Sports and news programming will be coming “soon” to Max, according to Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav.
The categories “are important. They’re differentiators. They’re compelling,” he said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call with Wall Street analysts. “They make these platforms come alive. If you’re on an SVOD platform and something is going on in the world and you can see it, it makes that platform really alive. So, you will hear from us on that. Soon.”
Zaslav didn’t offer any timeline for when news and sports might be added to Max, which rebranded in May from HBO Max and incorporated a large amount of programming from Discovery+, which is still offered as a stand-alone. While the company has digital rights to its sports content, the task of migrating broadcasts from linear to streaming is fraught, given the carriage fees WBD charges to pay-TV operators for TNT, CNN and other networks. Zaslav said the management team is “working hard” on refining the programming mix and determining how best to incorporate news and sports down the line.
The CEO was asked about recent reports that a beefed-up ESPN streaming service will be made available outside the pay-TV bundle by 2025. The Disney sports outlet is facing the same challenges as Warner Discovery as it navigates the broader shift from linear to streaming. “We’re focused on how we’re going to use our sports domestically and globally to create more shareholder value and economics and help the leagues, who are all interested in reaching more people, more demographics. So, that’s our focus.”
WBD, which reported spotty quarterly results but also posted better-than-expected free cash flow, is facing a big decision in the sports arena about whether to renew rights to the NBA when their current deal expires in 2025. Along with the NBA, the company’s sports portfolio includes the NHL, Major League Baseball and NCAA men’s basketball.
CNN is a separate conundrum. After killing streaming service CNN+ soon after the close of the WarnerMedia-Discovery merger in 2022, Zaslav has struggled to land on the best strategic path for the news network even without factoring in streaming. Rival news outlets have generally pursued free, ad-supported streaming rather than charging subscription fees, but CNN’s business for decades has depended on distribution revenue in addition to advertising.