U.K. Regulatory Board Approves Warner Bros. Discovery, BT Group Joint Sports Streaming Venture

The U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority has approved the BT Group agreement with Warner Bros. Discovery to form a 50/50 joint venture (JV) company that will create a new sports streaming offering for the U.K. and Ireland.

The decision now allows BT and Warner Bros. Discovery to complete the creation of the JV in the coming weeks and for each of their assets to be transferred into the new company. BT Sport and Eurosport U.K. will be brought together to form a sports streaming company with reportedly one of the most extensive portfolios of sports rights in the U.K. and Ireland. Both BT Sport and Eurosport U.K. will initially retain their separate brands and product propositions in the market before being brought together under a single brand in the future.

“Combining the capabilities, portfolios and scale of BT Sport and Eurosport U.K. will be a big win for fans in the U.K. and Ireland, offering a new destination that will feature all the sport they love in one place,” Andrew Georgiou, future board member of the JV and president and managing director of Warner Bros. Discovery Sports Europe, said in a statement.

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The board of directors of the JV will be equally represented between appointees of British Telecommunications plc and Warner Bros. Discovery. The first chairperson to be appointed, nominated by each shareholder on a rotating basis, will be Marc Allera, CEO BT’s consumer division. The new management and delivery of the JV will be led by Georgiou, who will also be a member of its board.

“Today is a huge milestone, as we now look toward day one of the new business, which we hope to be in the coming weeks,” Allera said.

NFL Set to Launch SVOD Service This Summer

The National Football League is reportedly preparing to launch a monthly subscription streaming service as early as July. Dubbed NFL Plus, the $4.99 monthly streaming service would be available on portable devices and offer the same live games currently broadcast on local TV networks.

The league previously streamed select games on laptops and other portable devices through agreements with third-party telecom carriers. Those agreements have since expired.

NFL owners discussed the platform at the ongoing summer meeting in Atlanta, according to Sports Business Journal.

The NFL currently airs games through multi-billion-dollar distribution deals with Fox, NBC, CBS and ESPN, in addition to an exclusive pact with Amazon Prime Video for NFL Thursday Night Football beginning this year.

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Parks: Sports Most-Popular Live-Streamed Content

Parks Associates’ new video research May 9 reports that 43% of U.S. internet households have live-streamed online content in the past three months, with sporting events by far the most popular type of content.

Sixty-one percent of live-streaming users have recently watched a live sporting event online, while newscasts, the second most popular type of content captured only 36% of live-streamers.

“Consumers who subscribe to online sports services or those who subscribe to a premium pay-TV sports package are more likely to live-stream,” Paul Erickson, director of research at Dallas-based Parks, said in a statement. “Right now, sports content is key to drawing and keeping an engaged live-stream viewer base. Even with content that benefits from live consumption — such as news and concerts — significantly fewer consumers are livestreaming this content compared to sports. The sports audience is significantly more engaged in livestreaming as a whole.”

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Indeed, sports is the reason Amazon Prime Video is spending $1 billion annually to exclusively live-stream “NFL Thursday Night Football” with play caller Al Michaels and former ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit.

Parks found that 78% of those who subscribe to an OTT sports service have live-streamed, as opposed to just one-quarter of those who do not subscribe to an OTT sports service. Consumers who regularly live-stream content are engaged users. For many, live-streamed content is their primary content consumption. Consumers who live-stream estimate that live online content comprises close to half of their total online video consumption. Among heavy live-stream viewers, on-demand content comprises just over one-quarter of their online video consumption.

“Offering live-streaming content is an opportunity for services to draw both the highly engaged heavy live-streaming audience and live-stream-centric older audiences,” Erickson said. “Consumers in the higher age brackets can be difficult to target, but live-streaming is one option that appeals to them, provided the provider delivers the right content.”

Gannett Bows ‘USA Today Sports+’ Streaming Service

When USA Today launched in 1980, it revolutionized the newspaper industry by offering a national paper targeting local markets. The venerable media company is now playing catch-up with a new over-the-top video service, called USA Today Sports+.

Parent Gannett Sept. 7 said the platform enables subscribers to curate and customize their local sports experience with immersive content, including interactive video, audio and augmented reality features.

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USA Today Sports+ launches in seven markets, including Arizona, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee and Wisconsin to complement the start of the 2021 National Football League season.

The product is free for existing digital subscribers of select Gannett properties in launch markets, includingThe Indianapolis StarDetroit Free Press and The Enquirer. New users can subscribe via the USA Today Sports+ App or directly on the website and receive a three-month free trial. Non-subscribers can access three non-premium articles and view the first AR experience. Registered users can access all non-premium articles and also view the first AR experience.

The subscription streams real-time sports news, reporting, content, betting odds, and insider analysis from more than 300 local, niche, and national publications across the USA Today network. Subscribers will also have access to SMS texting and live group chats.

