Media mergers and TV sports


When a proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner was approved in mid-June, it sparked high levels of speculation as to the future impact on the consumer. It also set the stage for yet another possible merger as media mogul Rupurt Murdoch began entertaining offers to sell his 21st Century Fox empire to either Disney or Comcast.

This all leaves sports fans with both concern and optimism for the future.

First lets look at the AT&T-Time Warner merger and make sure not to confuse this with Time Warner Cable, which was sold to Spectrum in 2016. Prior to the merger, AT&T’s biggest television asset was DirecTV, which of course carries the NFL Sunday Ticket. Time Warner, meanwhile, owns all of the HBO channels as well as those under Turner Broadcasting which include TNT, WTBS, CNN, TruTV, Turner Classic Movies and the Cartoon Network.

All a sports fan has to do is look at these channels and providers and the writing is on the wall for sports viewing potential. But not so fast.

The NFL is obviously the biggest player here and the NFL Sunday Ticket, where subscribers can view out-of-market NFL games, is carried by the AT&T-owned DirecTV. Their contract extends through the 2022 season and costs DirecTV $1.5 billion annually and includes broadband streaming. Currently, the only feature in this package that is shared in the cable TV world is the NFL’s Red Zone channel, which is immensely popular as it takes viewers directly to any game when a team has the potential to score. Or, you get the highlights shortly after.

On the Time Warner side, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is carried in by Turner Broadcasting in conjunction with CBS. HBO carries sports programing as well. Then there’s Bleacher Report, a popular sports-reporting website that Turner acquired in 2012.

Upon hearing of the merger football fans immediately began hypothesizing about more NFL opportunities, particularly, the option of watching the game of their choice. Any changes to the current contract, however, would obviously need the approval of the NFL who would surely consider the financial ramifications. Having other sports assets, including Bleacher Report and the Turner Broadcast channels, will certainly make the next round of NFL broadcasting contract discussions very interesting.

As for the Fox deal, there are over 20 Fox Sports channels in the mix for either Disney, which owns ESPN, or Comcast, who owns NBC sports to eventually sort out. And they all have shares in Hulu.

The bottom line is that while other screen genres are at the forefront of the merger, you can bet that sports viewing possibilities on cable, satellite and through streaming providers will be at or near the top of the priority list. Stay tuned!

Dan Ladd

Dan Ladd

Dan Ladd is a freelance sports writer who works out of Gracenote’s Queensbury, NY office.

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