Disney has acquired a majority ownership of BAMTech — the streaming-video company founded by Major League Baseball — in a $1.58 billion deal.
The media conglomerate will launch an ESPN-branded multi-sport video streaming service in early 2018, followed by a new Disney-branded direct-to-consumer streaming service in 2019. Those will be powered by BAMTech, in which Disney will hold a 75% stake. The current plan is for Disney and ESPN streaming services to be available for purchase directly from Disney and ESPN on app stores, suggest media reports.
Disney will end its distribution agreement with Netflix for subscription streaming of new movie releases, beginning with the 2019 theatrical slate. “This acquisition and the launch of our direct-to-consumer services mark an entirely new growth strategy for the company, one that takes advantage of the incredible opportunity that changing technology provides us to leverage the strength of our great brands,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement.
The new Disney-branded service will become the exclusive home in the U.S. for subscription VOD access to new releases from Disney and Pixar beginning with the 2019 theatrical slate.
The revised plans for the ESPN-branded multi-sport service are much broader than the over-the-top play Disney originally had slotted for the end of 2016. The new service will include about 10,000 live games from leagues including Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer. It also will include collegiate sports and Grand Slam tennis coverage. Noticeably missing from the lineup in the forthcoming ESPN OTT service are NFL games.
“For many sports fans, this app will become the premier digital destination for all their sports content,” Disney said in its announcement.
Even with the launch of ESPN’s subscription sports service, Disney said OTT packages for individual sports will also be available for purchase, including MLB.TV, NHL.TV and MLS Live. The new service will be based on an “enhanced version” of the current ESPN app, which will continue to offer pay-TV subscribers access the ESPN programming on an authenticated basis.
Under terms of the deal for BAMTech, Disney will pay $1.58 billion to acquire an additional 42% stake in the New York-based streaming and video infrastructure company from MLB Advanced Media, the interactive media and internet unit of Major League Baseball. A year ago, Disney acquired a 33% stake in BAMTech for $1 billion under an agreement that included an option to acquire a majority stake.
Disney’s acquisition of a controlling stake gives BAMTech a valuation of $3.75 billion. MLBAM will retain a 15% stake in the company.
“We’re very proud of the content distribution innovations driven by MLBAM and BAMTech over the past 15 years,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred commented.
“Major League Baseball will continue to work with Disney and ESPN to further grow BAMTech as it breaks new ground in technologies for consumers to access entertainment and sports programming.”