes on next.

“We have a very rich target of over 60 million people that love sports,” said WBD’s Zaslav.

The executive said the app’s appeal includes a simplified way to search for sports content across different platforms. Zaslav said the app’s construction is “pretty far along,” after having already seen several prototypes.

“We believe that this could be a very compelling product,” he said.

Other media CEOs have their doubts. Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish said much about the app remains wishful thinking.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about this service — things like price, packaging and consumer appetite,” Bakish said in February. Specifically, the executive contends the app will offer subscribers access to select sports limited by their TV license rights.

“[The JV] is missing half the NFL games, a lot of college [football] games, and has virtually no soccer or golf,” Bakish said. “It’s hard to believe that’s ideal, especially at the price points that have been speculated.”

Media analyst Rayburn contends live sports streaming is in the early innings. Without knowing what the JV app will cost, Rayburn said it remains speculative about its impact on the current sports TV ecosystem.

“Sports won’t go full DTC any time soon, since the pay-TV rights are locked up for the next seven to 10 years,” Rayburn said in an email. “Sports streaming is [currently] a mess, frustrating for fans and not a great experience, outside of something like Major League Soccer on Apple TV+, where they have all the games and no blackouts.”

Enhancing the Viewer Experience

Peacock at this summer’s Paris Olympics (July 26-Aug. 11) aims to introduce industry-first interactive features that will help streamers navigate more than 5,000 hours of live coverage throughout the quadrennial global sports event, including all 329 medal events. The streamer’s Olympics hub will feature curated videos of live and upcoming events, dedicated in-depth hubs for nearly 40 sports, medal standings and an interactive schedule. Peacock will also showcase two new features: Peacock Live Actions and Peacock Discovery Multiview.

“Live Actions” will allow streamers to follow the events they are most interested in during both live and taped primetime coverage. Viewers watching the NBC Primetime simulcast will be able add upcoming events to their “My Stuff” list to stream later. The “Gold Zone” programming will provide rolling coverage from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, guiding viewers to the best and most exciting moments happening during the Games. On-screen prompts will enable the feature’s streamers to continue watching the live feed of a specific event instead of staying with the “Gold Zone” coverage.

Peacock’s “Discovery Multiview” will offer an enhanced four-view experience that helps users navigate to their most-important events, with real-time on-screen descriptions informing about what is at stake, such as a medal event, an elimination risk or a first-time Olympian. In addition, Multiview will feature up to four matches on one screen and is available for sports such as soccer, track and field, and wrestling.

“The Paris Olympics will mark another major milestone for Peacock’s live-sports streaming,” said Kelly Campbell, president of Peacock and direct-to-consumer at NBCUniversal.

Sports Streaming Heads to the Desert

The NHL’s Arizona Coyotes have approached live streaming from a different perspective: survival. The franchise exited the Gila River Arena in Glendale in 2022 for a temporary 5,000-seat home on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe. With the average home ticket retailing for $350, the team sought a lower-cost digital alternative. Enter a media rights deal with Kiswe and Scripps Sports for the February launch of Coyotes Central, a $11.99 monthly streaming service enabling live mobile access only to all local and non-national exclusive games, in addition to on-demand replays, pre- and post-game shows, and other exclusive content.

“We see Coyotes Central as a complement to our existing live-TV broadcasts,” a team rep said in an email. “As fans seek to watch Coyotes games outside of their home, they have an option to watch games on their mobile devices. Our goal as an organization is to make our games accessible to all fans wherever they are and however they want to watch.”

Separately, Disney+, Disney XD and ESPN+ March 9 live-streamed the second “NHL Big City Greens Classic,” an animated presentation of the Pittsburgh Penguins at Boston Bruins live hockey game.

The contest featured real-time, virtually re-created NHL players and teams modeled after characters on Disney Channel’s animated series “Big City Greens.” ESPN commentators on the animated live-stream called the action wearing virtual reality headsets for motion capture and to immerse them in the animated environment.

