The streaming war over live sports has officially begun

Here’s what Bleacher Report Live will look like when it launches next month.
Here’s what Bleacher Report Live will look like when it launches next month.
Image: Turner Sports/Bleacher Report Live
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One of the most frustrating things about being a modern-day sports fan is figuring out where, and when, to watch the game. A new offering from Turner Sports promises to remedy that problem.

The TV company will launch a streaming app in the US on April 7 that tells viewers how to watch live sporting events across streaming, TV, and radio, the company announced today at a media event in New York City. The app will also have thousands of live games that fans can pay to stream individually through the service, or subscribe to a sports league like the NBA through a deal with NBA League Pass.

The app will link out to the games it doesn’t carry, including those from competitors. It’ll even let you know if the game is playing at a sports bar nearby.

Called Bleacher Report Live, the service combines the strengths of Turner’s online-sports brand—acquired in 2012—with its live broadcasts. UEFA Champions League Games, NBA League Pass games, and select NCAA Championships games are among the live sports that will be available directly through the app, which is launching on iOS, Android, and the web.

The app will be free at launch, and the paywall will go up sometime in the summer, Turner said. The pricing and packages are still be finalized. Turner president David Levy said the company is playing with a 99-cent deal for single games. For NBA League Pass games, which are currently $7 to stream, audiences will also be able to pay less to watch games that are already in progress.

Turner isn’t the only TV company courting sports fans online. Competitors ESPN and CBS are preparing for their inevitable digital futures with streaming services of their own.

Disney’s ESPN is readying to launch a rival platform later this spring. The $4.99-a-month subscription service, called ESPN Plus, will have live events and sports not currently available on ESPN’s TV channels, including additional games from professional sports leagues like Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and the National Hockey League; college sports; and sports like Grand Slam tennis, boxing, golf, rugby, and cricket. It will also have ESPN’s full film library, including its popular 30 for 30 documentary series. And it will live in an new app alongside scores, highlights, and other information, as well as programming from ESPN’s TV networks, which will only be available to people with regular pay-TV subscriptions.

Last month, CBS Sports also released a streaming sports news channels with coverage, news, highlights, and analysis from across its sports properties.

None of these services are true replacements for their TV counterparts. They’re add-ons that put their brands in the streaming game without threatening the revenue that comes from TV.

Sports are one of the few mainstays of appointment TV that people still gather to watch live. That’s exceedingly valuable at a time when the TV audiences are splintering across TV and digital channels. Sports TV networks still command top dollar from the cable, satellite, and digital providers that carry them, as well as from advertisers. That’s why broadcasters can charge north of $5 million for 30 seconds of ad time in the Super Bowl, even as TV ratings slip, and make more than $1 billion on TV ads during March Madness.  

Turner is toeing the line by setting itself up as an aggregator of sports content, wherever it lives.

“This is untethered to our TV. This is untethered programming,” said Levy at Turner, speaking to reporters at the event about how Bleacher Report Live differs from competitors like ESPN Plus. He added: “The definition of a network is changing. Consumption is changing. This is just the next step.”