USA Today recently launched a branded digital subscription model with a goal to reach 10 million subscribers by the end of 2025. Gannett also entered into a sports betting agreement with Tipico U.S., the U.S.-based sportsbook of Tipico Group Ltd. in Germany. Tipico will provide odds integration and live, real-time NFL scoreboards and gaming data across USA Togay Sports+.

“Gannett is betting big on sports,” Gannett CEO Michael Reed said in a statement. “We are well positioned to reach our sports audience of over 53 million sports fans and capitalize on our large network of over 500 dedicated sports journalists, offering access and local perspective.”

Gannett is marketing the sports SVOD through mid-November with a campaign dubbed “Fan Harder.” The campaign includes radio ads, out-of-home billboards and banners, a geo-targeted social media campaign with TikTok and Twitter, digital displays and sponsorships at local events.

USA Today Sports+ is also providing subscribers with “Hear This Story” audio features, “It’s a Football Podcast!” original insider podcast, homepage customization, sports gaming insight and odds.

The first available AR experience will showcase Tennessee Titans super fan, Yolanda Dixon, and Indianapolis Colts super fan, Rick Stevens, their passion for the game and their team loyalty. These sensory experiences immerse subscribers in storytelling through multi-surface tracking, geolocation support, and volumetric video support.

Subscribers will have access to a new AR experience monthly, delivering industry leading interactive features, data visualizations, interactive photos and videos with 3D elements and audio experiences.

Finally, Josina Anderson, an NFL expert and veteran with over 20 years of experience, is joining USA Today Sports+ as a senior NFL insider. Anderson is the creator and host of “Undefined With Josina Anderson” and “The Crew.” She previously worked for ESPN and was named the network’s first female national NFL insider in 2015.

Sports Film ’12 Mighty Orphans’ Due on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray Aug. 31 From Sony

The historical sports film 12 Mighty Orphans will come out on digital, DVD and Blu-ray Aug. 31 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

An official selection at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film stars Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker, with Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen.

It tells the true story of the Mighty Mites, the football team of a Fort Worth, Texas, orphanage who, during the Great Depression, went from playing without shoes — or even a football — to playing for the Texas state championships. Over the course of their winning season these underdogs and their resilient spirit became an inspiration to their city, state and an entire nation in need of a rebound, even catching the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The architect of their success was Rusty Russell, a legendary high school coach who shocked his colleagues by giving up a privileged position so he could teach and coach at an orphanage. Few knew Rusty’s secret: that he himself was an orphan. Recognizing that his scrawny players couldn’t beat the other teams with brawn, Rusty developed innovative strategies that would come to define modern football.

Special features include deleted scenes.

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Disney, NFL and ESPN Reach Long-Term Agreement

The Walt Disney Company, ESPN and the National Football League have reached a long-term agreement that will result in ABC/ESPN joining the Super Bowl rotation, having additional playoff action, exclusive national ESPN+ matchups over the course of the agreement, and more regular-season contests including “Monday Night Football.”

The deal will also result in enhanced game quality and new schedule flexibility, according to a Disney press release.

The 10-year agreement begins with the 2023 season.

“This landmark agreement guarantees that ESPN’s passionate fan base will continue to have access to the best the NFL has to offer,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in a statement. “Bringing all the considerable and unique capabilities of The Walt Disney Company and ESPN to the table opens up so many opportunities across our industry-leading direct-to-consumer, broadcast, cable, linear, social and digital outlets. Special thanks to Roger Goodell and the NFL owners for continuing to embrace new ways to appeal to their fans, especially through increasingly important platforms like ESPN+.”

“When ESPN and the NFL work best together, the results are transformational for sports fans and the industry,” Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and sports content, said in a statement. “Some of the most remarkable collaborative examples have occurred in the past 12 months and have demonstrated the extraordinary range of The Walt Disney Company that is fundamental to this agreement. There are so many exciting new components, including Super Bowls and added playoff games, new end-of-season games with playoff implications, exclusive streaming games on ESPN+, scheduling flexibility and enhancements, and much more. It’s a wide-ranging agreement unlike any we’ve reached with the NFL, and we couldn’t be more energized about what the future holds.”

“We are thrilled to extend and expand our partnership with Disney far into the future, as ESPN will continue to host cable’s most-watched series, ‘Monday Night Football,’ and ABC is returning as a Super Bowl broadcaster,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “We look forward to working with Disney as they use new platforms, including ESPN+, in innovative ways to reach even more NFL fans.”

ABC/ESPN will carry two Super Bowls (2026, 2030 seasons) as part of a rotation between the NFL’s media partners, marking the first time that an ESPN-NFL agreement includes such Super Bowl rights, according to the press release. ABC last televised the Super Bowl in February 2006 (2005 NFL season). Also, ESPN will present more playoff action, adding an annual divisional round game to its schedule, which will continue to include a wild-card matchup.