The Netflix Factor

The wild card in the emerging live sports streaming landscape remains SVOD leader Netflix, which appears to be moving away from its long-held indifference toward live sports. The streamer is expanding its live footprint with a July 20 boxing match scheduled between former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and cruiserweight Jake Paul at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The service in early March live-streamed The Netflix Slam, an exhibition tennis match headlined by 22-time Grand Slam men’s singles title champion Rafael Nadal facing off against world No. 2 (and fellow Spaniard) Carlos Alcaraz. The match, held at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, was won by Alcaraz. It marked the first time Netflix live-streamed a sports event in front of paying spectators (the average ticket price was reportedly more than $450). The service last year held a mini celebrity golf tournament — The Netflix Cup — featuring a handful of PGA Tour pros and Formula One drivers playing under the lights (yes, nighttime golf) in the shadow of the Vegas Sphere.

Netflix is no stranger to sports-themed content, with programming such as the recently canceled tennis reality series “Break Point,” the sports-themed anthology series “Untold,” the PGA Tour-themed “Full Swing,” NFL Hall of Famer Peyton Manning’s “Quarterback,” “Tour de France: Unchained,” “NASCAR: Full Speed,” “Under Pressure: The U.S. Women’s World Cup Team,” “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” and a pending Paris Olympics-based series on track and field.

According to co-CEO Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s interest in sports remains more focused on sports-themed storytelling than on actual games.

“We’re in the part of the sports business that we can bring the most value to, which is the drama of sport,” Sarandos said on a recent fiscal call.

The streamer Jan. 23 announced a long-term deal with World Wrestling Entertainment that will bring WWE’s flagship weekly live program “Monday Night Raw” to the streaming service beginning in January 2025. Media reports say the deal is worth $5 billion over 10 years. Netflix will also become the home for all WWE shows and specials streamed outside the United States, including “SmackDown” and “NXT” — as well as live events such as “WrestleMania,” “SummerSlam” and the “Royal Rumble.”

Peacock has exclusive U.S. rights to all WWE content, except for “Raw.”

Sarandos said the deal dovetails within the storytelling of the WWE — a proven entertainment formula he believes is meant for Netflix subs.

“This is sports entertainment, which is very close to our core,” Sarandos said. “This is a proven formula for us.”

A Live-Stream Too Far?

As streamers embrace live sports, the reality remains that live events will largely sustain legacy TV for the near future. While the draw of football may be driving some SVOD sub growth, streaming continues to have little impact when it comes to the Super Bowl.

February’s Super Bowl LVIII, which saw the reigning NFL champion Kansas City Chiefs defeat the San Francisco 49ers in overtime, became the most-viewed Big Game ever, according to Nielsen. The ratings firm said an average of 123.4 million people watched it on CBS, Nickelodeon, Univision Spanish-language broadcasts, and streaming platforms Paramount+, CBS.com, the CBS app and NFL+. That broke last year’s record of 115.1 million viewers for the title game.

Yet, despite 13 years of limited digital access to the Super Bowl, live streaming data for Super Bowl LVIII was measured, averaging about 8.5 million viewers across all digital platforms, up from 7 million last year, according to media analyst Rayburn. He contends the Super Bowl largely remains a shared televised spectacle.

“We don’t know what percentage of users watched on a TV versus mobile, the average viewing time per user, the average bitrate streamed, or how many users watched on a particular platform, since the numbers reported are across all digital platforms that offer the stream,” Rayburn said in an email.

Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, said he believes DTC’s embrace of live sports is in the early innings, and that pursuing long-term league rights could be a race to the fiscal graveyard.

“The more live content that migrates to streaming, the more likely linear-TV consumers cut the cord,” said Pachter, who contends that the cost of acquiring live-streaming access will hurt all content creators as media companies spend less on original non-sports programming.

“Netflix appears smart enough to know they can’t compete here, and I don’t expect them to do so,” Pachter said. “The others are either too rich to care [Amazon], or already have sports rights [Disney, Peacock and WBD] that allow them to broadcast events via their streaming services.”

Industry observers say all these disparate activities underscore the need for more consistency when it comes to promoting the many benefits associated with live sports streaming. To help realize this, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group has established a Live Sports Council that is working to align all of the related messaging.

According to DEG senior advisor Marc Finer, the live sports streaming business remains a moving target and a work-in-progress. However, he said that the financial lure of live sports could ultimately be greater than the combined revenue from movies and TV shows.

“Sport is so ubiquitous and so powerful. There’s a lot at stake,” Finer said. “But if confusion increases, this will impact not just churn, but also the consumer’s ability to easily access and stream their favorite games. It’s not as simple as turning on the TV anymore.”

