One Buwwet Weft?!

We’ve spent a lot of time chiding and second-guessing the reign of error that has largely defined David Zaslav’s tenure running Warner Brothers Discovery.  The trajectory was largely defined early on by this declarative statement as covered roughly two years ago by FRONT OFFICE SPORTS’ ubiquitous Jon Lewis:

Discussing the rising cost of sports media rights at a conference Tuesday, Zaslav said Warner Bros. Discovery (formerly WarnerMedia) has favorable deals for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, NHL and Major League Baseball Postseason and that “we don’t have to have the NBA,” per Joe Flint of The Wall Street Journal…The NBA is by far the most expensive of Warner’s sports properties at an average of $1.2 billion per year, compared to $200 million for the NHL and $470 million for baseball. Warner splits the NCAA deal with CBS, which starting in 2026 will be worth $1.05 billion/year.

But even since ol’ Yosemite Zas drew out his six-shooter with that verbal equivalent of “draw, varmint”, the NBA and his competition has fired back with relish and abandon, which led to yesterday’s news item from, among others, USA TODAY’s Scooby Axson and Jeff Zillgitt:

Live sporting events still pay.

That’s the message derived from the NBA’s new TV and media rights deal that will net the league approximately $76 billion in a 11-year deal – $6.9 billion per season – from Disney (ABC/ESPN), NBC and Amazon, according to The Athletic’s Andrew Marchand.

Disney will pay $2.6 billion, NBC $2.5 billion and Amazon $1.8 billion annually in a deal that introduces a more prominent streaming service to the NBA’s media partners. Bringing Amazon into the fold is not a surprise given it has a deal to stream WNBA games, and the league has crafted a working relationship with the company.  

If that all sounds somewhat redundant, you’re not wrong.  Just before the start of last month’s NBA Finals, commissioner Adam Silver addressed this very issue and those numbers were widely reported.  What was also reported then was also reiterated in the USA TODAY story from yesterday: Turner Sports (TNT) is not part of the new agreement.

Well, maybe it might be after all.

As the LOS ANGELES TIMES’ Stephen Battaglio reported yesterday, Zaslav and WBD aren’t giving up without a fight.

Current NBA rights holder Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT will have an opportunity to make a matching offer, most likely the $1.8-billion-a-year offer from Amazon.  

And as CLUTCH SPORTS’ Peter Sampson added in his recap:

While the NBA and its partner agreed to all the language, incumbent TNT Sports continues to threaten to match. The CEO of TNT Sports’ parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery’s David Zaslav, has publicly stated he may attempt to use language in the current contract to remain involved with the NBA. If Zaslav goes through with that, he is expected to target Amazon’s package.

Well, so much for saber-rattling.  It’s now down to legal brass tactics, and both Zaslav and Silver are well-trained in those worlds.  What seems to be playing out is a cage match between them, and let’s just say Zas’ posse didn’t exactly take the same kind of aloof posture in an announcement about some plans they have to turn around an underperforming albatross of an asset which FRONT OFFICE SPORTS reported on in their morning newsletter:

The cable channel that allegedly nobody can find every year when March Madness arrives is now elevating as a key element of TNT Sports’ future sports programming plans. 

The Warner Bros. Discovery unit—already in the midst of significant retooling of its sports portfolio and facing a potential loss of NBA media rights—is expanding its emphasis on truTV. After introducing a TNT Sports programming block on the channel earlier this year, WBD will make that presence “even more pronounced and consistent,” starting in October.

TNT Sports graphics and branding will be included in truTV’s prime-time programming, and the channel will also increasingly air sports content there—including existing properties in the portfolio such as MLB and the NHL, and also newly acquired ones like NASCAR, the French Open in tennis, and college properties that include the Mountain West and Big East conferences and sublicensing of the College Football Playoff. All told, TNT Sports projects nearly 1,000 hours of total sports programming on truTV this year, and much more next year.

But while the bar of outperforming repeats of IMPRACTICAL JOKERS might be quite low, the reality is that neither NASCAR nor the French Open air live in weeknight prime time, the postseason college football and MLB windows are for a small slate of games over a couple of weeks, MLB and NHL regular season games largely compete against higher-rated and more immediately relevant local telecasts and, with all due respect, the national appeal of a San Jose State-Sacramento State football game or a DePaul-Xavier basketball game that heretofore were relegated to CBSSN are not guaranteed to deliver more than what tru would otherwise be doing.

It’s not just the fate of INSIDE THE NBA that hangs in the balance.  It’s the fate of a linear network, and a potential domino effect that could trickle down to the balance of WBD’s otherwise struggling endeavors.

Which is why Zas is appropriately wearing his hunters’ gear this week in Sun Valley aiming to make some sort of deal.  The possibility of a streaming alliance with Paramount has been rumored; indeed, he has a history with newly installed Para-czar Jeff Shell.  But in order to make Max more appealing to the sports-conscious Shell he’s gotta have something that his existing service doesn’t have.  NBA basketball, even if it’s secondary games currently relegated to NBA TV, is a far more appealing option that the array of mediocrity he’s otherwise assembled.

So perhaps the image of Elmer Fudd is more apropos these days than our heavily mustached firebrand.  And as any true fan of the cartoons that are also part of the WBD portfolio know, he at least occasionally does hit his target, even if it’s merely accidental.   You do remember this classic scene:

Elmer: Well, what do you know. No more buwwets.

Bugs: No more buwwets? Hey, laughing boy, no more buwwets.

Daffy: No more bullets. (swipes the shotgun from Elmer) Here! Let me see that thing. (looks through the barrels of the shotgun) Hmm.

Last bullet explodes on Daffy

Elmer: Well, what do you know. One buwwet weft.

Happy hunting season, Zas.

Until next time…

 

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