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Combined HBO Max-Discovery+ Service Likely to Feature Streaming NBA Games

David Satin

The thought of streaming as a viable distribution platform has been difficult for many sports leagues to accept. Linear broadcast agreements are incredibly lucrative for major sports, often running into the tens of billions of dollars. But the future of live sports is streaming, whether the transition takes five years or 20. If Warner Bros. Discovery has its way, it will be closer to the lower end of that range.

WBD CEO David Zaslav thinks the time is ripe for increasing the streaming presence of the NBA. Zaslav spoke about his company’s relationship with the league during WBD's Q3 earnings call this week. He noted the ratings success that the NBA is having on one of WBD’s linear networks (TNT) this season, but stressed that the company and the league have to look beyond linear toward the future.

“When [NBA Commissioner Adam Silver] thinks about the future, he thinks about it the same way that I do. None of us love the idea that the only way to watch these games is on cable. There should be an opportunity because there’s a lot of people under 25 that aren’t having access to it,” Zaslav said.

There are non-TNT ways to watch the NBA, of course. The league has its own out-of-market games package called NBA League Pass. But there’s no denying WBD has a large streaming footprint between its two services HBO Max and discovery+, which will be combined into an even larger service in the spring of 2023.

“It’s not lost on Adam that we have a platform that reaches almost 100 million homes and that we’re going to be launching that new platform. The technology and the overall usability of the platform is strong,” Zaslav said. “We’re global. We’re the leader in sports in Europe. We’re one of the leaders in sports in Latin America. We love the NBA, but we’re going to be disciplined.”

Indeed, the company is very familiar with streaming sports in general. Discovery+ owns the European streaming rights to the Olympics, and also holds international streaming rights to soccer, tennis, cycling, and more. Closer to home, the company owns the streaming rights to the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Soccer teams, as well as Champions League rights in Latin America.

So what might an increased NBA streaming presence look like? Speculation in the industry has suggested that initially, HBO Max could get a package of around 40 games per season. According to Deadline, the company sees that as a viable starting point that would help keep TNT afloat, as live basketball games are one of the biggest draws on the network.

Zaslav said his company would be “disciplined” in pursuing such an arrangement with the league, but also that he wants to be “creative” in his approach. When the new, combined HBO Max/discovery+ service launches next spring, there’s a good chance it will be accompanied by a package of streaming NBA games next fall.

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