Democrat Lawmakers Voice Antitrust Concerns Over Pending Disney, Fox, Warner Bros. Discovery Sports App

U.S. House of Representatives members Jerry Nadler (D-NY), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) April 16 sent a letter to Disney CEO Bob Iger, Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch and David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, citing concerns of possible negative consumer impact and anti-competitive behavior as a result of their sports streaming app Joint Venture.

Jerrold “Jerry” Nadler

Citing recent comments by Disney CFO Hugh Johnson, who said his company, Fox and WBD collectively control 80% of the consumer access to major live sports on television, the lawmakers wondered how the companies’ proposed sports app joint venture would impact consumers’ streaming access to major sports going forward.

“Without more complete information about the pricing, intent, and organization of this new venture, we are concerned that this consolidation will result in higher prices for consumers and less fair licensing terms for upstream sports leagues and downstream video distributors,” Nadler and Castro wrote in their letter.

Among the 18 questions submitted by the lawmakers were: what consumer markets would be affected by the joint venture; the app’s projected subscriber numbers; whether the app would distribute non-partner content; how the pricing of Fox Sports, ESPN, TBS, etc., included in the app would compare with their access on pay-TV; and if the the JV would offer stand-alone streaming sports services, among other issues.

Joaquin Castro

“The Joint Venture raises questions about how this new offering would affect access, competition, and choice in the sports streaming market,” Nadler and Castro wrote. “Without more-complete information about the pricing, intent, and organization of this new venture, we are concerned that this consolidation will result in higher prices for consumers and less fair licensing terms for upstream sports leagues and downstream video distributors.”

The lawmakers said they want the CEOs to answer by no later than April 30, with their responses copied to the Department of Justice.

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Max to Stream Bellator Champion Series MMA Championship

The Professional Fighters League and Warner Bros. Discovery announced an exclusive U.S. media rights agreement March 19 for the new Bellator Champion Series, a mixed martial arts championship, debuting March 22.

The new series will stream exclusively on Max and be available on all plans. The series includes eight mega events staged in cities across the globe, featuring world-ranked fighters and two title fights during each event.
 
The Bellator Champions Series kicks off at SSE Arenain Belfast, Northern Ireland, March 22 at 1 p.m. ET and is followed by Bellator Champions Series Paris on May 17 at the Accor Arena. With World Championships on the line, each event will highlight the best fighters from each region with locally relevant matchups. The full slate of 2024 Bellator Champions Series events are as follows (timing will be announced closer to event dates):

  • March 22, 1 p.m. ET — Bellator Champions Series Belfast – The SSE Arena, Belfast
  • May 17 — Bellator Champions Series Paris – Accor Arena
  • June 22 — Bellator Champions Series Dublin – 3Arena
  • Sept. 7 — Bellator Champions Series San Diego – Pechanga Arena
  • Sept. 14 — Bellator Champions Series London – OVO Wembley
  • Oct. 12 — Bellator Champions Series Chicago – Wintrust Arena
  • Nov. 16 — Bellator Champions Series Paris – ADIDAS Arena
  • Dec. 31 — Bellator Champions Series – TBD

 

Additionally, TNT Sports will televise a slate of Bellator content throughout the year on the “TNT Sports on truTV” programming block. Broadcast details will be announced in the coming weeks.

The first event fight card includes:

  • Main Event: Corey Anderson v. Karl Moore
    Bellator Light Heavyweight Title Fight (205 lb)
    Corey Anderson, one of the best light heavyweights of the last decade, gets his third crack at becoming a world champion as he takes on Belfast’s very own Karl Moore. Anderson has won against five different MMA world champions. Moore is riding a four-fight win streak and is fighting to become Bellator’s first Irish Champion in front of his home crowd.
  • Co-Main Event: Patricio Pitbull v. Jeremy Kennedy
    Bellator Featherweight Title Fight (145 lb)
    Bellator G.O.A.T. Patricio Pitbull defends his featherweight title against the division’s #1 title contender, ferocious Jeremy Kennedy. Pitbull is the only Bellator 4X World Champion and holds the records for most fights (29), wins (23), and finishes (13) in Bellator history. Kennedy has won six of his last seven fights against top competition to earn this title shot.
  • Middleweight No. 1 Contender Bout: Fabian Edwards v. Aaron Jeffery
    Fabian “The Assassin” Edwards, the brother of UFC Welterweight Champ Leon Edwards, looks to rebound from a close Championship loss to undefeated Johnny Eblen last time out. Edwards will have to go through hard-hitting Canadian Aaron Jeffery to re-establish himself worthy of another shot at the Bellator Middleweight Championship Belt.

