UPDATED with new pricing, Fubo statement on WarnerMedia. A week after filling in a major gap in its network portfolio by signing a carriage deal with Disney, FuboTV is raising its prices and saying goodbye to 11 WarnerMedia channels, including TNT, CNN and Cartoon Network.
As of 12:01AM ET on Wednesday, TNT, TBS, CNN, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, truTV, HLN, TCM, CNN Español and CNN International are expected to go dark on Fubo. The internet-delivered pay-TV bundle added the portfolio two years ago.
Last week’s Disney announcement added ESPN, ABC and several college sports networks to Fubo’s offering on the eve of major sports’ planned resumption. When that deal takes effect on August 1, Fubo’s base price will increase to $60 a month, from $55. Other packages will also increase.
In a statement referring to the “termination” of Fubo carriage, WarnerMedia did not appear to be leaving the door open for a deal. “We are disappointed that our deal with fuboTV is not being renewed, as we have been working with them and were open to a potential renewal,” the statement said.
“In order to continue to provide the most value to our customers at a reasonable price point, we will not be renewing our contract with WarnerMedia,” a Fubo spokesperson said. “Despite these changes, and with the upcoming launch of ESPN and Walt Disney Television, fuboTV’s sports-focused cable TV replacement will offer a market-best 43 of the top 50 Nielsen-ranked sports, news and entertainment channels in our base package.”
The loss of TNT and TBS will deprive Fubo viewers of the NBA and Major League Baseball in the coming months.
WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, the subscription streaming offering that launched in May, is planning to incorporate live sports and news as soon as 2021. But linear carriage for WarnerMedia networks remains a key revenue driver and an ongoing priority as the company balances expansion into direct-to-consumer streaming with its lucrative pay-TV distribution partnerships.
While Fubo’s footprint is small, at 315,789 subscribers as of the end of 2019, it competes with WarnerMedia parent AT&T. The telecom and media giant has been a player in internet-based TV bundles since 2016, when it launched DirecTV Now, which it renamed AT&T Now.
During the 2018 antitrust trial of the government’s lawsuit seeking to stop AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, rivals testified that the merged company could punish competitors and, therefore, consumers. Warren Schlichting, a former Dish executive who oversaw the company’s Sling TV internet bundle, said the combined AT&T-Time Warner could use its “clout” to force Sling to carry more networks than it wanted, boosting higher prices. Adding networks and costs, passed to consumers, “breaks our model,” he said.
Attorneys for AT&T aggressively countered Schlichting’s testimony, and the deal was allowed to go through by a federal judge, who soundly rejected the lawsuit. Still, there have been after-effects. Dish chairman Charlie Ergen has cited the merger as the main factor in his refusal to agree to deal terms with HBO on the satellite service or on Sling, where the premium network has been dark for nearly two years.
Fubo is still a fraction of the size of leading services like Hulu with Live TV or YouTube TV, but it has grown steadily, bringing in $146.5 million in total revenue last year. This year, it closed a merger with FaceBank Group and has installed media industry veteran Edgar Bronfman Jr. as chairman, saying it plans to shift its stock from an over-the-counter listing to a major exchange.
The economics of internet-delivered TV are inherently challenging, however, judging by the comings and goings in a sector initially billed as a game-changer that has appeared to hit a plateau.
A person familiar with the WarnerMedia-Fubo negotiations indicated late payments of distribution fees contributed to friction between the sides. YouTube TV, a larger rival with more than 2 million subscribers, earlier Tuesday hiked its monthly prices 30%, blaming rising programming costs. Other players like Sling and AT&T TV have seen higher churn as they add channels and raise prices, not to mention the current economic gloom, even as the overall number of customers abandoning pay-TV continues to accelerate.