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ESPN’s increased regular-season package will include one annual exclusive national game on ESPN+. The game will take place internationally and will be aired live in the Sunday morning Eastern time zone window. Additionally, this agreement allows ESPN the opportunity to simulcast all ESPN/ABC game telecasts on ESPN+.

Also included is rights for the return of ESPN+ highlights show “NFL PrimeTime” each week on the streaming platform.

ESPN will increase its regular-season schedule by 35% — six more games per year (from 17 to 23). It will include an ESPN game on Monday nights (including three weeks with a separate game on ABC), a Saturday doubleheader the season’s final week and the Sunday morning game on ESPN+.

The added two Saturday games will take place during the final week of the regular season and will showcase matchups with playoff implications. Both of those games will be simulcast on ABC and ESPN.

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The agreement includes new elements that will enhance the caliber of the “Monday Night Football” slate, according to the press release. First, the schedule will be more flexible than in years past with the ability for the NFL to swap “a more meaningful” game into the “Monday Night Football” slot with 12 days’ notice from Week 12 on, according to the press release. Additionally, top teams will appear more often, as a result of the agreement which provides ESPN the ability to showcase any four teams at least twice, “leading to even more compelling games,” according to Disney.

With comprehensive NFL highlights rights, ESPN will continue to offer and/or develop NFL-branded programming, pre- and post-game shows, news, analysis and highlights studio shows, storytelling vehicles, digital and social content and more. The deal also includes data rights (e.g. – NFL’s Next Gen stats), according to Disney.

In addition, ESPN has once again secured rights to the annual Pro Bowl. Other key elements include opportunities for alternate telecasts, extending and expanding ESPN’s international rights (including areas in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Oceania, India), ESPN Deportes and more.

ESPN has also obtained rights to NFL Drafts, an event that has been an ESPN fixture since 1980, as part of the agreement.

The 2021 season will be the last in ESPN’s current arrangement with the NFL. ESPN and the NFL have reached a bridge agreement for 2022 — the year between when the previous agreement expires and the new 10-year extension begins. For both the 2021 and 2022 seasons, all the foundational components from the agreement expiring in 2021 will be included (e.g. – weekly “Monday Night Football” games), in addition to select elements from the new 10-year agreement. For example, in 2021, ESPN will be adding the two Saturday games with playoff implications on the last weekend of the regular season. For the 2022 bridge year, ESPN will showcase the two Saturday games with playoff implications on the last weekend of the season, a Sunday morning ESPN+ game and one ABC “Monday Night Football” broadcast on a week there is also an ESPN Monday Night Football telecast.

Fight-Themed SVOD Platform DAZN Bows Globally

DAZN, the London-based sports streaming platform that last year signed Mexican boxing champion Canelo Álvarez to an 11-fight, $365 million fight deal, has launched SVOD service in 200 countries. The initial monthly price point for new markets will be £1.99 or less.

The platform will debut with back-to-back weekends featuring boxing events with international appeal. On Dec. 5, budding lightweight American star Ryan Garcia takes on the battle-tested Brit and 2012 Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell. On Dec. 12, unified heavyweight champion of the world Anthony Joshua OBE will defend his world titles against Bulgarian mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev.

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“From the U.K. to Mexico to Australia, we’ve seen an encouraging level of interest in our key events since first launching in 2016,” EVP Joseph Markowski said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to introducing the platform around the world … with an exciting schedule of fights.”

In addition to world championship boxing events, the service will stream past classic fights, athlete features and a slate of original programming, including “40 Days,” “Saturday Fight Live” and “One Night.” Additional sports and programming will be added beginning in 2021.

The DAZN app is available on most Internet-connected devices, including smartphones, tablets, laptops, PCs, and living room devices such as smart TVs, streaming sticks and game consoles.

 

Peacock Adds NBC Sports Channel

Peacock has added a new exclusive free channel: NBC Sports on Peacock.

Debuting Aug. 24, the channel will stream daytime live sports talk programming, including “PFT Live with Mike Florio,” “The Dan Patrick Show” and “The Rich Eisen Show.” In September, “Brother From Another” and “PFT PM” will join the lineup.

From the creators of “Pro Football Talk Live,” “PFT PM” delivers the latest news from around the league. The show is hosted by Mike Florio and regularly features Charean Williams, Peter King, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and Chris Simms.

“Peacock provides live topical sports conversations all day, every weekday, from the best and most experienced personalities in sports,” Rick Cordella, EVP and chief revenue officer for Peacock, said in a statement. “We’re excited to launch the NBC Sports Channel on Peacock with this unique and exclusive content, who provide the fans the latest commentary and opinion on everything that is happening in the world of sport.”

