Can Live Sports Transform The Streaming Video Wars?

The NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball are stumbling, badly, toward a resumption of games, trying to figure out how to make money in a resurgent pandemic with few or no paying fans in attendance, the same giant problem facing movie theaters and concert venues.

Meanwhile, people are cutting the cord on their traditional pay-TV packages at a record pace, and shifting their viewing to online streaming services, both subscription and ad-supported.

That shift, from cord-cutters to inveterate streamers, likely will only continue as Hollywood’s media companies shift more of their marquee programming from their traditional broadcast and cable networks to their new four-quadrant streaming services.

The problem? Differentiating based on your entertainment franchises only goes so far. Yes, having a content well brimming with The Avengers, The Office, or Stranger Things is vital, as Apple TV+ has found during the pandemic. With production halted or slowed for months, TV+ was particularly vulnerable to Bare Cupboard Syndrome.

The eight-month-old service is reportedly reconsidering its originals-only approach, buying the Tom Hanks WWII thriller Greyhound from Sony for $70 million and licensing other content from outside sources.

But all of the other services are facing similar challenges. Way too much Disney+ original programming is about, well, how great it is to be Disney. ViacomCBS is still weeks or more away from detailing exactly how it will make CBS All Access more than the Star Trek/Good Fight network.