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WBD targets ‘long-term’ NBA deal as it unveils Max streaming service

Media giant promises sport will be big part of combined DTC platform but reveals few details.

13 April 2023 Steve McCaskill
Giannis Milwaukee Bucks NBA

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  • WBD CEO David Zaslav had previously suggested company didn’t need NBA
  • Max will combine assets of HBO Max and Discovery+

Warner Bros Discovery (WBD) chief executive David Zaslav hopes the company will have the US domestic rights to the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the “long term”, contradicting previous statements that the media giant didn’t “have to have” the league.

“We have the NBA for another couple of years and hopefully for long term,” he told CNBC following the launch of Max, a new streaming service that combines the assets of HBO Max and Discovery+.

Professional basketball has been a cornerstone of Turner Sports’ programming for nearly 30 years, with its current NBA deal set to expire at the end of the 2024/25 season. The league is targeting a significant increase on the value of its current broadcast arrangements, hoping to take advantage of more demand for sports content from streaming services.

Zaslav’s previous comments were seen as an attempt to strengthen WBD’s negotiating position and came shortly after the company announced widespread cost-cutting measures, which included the loss of more than 1,000 jobs. However, WBD Sports chief executive Luis Silberwasser has made it clear that renewing with the NBA is a priority.

The NBA is believed to be keen on creating a package of games that would tempt a streaming service, but it is unclear whether WBD would be interested. Although the NBA would fit the description of ‘premium rights’ that WBD is interested in, Silberwasser said at this year’s SportsPro OTT Summit USA in New York that high volume rights designed to fill up a streaming service would not appeal.

Sport was mentioned very briefly during the launch presentation for Max, which is being rolled out in the US on 23rd May and globally later in 2023, with WBD focusing on prestige TV shows, documentaries, movies and children’s content.

However, Zaslav confirmed more details about news and sport would be revealed later in the year.

“We’re a global leader in sports,” he said. “We’re a global leader in news and in a few months we’ll come back to you with details of our attack plan to use this important and differentiating live content to grow our streaming business even further.”

WBD Sports’ portfolio also includes the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) men’s March Madness college basketball tournament, Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Hockey League (NHL), and the rights to the US men’s and women’s national soccer teams.

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