 

In addition to the eight global events, Max subscribers will also have access to two new all-access docuseries, both debuting March 21 ahead of the first event March 22. Fans can go behind-the-scenes and delve deeper into the fighter’s lives as they push beyond their limits to mentally prepare and train for their match ups. In “Fight Camp Confidential,” viewers will witness a journey into the lives of Bellator’s most elite fighters as the show travels to the camps of Bellator champions and title contenders, giving an up-close and personal look at their training regimes. “Fight Week” is an all-access look at the lives of championship fighters as they prepare to defend their belts, showing the intensity of training mixed with lighthearted moments that make up fight week.​

Additional programming available to stream on Max will include a selection from Bellator’s full library featuring 300-plus events with 3,000 fights, pre-fight, post-fight, and original programming, including legends from the sport such as Kimbo Slice, “Rampage” Jackson, Chael Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, Tito Ortiz, Fedor Emelianenko, and the full fight history of Bellator homegrown talent such as AJ McKee, Johnny Eblen, Aaron Pico, Michael Chandler, and Michael “Venom” Page.

“Following our historic acquisition of Bellator, Professional Fighters League is proud to partner with Warner Bros. Discovery for the highly anticipated Bellator Champions Series to stream exclusively on Max for fans across the United States, at no extra cost to subscribers, when the global franchise launches on March 22,” Peter Murray, CEO of the Professional Fighters League, said in a statement. “We’re excited for audiences to tune into Bellator’s new home on Max for eight Bellator Champions Series events in 2024 taking place in iconic cities around the globe, featuring world title fights and the biggest stars in combat sports. There’s an incredible demand for premium, year-round MMA content from major media platforms and this is the latest milestone in PFL’s ambition to bring the sport’s best to audiences around the world.”

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“We are thrilled to partner with Professional Fighters League to introduce a new live sport to the U.S. Warner Bros. Discovery content portfolio,” Josh Walker, chief financial and strategy officer for Warner Bros. Discovery Streaming, said in a statement. “The addition of Bellator Champions Series offers our viewers an opportunity to experience highly anticipated mixed martial arts, nicely complementing our robust slate of can’t miss programming.”

Doc ‘In the Company of Kings’ Due for Digital Purchase and Rental April 30, on DVD May 27 From Virgil

Virgil Films will release the documentary In the Company of Kings for digital rental (VOD) and sale (EST) April 30, and on DVD May 27.

In the Company of Kings follows a fight fan’s journey into the dark heart of American boxing to talk to eight former World Champs and those closest to his hero Muhammad Ali about race, struggle, victory, defeat and picking yourself up off the canvas.

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The documentary features Larry Holmes, Bernard Hopkins, Tim Witherspoon, Earnie Shavers, the Spinks brothers, Bob Arum and more.

 

Hub Research: Sports Big Influence in Viewers’ Platform Choice

In its latest survey, “What’s the Score: The Evolution of Sports Media,” Hub Entertainment Research found access to sports strongly influences viewers’ choice of platform.

Sports fans care about sports more than other kinds of content, with almost 80% of sports fans saying that during the season, content about their favorite sport is more important than other things they watch on TV. More than a third (36%) say it’s much more important than other kinds of content.

Sports have the power to influence which platforms viewers sign up for, Hub also found. Across sports, 75% of avid fans said they would be likely to sign up for a new streaming subscription if they needed it to watch a sport they follow. 

Fans are more likely to follow some sports to streaming than others, Hub found, but in general, 70% to 80% of avid fans would at least consider adding a new subscription. And half of NFL, NBA, and Premier League fans said they would be “very likely” to consider signing up if they needed a new platform to watch.

