In the early days of streaming, Netflix and Hulu promised an on-demand viewing experience with an ever-growing library of movies and TV shows, presenting an alternative to the traditional cable package.
Today, consumers are cutting the cable, but also juggling streaming services, creating a fragmented and confusing experience – and perhaps driving the need for a streaming plan.
“It certainly could happen if one focused on one demographic and the other focused on another demographic,” Liberty Media President John Malone told CNBC’s David Faber in an interview that aired Thursday. “A Disney+ with Max could be a pretty decent combination. You might also see sports-related or targeted bundles.”
Malone, known in the industry as the “cable cowboy,” is a member of the board of directors of Warner Bros. Discovery, the parent company of Max. He has already spoken of a the future of streaming packages. But the idea has become more urgent lately as media companies try to achieve profitability with their direct-to-consumer offerings.
Sports streaming, as Malone noted, is a major piece of the puzzle. Streaming platforms such as YouTube TV, NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Amazon Prime have made the jump and paid the price to broadcast marquee sports, such as NFL Football. But exclusive deals keep certain games away from those who don’t subscribe to the right streaming service.
For example, Amazon got exclusive rights to NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” in 2021 for $1 billion per year until 2033. Last year, YouTube TV has secured the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket for 2 billion dollars per year. Those who don’t subscribe to one or both of these services might be out of luck when trying to view games streamed as part of these exclusive deals.
“Broadcasting continues to survive, but it’s under real pressure as big tech competes for sports,” Malone told CNBC. “The anomaly is that network neutrality creates this world in which Amazon can buy ‘Thursday Night Football’ for multiples of what the industry paid – essentially choking the networks and forcing distribution companies to spend a lot of money to quickly increase their capacity. “.
This month, Disney announced plans to buy the remaining third of Comcast’s stake in Hulu. And next month, Disney to launch combined app which will bring together Disney+ and Hulu content. Disney already offers a three-person bundle including Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN+, which Disney owns.
The company plans to roll out its direct-to-consumer ESPN offering, essentially the full channel available as a streaming option, in 2025, according to Disney CEO Bob Iger. “We obviously plan to bring ESPN directly to the consumer,” Iger told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin on Wednesday. “We feel good about it.”
Malone also discussed the potential for more cable streaming packages, reflecting the resolution of the dispute between Disney and Spectrum’s parent company, Charter Communications. The companies’ agreement included Ad-supported Disney+ and ESPN+ packages in certain Spectrum offers.
“The streaming version with ads will be part of the cable package,” Malone, a former Charter board member, told CNBC. “You can buy the ESPN stream if you want, but why would you pay for it twice? I would much rather cable companies be distributors of streaming in bundles and packages, because both are sort of hip-related.”
Warner Bros. Discovery declined to comment. Disney did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.