The NBC Sports on Peacock schedule includes “PFT Live with Mike Florio” 7 a.m.-9 a.m. ET, “The Dan Patrick Show” 9 a.m.-noon ET, “The Rich Eisen Show” noon-3 p.m. ET (exclusivity begins Oct. 5), “Brother From Another” 3 p.m.-6 p.m. ET, and “PFT PM” 6 p.m.-7 p.m. ET.

Shows will be available on demand in addition to streaming live. Highlights from NBC Sports Channel on Peacock will also be featured in the service’s Trending section, a hub for short-form content that is updated on a daily basis and includes sports highlights, pop culture updates, and shorter interview and news segments.

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Upcoming live sports on Peacock includes coverage of golf’s U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, Premier League, an NFL Wild Card Playoff Game, and select events from the upcoming Tokyo and Beijing Olympics. Fans can also watch on demand replays of events such as Triple Crown horse races, daily highlights from NBC Sports, and hundreds of hours of sports series, documentaries and films such as Tiger Woods: Chasing History; 1968; I Am AliDream TeamBeing EvelFeherty; Willie; and Peacock Originals Lost Speedways and In Deep with Ryan Lochte.

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Consumers can sign up for Peacock for free at peacocktv.com. Peacock is currently available on Apple devices including iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD; Google platforms and devices including Android, Android TV devices, Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices; Microsoft’s Xbox One family of devices, including Xbox One S and Xbox One X; Sony PlayStation4 and PlayStation 4 Pro; and Vizio SmartCast TVs and LG Smart TVs. Comcast’s eligible Xfinity X1 and Flex customers, as well as eligible Cox Contour customers, enjoy Peacock Premium included with their service at no additional cost.

ESPN+ Raising Subscription Price in August

Despite a dearth of live sports programming, Disney reportedly is set to raise the price of subscription streaming service ESPN+ by $1 to $5.99 monthly beginning in August. The new price would equal the monthly fee for Hulu basic with advertising. The annual $49.99 fee stays the same. Existing ESPN+ subs would be grandfathered into the new price point after one year, according to The Verge, which first reported the price hike, citing sources.

Launched in 2018, ESPN+ features streaming access to 20 sports, including the PGA Tour, UFC, NBA and NFL, and ended March with 7.9 million subs.

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Disney has been aggressively marketing the service bundled with Hulu and Disney+ for $12.99 — a move research firm eMarketer contends will drive ESPN+ subs to 15 million by the end of the year. Disney is also offering standalone ESPN+ subs access to Hulu and Disney+ for $9.99 monthly.

eMarketer contends 36.5 million people in the country will watch live sports digitally this year (when they resume) — including 23.7% watching via digital channels.

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Cinedigm to Promote Sports-Themed Whistle TV

Cinedigm is continuing to help third-party over-the-top video platforms gain distribution. The streaming video/home entertainment distributor announced a partnership with Team Whistle, a media and entertainment company that includes Whistle, Tiny Horse, New Form and Vertical Networks, to accelerate the distribution of its Whistle TV streaming service.

Whistle TV is an OTT linear and VOD sports and entertainment network featuring original shows and library content from studios, networks and leagues across the industry.

Whistle TV claims to fill a void in the market by combining brand safe sports, entertainment and lifestyle content.

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Cinedigm will work with Team Whistle to significantly expand Whistle TV’s nationwide distribution on linear, AVOD and SVOD platforms on connected TVs, digital set-top boxes, media-streaming devices, and Web-based and online OTT services. Further extending the partnership, Cinedigm will also distribute select Whistle TV films and series in North America across the broader OTT landscape.

Whistle TV is currently live on Samsung TV Plus, Vizio SmartCast and Sinclair Broadcast Group’s STIRR.

With the recent acquisitions of New Form and Vertical Networks in 2019, and most recently Tiny Horse in 2020, Team Whistle bolstered its portfolio of IP and studio, interactive, advertising and marketing services capabilities.

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“As we continue to drive innovation and growth of the streaming sector amidst a once-in-a-generation period of change, we are constantly looking for partners that represent where the business is headed,” Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks, said in a statement. “Team Whistle’s premium content, massive scale and unmatched marketing make them a fantastic partner as we reinvent television together.”

Whistle’s premium original programming includes “No Days Off,” “My Hustle,” “Dunk League” and “Bad Jokes”. The platform also streams niche NCAA sports as well as arm wrestling and kickboxing.

Feature-length movies and documentaries include inspirational sports movies and TV series from studios, festivals and distribution companies such as The Modern Game, Wrestling with Life and Destination Team USA.

“Whistle TV is a first of its kind OTT network,” said Michael Cohen, president of Team Whistle. “Our goal is to deliver the content our audience craves where, when and how they want it. Cinedigm understands this, has extraordinary distribution relationships, and is the perfect partner to help us achieve our goals.”