Warner Bros. Discovery aims to make all of the sporting events it has developed over the years for cable crowds available to streamers at the same time — so long as they are willing to pay extra for the privilege.
The media giant, which enjoys lucrative rights deals with the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL and the NCAA “March Madness” tournament, wants to use those properties to bring eyeballs to Max, its streaming service. And so, starting Oct. 5, the company will launch a new “Bleacher Report” add-on package to Max. The offering will also include access to TNT’s popular “Inside the NBA” studio program and live international events such as “24 Hours of Le Mans.” Warner Bros. Discovery vows to stream 300 live games per year.
“We are trying to find customers everywhere we can,” says JB Perrette, CEO and president of streaming and games for Warner Bros. Discovery, in an interview — all the while working to preserve relationships with people who haven’t cut the cord, who continue to get Max as part of a subscription to linear HBO.
The new package will debut on Max Oct. 5, in time for MLB post-season and the Oct. 7 start of the National League Division Series, as well as the launch of the next NHL season. By the time the NCAA’s “March Madness” begins to bounce, however, the pay tier will kick in. After Feb. 29, access to Bleacher Report will cost $9.99 per month.
Warner is betting it can tread a tricky path to digital success. The company’s schedule of NBA games, NHL contests and MLB matchups are a critical part of the economics of its giant cable networks TNT and TBS. In 2022, those two outlets, which feature dozens of live sports broadcasts, drew $1.6 billion in advertising, according to data from Kagan, a market-research unit of S&P Global Intelligence — nearly 5% of the company’s overall revenue from that year. And yet, Warner needs to demonstrate to Wall Street that it can mine new profits from streaming; an additional tier might shine a light on those efforts.
Warner Bros. Discovery has already taken steps in this direction. It plans to launch a “CNN Max” service on the streaming hub next week. That live-streaming news product will simulcast some live hours from linear CNN — including Jake Tapper’s late-afternoon program and Wolf Blitzer’s early-evening newscast.
Such moves may be essential in an era when viewers are moving away from traditional video outlets like cable and choosing the video smorgasbords offering by streaming. But setting up programs that are cable linchpins can also anger distributors, who continue to shell out millions for linear networks. Walt Disney Co. ran up against this dynamic in recent carriage talks with Charter Communications, which accused the media giant of putting too much of the programming that was at the center of its cable networks on its streaming products as well. The companies’ new deal calls for Charter subscribers to have new access to Disney streaming outlets — and for Charter to drop a number of well-established Disney cable networks, including Freeform and Disney Junior.
But Warner executives say they aren’t starving cable to feed broadband. “We are not taking content away,” says Luis Silberwasser, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, in an interview. And the company will strive to keep things simple for viewers. There are no niche-sports offerings consigned to streaming, he says, or plans to move games from one platform to the other depending on market conditions. “We are giving consumers a very clear and transparent choice,” he says, based on how they want to watch.
The company plans to offer additional content and technology features as the offering evolves. Silberwasser expects over time to launch options such as multiple camera angles and the ability to watch a game from the beginning if the viewers has arrived to it late. He also predicts Warner may test out “alterna-casts,” or sports broadcasts tailored to specific audience niches or hosted by a different set of commentators.
By the time Bleacher Report launches, Max’s entertainment offerings will be flanked with news and sports options, a move Perrette believes will keep subscribers watching the site longer and spark a new flow of revenue. Of course, the company isn’t leaving anything to chance. As “March Madness” approaches along with the end of the free sports window, Warner Bros. Discovery will likely go into sales mode for Max. “We are going door to door,” says Perrette.