DirecTV exec has 'grave concerns' about sports streaming JV

Robert Thun, DirecTV's chief content officer, recently filed a declaration of support for Fubo's antitrust lawsuit against the proposed streaming joint venture from Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

April 12, 2024

5 Min Read
TV television displaying streaming content with hand holding a remote control in the foreground.
(Source: Michael Zech/Alamy Stock Photo)

Fubo's antitrust lawsuit against a proposed sports streaming joint venture from Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery has another pay-TV operator in its corner. And it happens to be a fellow competitor.

Robert Thun, DirecTV's chief content officer, filed a declaration of support (PDF) on April 8 that favored Fubo's motion for a preliminary injunction against the JV.

DirecTV, which spun out of AT&T in 2022, operates both a satellite TV service and a virtual multichannel programming distributor (vMVPD) called DirecTV Stream. Thun asserts that the JV is assembling a package of sports-focused programming that other distributors aren't allowed to offer.

"DirecTV has grave concerns about the effect that the sports content joint venture between defendants in this case will have on competition for the distribution of sports programming," Thun wrote. "More specifically, the joint venture partners are offering content in a manner that they do not allow DirecTV or other distributors to offer to consumers. Rather, the joint venture partners require that DirecTV offers a large bundle of channels and do not allow DirecTV to offer a smaller sports-focused bundle of channels."


Disney, Fox and WBD haven't given a brand to their proposed sports streaming JV, but it's been widely reported that it has carried the internal name of "Raptor."

"Should Raptor be permitted to launch while the joint venture partners continue to restrict DirecTV (or other distributors) from offering a similar consumer offering, consumers will be deprived of meaningful competition from DirecTV and others," Thun explained.

Dish also supportive of Fubo

Dish Network, which operates the Dish satellite TV service and Sling TV, reportedly has also provided some support for Fubo's cause., the first to spot the DirecTV filing, reported that Gary Schanman, Dish's VP of video services, also filed a declaration of support that was sealed at Fubo's request because it contained "material information" about Dish's deals with Fox and Disney.

Thun's concerns about the JV partly echo the issues that Fubo, a sports-focused virtual MVPD, presented in its complaint against the proposed JV, which recently named former Apple and Hulu exec Peter Distad to serve as its CEO.

Fubo filed its suit against Disney, Fox and WBD in February, alleging that their proposed streaming JV will harm competition and raise consumer prices. Fubo made its move just weeks after Disney/ESPN, Fox and WBD announced a plan to launch a streaming sports service featuring more than a dozen channels, including ESPN, ABC, FS1, TNT, ABC, TBS, and the ESPN+ premium streaming service. The JV's first offering is slated to launch this fall at a price to be announced (some analysts expect it to sell in the neighborhood of $40 per month).

JV expected to net 5 million subs in five years

The JV's backers believe the coming sports streaming service won't erode the value of the traditional pay-TV bundle but will help to serve consumers who want sports content outside the bundle.

"It's a new market where there's no product serving the sports fans that are not within the cable TV bundle," Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch said on the company's fiscal Q2 earnings call in February. "We think that the 14 linear networks that this service offers gives people a tremendous amount of content."

Speaking later at a Morgan Stanley conference, Murdoch estimated that the JV could net about 5 million subscribers in its first five years. "Some of the talk around this being in the teens or 20 million subs, we don't think that's the case," he said.

Similar to what DirecTV's Thun asserted, Fubo claims that the partners in the JV "sports cartel"  force the company to broadcast "unwanted, expensive content" and effectively block Fubo from offering the kind of package that the JV is assembling. Fubo also alleged that it is paying rates that are 30% to 50% higher for content from Disney, Fox and WBD than other distributors are paying.

Fubo, a service that launched in 2015 and now has nearly 1.5 million subscribers, also claims that the sports JV stole its playbook by planning to integrate interactive features such as sports scores and sports betting. Fubo scuttled its plans to tie in a sports betting service in the fall of 2022.

DoJ probe

The proposed JV will reportedly be scrutinized in other ways. Bloomberg reported in February that the US Department of Justice (DoJ) intends to take a closer look at the joint venture to determine its potential harm on consumers, other media companies and sports leagues.

New Street Research policy analyst Blair Levin expressed doubt at the time that the DoJ would block the JV.

"Such an investigation could provide a forum for private sector players hurt by the combination to assert what the harms will be," Levin said at the time. "But we are skeptical that the DoJ will ultimately conclude that the new app creates harm to competition."

ACA Connects, a group that lobbies for hundreds of independent cable operators, cheered the report. A DoJ investigation "is exactly what should happen," ACA Connects President and CEO Grant Spellmeyer said then. "It's anticompetitive for the biggest media players to join forces while locking out traditional linear video providers, including our Members from offering the same packages at the same prices."

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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