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Lowered Expectations? Fox’s CEO Tamps Down New Streamer Hype

  • Murdoch details a five-year projection of five million subscribers.
  • FuboTV CEO calls legal challenge a ‘duel to the death.’
The Columbus Dispatch

There have been all sorts of lofty expectations placed around the forthcoming sports-oriented streaming service from ESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery. But apparently not so much from Fox CEO Lachlan Murdoch.

Speaking Monday at Morgan Stanley’s technology, media, and telecommunications conference, Murdoch said he is targeting the service to reach five million subscribers by 2029, a point five years after the projected debut of this fall.

“This is a pro-consumer package,” Murdoch said. “What this bundle does is put a majority of sports into one bundle. It’s an easy place for sports fans to come to.”

The “majority” part of Murdoch’s comments remains debatable as the absence of Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Paramount’s CBS in this streaming alliance leaves out about half of the NFL, as well as large swaths of college sports, golf, tennis, soccer, and horse racing. But more broadly, Murdoch’s subscriber projection is already quite low in today’s context of major streaming services, and even more so when considering a half decade from now. Among the current customer bases for services that could be competing with the new alliance or consumers and dollars:

  • ESPN+: 25.2 million
  • Peacock: 31 million 
  • Max: 97.7 million (number is inclusive of all of WBD’s streaming services and not broken out individually by company)
  • Paramount+: 67.5 million

To be fair, Murdoch compared the planned service more to other multichannel streaming services such as YouTubeTV, which currently has more than eight million subscribers, or Hulu + Live TV, which has 4.6 million. 

“Some of the talk around this being in the teens or 20 million subscribers, we don’t think that’s the case,” Murdoch said.

Why So Low?

So why is Murdoch tamping down expectations for the new sports venture? Some of it may be a classic maneuver of under-promising and over-delivering, allowing the companies to celebrate if and when the five million mark is passed. Another possibility could be an attempt to lower tensions surrounding the new venture, as the companies’ announcement last month caught a number of key constituencies, including league partners, completely by surprise. 

FuboTV, meanwhile, is continuing its lawsuit against ESPN, Fox, and WBD, challenging the new venture on antitrust grounds. Last week, FuboTV CEO David Gandler said in a company earnings call that the legal effort was a “duel to the death. … We’re fighting for our customers. We’re fighting for the tens of billions of dollars that are wasted annually on consumers paying for the same content multiple times.”

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