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Buying Warner Bros. Discovery Would Give Comcast an Impressive Lineup of Live Sports

David Satin

There has been a good deal of speculation regarding the future of Warner Bros. Discovery this summer. The company is in the midst of a $3 billion cost-cutting initiative, which has had wide-reaching implications for HBO and its companion streaming service HBO Max. WBD CEO David Zaslav inherited a debt of over $50 million when he took over the company, and his budget shrinking efforts have been well documented.

One of the biggest points of speculation recently has been whether or not WBD might come up for sale in the near future. Due to the details of the WarnerMedia and Discovery merger which finalized this spring, WBD cannot be sold or taken over until at least 2024. But when that hurdle is cleared, a number of companies may come calling, and Comcast might be first.

Comcast still holds a 33% stake in Hulu, but it is expected that Disney will buy out the reamining stake when contractually allowed in 2024, if not sooner. If this expectation does come to fruition, that will leave Comcast with just NBCUniversal’s Peacock in its streaming arsenal. Industry experts, therefore, believe that the conglomerate would be highly interested in acquiring WBD if it came up for sale in 2024, which would bring HBO and HBO Max under the Comcast umbrella.

While combining the film and television libraries of iconic studios Universal and Warner Bros. would be a big draw, but if Comcast did acquire WBD, it would also inherit a large package of live sports to bolster its already impressive NBCSports lineup. Comcast currently owns the rights to “Sunday Night Football,” the most-watched primetime show on TV for the last 11 years. Comcast also has the U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics, Premier League soccer, Notre Dame football, a slate of MLB games that stream live on Peacock, and the company just secured rights to Big Ten football and basketball.

By buying WBD, Comcast would also get the rights currently owned by WBD cable networks TNT and TBS, which carry a large array of live sports. The Turner Networks are home to NBA, NHL, and MLB games and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (which also airs on TruTV). The Turner Networks also own the rights to AEW wrestling, PGA golf, Grand Slam tennis tournaments, and the Tour de France. WBD also has a huge sports footprint in Europe, holding the European broadcast rights to the Premier League, the Olympics, the UEFA Champions League and more. Buying WBD would give Comcast a global live sports portfolio.

The potential sale of WBD could also further strengthen Comcast’s position in the quickly shrinking pay-TV market. Live sports have long been the backbone of broadcast networks and cable bundles, but with the further fragmentation of rights, linear television is quickly losing its grip on its most valuable asset. A recent study showed that 73% of those who stream live sports say they’ve already cut the cord. Customers who stream live sports are clearly happy enough with the streaming product that they’re willing to leave broadcast and cable behind for good.

Comcast is the largest multichannel video service provider in the country, so not only does it have a vested interest in keeping consumers subscribed to cable, but it also is looking to expand its streaming reach by partnering with the No. 2 provider, Charter, on a next-generation streaming platform. If Comcast were to acquire WBD, it would have the opportunity to not only fortify its singular position in what remains of the pay-TV industry, but also set itself up as a leader in the next evolution of the streaming business.

Not only could the company use live sports as the bedrock for whatever a combined Peacock, HBO Max, and discovery+ service turns out to be, but it could also use the acquisition of WBD to launch a standalone sports streamer. Disney is currently contemplating when to launch a streaming version of all of its ESPN programming, and while no other media entity can currently compete with the self-appointed worldwide leader in sports, if Comcast and Warner Bros. Discovery’s sports rights were unified under a single corporate umbrella, that would become an immediate competitor to ESPN’s dominance.

One of the major stumbling blocks to a dedicated live sports streaming service is the ridiculously intricate web of distribution rights that are currently scattered across different providers. If Comcast were to acquire WBD, it would go a long way toward untangling that web, and may show league executives that it’s better to have their rights in one place than sold piecemeal.

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