Besides drawing its own viewers, sports content drives discovery of other content on the same platforms. In the Hub survey, about a third (31%) said they often watch shows that they see promoted during a game or other sports content. When watching a live game, 27% said they often stay on the same channel to watch the show that comes on next (and another 38% do so “occasionally”).

“These findings reinforce that sports content will have a big impact on the next stage of the streaming wars, and might entirely settle them,” Jon Giegengack, principal at Hub, said in a statement. “There are lots of sports fans, and they care more about the sports they follow than anything else on TV. As expensive as rights have become, they may turn out to be the best investment: hours and hours of unique content which comes with a built-in audience that tunes in every season without fail.”

For the study, Hub conducted 3,016 interviews with U.S. sports fans age 13 to 74. The data were collected in January 2024.

Swerve TV Fast Channel to Stream IBA Champions’ Night

Swerve TV, a free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) channel operator, will televise live the International Boxing Association (IBA) Champions’ Night on its Swerve Combat channel.

The event will be available free on the channel on internet-connected TVs in the United States on Dec. 9 starting at 10:30 a.m. EST. 

That main event delivers a clash between Albert Batyrgaziev, the Olympic champion from Russia, facing the three-time World champion, Cuba’s Lazaro Alvarez Estrada, in the 60kg division. The fight card also boasts an 86kg battle with World champion Loren Alfonso Domingues of Azerbaijan facing the World Championships runner-up Aliaksei Alfiorau from Belarus. In another thrilling match-up, Saidjamshid Jafarov, the World Championships silver medallist, will fight against Japan’s World champion Sewonrets Okazawa in the 67kg class.

“Once again, Swerve Combat will deliver an incredibly high profile live boxing event to our audience without paywalls,” Steve Shannon, CEO of Swerve TV, said in a statement. “We are grateful to the IBA for their innovative approach to reach millions of boxing fans across the USA.”

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Swerve Combat “has seen tremendous growth more than doubling viewership so far in 2023  as a result of increased delivery of combat competitions during the past year and is committed to delivering more free, live combat competitions as its FAST audience grows,” according to Swerve TV.

CFO: Fox Keeping Eyes Open for Live Sports Streaming Option

Outside of the Fox Nation subscription streaming VOD service, and its ad-supported Fox Weather and Tubi platforms, Fox Corp. remains a legacy pay-TV distributor. But should live sports shift direct-to-consumer, Fox, which distributes the NFL, MLB, Major League Soccer, NASCAR, NCAA football, basketball, FIFA World Cup, and WWE SmackDown across linear and online pay-TV networks, is ready to participate, according to CFO Steve Tomsic.

Speaking Dec. 4 at the UBS Global Media & Communications Conference in New York, Tomsic was asked about Disney’s pending ESPN-branded live sports offering and how Fox would respond.

Tomsic acknowledged ESPN is a strong brand, but added that with much of live sports gobbled up by territorial TV rights, getting enough live sports on a singular streaming platform remains a challenge.

“We did a calculus of all the sort of distribution modes that could possibly emerge,” Tomsic said. “With sports in this country, they’re so fragmented. If you’re a sports fan and you want to watch the NFL in a given week, you go to Amazon for Thursdays, you go to us on Sunday, you’ve got CBS on Sunday, you’ve got NBC Sunday night and you’ve got ESPN on Monday. No one sports service is going to satisfy.”

Steven Tomsic

That said, should the slowly rising tide of live sports streaming, including select NFL games on Peacock, Paramount+ and Prime Video — including the latter’s recent deal to live-stream NASCAR races along with Max — reach the broadcast shoreline, Tomsic said Fox would be all in revisiting its strategy.

Specifically, the executive said Fox does not define itself by the delivery mechanism, or the way content is scheduled, adding that live sports and news are different than entertainment.

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“For entertainment, there’s no doubt that streaming has delivered a better user experience,” Tomsic said. “It’s on-demand, you watch it when you want to watch it. Sports and news are the opposite. Live sports expects the viewer to be on demand. People don’t watch replays of the news or live sports.”

“We don’t consider ourselves a linear TV programmer,” he added. “We have the rights capability, both on the sports side and on the news side, to be able to deliver our services DTC. We have a pretty extensive technology build. We have all the building blocks for us [direct-to-consumer], if and when that becomes appropriate. But for now, we still think the right strategy is where we’re at.”