LOS ANGELES — More than a decade after Apple disrupted the music industry and Amazon upended retail, the tech heavyweights have set their sights on a new arena ripe for change: live sports.
Emboldened by their deep pockets and eager to boost viewership of their streaming-subscription services, Apple and Amazon have thrust themselves into negotiations for media rights held by the National Football League, Major League Baseball, Formula One racing and college conferences.
They are competing to replace DirecTV for the rights to N.F.L. Sunday Ticket, a package the league wants to sell for more than $2.5 billion annually, about $1 billion more than it currently costs, according to five people familiar with the process. Eager not to miss out, Google has also offered a bid from YouTube for the rights beginning in 2023, two people familiar with the offer said.
reported by the SportsBusiness Journal.
Fans will still be able to access all the games on Sunday, regardless of who wins the rights, but they will probably pay a premium to add the service to their Apple, Amazon, ESPN+ or YouTube service, some of the dozen people said. It is not yet clear if that premium would be more or less than the $294 that DirecTV charges for a year, they added.
The Race to Rule Streaming TV
Apple and Amazon are trying to position themselves for a future without cable. Since 2015, traditional pay television has lost a quarter of its subscribers — about 25 million homes — as people traded cable packages for apps like Netflix and Hulu, according to MoffettNathanson, an investment firm that tracks the industry.
But the price of live sports rights is only projected to increase. The biggest media companies, including Disney, Comcast, Paramount and Fox, are expected to spend a combined $24.2 billion for rights in 2024, according to data from MoffettNathanson, nearly double what they spent a decade earlier.
The fragmenting of a decades-old distribution model has created an opportunity for Apple and Amazon. The companies want to expand deeper into media by selling subscriptions to Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime. Besides containing their own exclusive shows and sports, those services double as portals selling additional streaming offerings like Starz and HBO Max, which pay Apple and Amazon 15 percent or more of each subscription sold.
Amazon generates more than $3 billion annually from third-party subscription sales, according to estimates by the investment bank BMO Capital Markets. To make the business model work, Apple and Amazon must attract more viewers, and sports are the most powerful draw in media. The companies may be willing to lose money on Sunday Ticket to expose new customers to other parts of their business, the same calculation that DirecTV historically made.
For all their disruptive potential, though, Apple and Amazon have yet to win a marquee rights package in the United States. That is reminiscent of 20 years ago, when sports leagues feared they would lose viewers by shifting games from network television to cable. But the change gradually became standard.
Traditional television companies are trying to stave off Apple and Amazon by starting their own streaming-subscription services. Last year Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, shuttered NBC Sports Network to bolster its USA channel and to encourage people to pay for Peacock, where it exclusively aired some English Premier League soccer games. Similarly, ESPN struck a deal with the National Hockey League to televise some games on its ESPN+ service, and CBS has shown marquee soccer games on Paramount+.
But those services have a fraction of the more than 100 million cable subscribers the media companies once reached. As a result, the bulk of sports programming goes on traditional pay-TV channels where they can guarantee leagues and advertisers larger audiences.
The National Basketball Association will be the first major test of the new competitive landscape. Its agreements with ESPN and Turner run through the 2024-25 season. Most sports and media executives predict that the league will stick with traditional broadcasters for most of its games, while carving out some small portion of rights for a tech company.
“It hedges them for the future and exposes the product to new audiences,” said George Pyne, founder of the sports private equity firm, Bruin Capital, and the former chief operating officer of NASCAR. “They can still have a long-term relationship with network partners but dip their toe in with new media.”
Until then, the best opportunities for Apple and Amazon may be overseas — where Amazon has been active for years — becauseEuropean soccer leagues resell their rights every two to three years. Amazon recently scooped up rights to Europe’s top tournament, the UEFA Champions League, in Britain, Germany and Italy. It also has rights to France’s Ligue 1, which it offers to Prime Video subscribers for annual fee of about $90, and the English Premier League.
Media companies will be pressured to expand geographically to compete, said Daniel Cohen, who leads global media rights consulting for Octagon, a sports agency. Television broadcasters could also team up to pool their financial firepower, or buy each other outright, to compete with tech giants willing to pay billions for rights like N.F.L. Sunday Ticket.
“It comes down to a Silicon Valley ego thing,” Mr. Cohen said of the high-dollar N.F.L. deal. “I don’t see a road to profitability. I see a road to victory.”
Since its founding in 1923, Disney has stood alone in Hollywood in one fundamental way: Its family-friendly movies, television shows and theme park rides, at least in theory, have always been aimed at everybody, with potential political and cultural pitfalls zealously avoided.
The Disney brand is about wishing on stars and finding true love and living happily ever after. In case the fairy tale castles are too subtle, Disney theme parks outright promise an escape from reality with welcome signs that read, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”
Lately, however, real world ugliness has been creeping into the Magic Kingdom. In this hyperpartisan moment, both sides of the political divide have been pounding on Disney, endangering one of the world’s best-known brands — one that, for many, symbolizes America itself — as it tries to navigate a rapidly changing entertainment industry.
In some cases, Disney has willingly waded into cultural issues. Last summer, to applause from progressives and snarls from the far right, Disney decided to make loudspeaker announcements at its theme parks gender neutral, removing “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” in favor of “dreamers of all ages.” But the entertainment giant has also found itself dragged into the fray, as with the recent imbroglio over a new Florida law that among many things restricts classroom instruction through third grade on sexual orientation and gender identity and has been labeled by opponents as “Don’t Say Gay.”
Disney then aggressively denounced the bill — only to find itself in the cross hairs of Fox News hosts and Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who sent a fund-raising email to supporters saying that “Woke Disney” had “lost any moral authority to tell you what to do.” Florida lawmakers began threatening to revoke a 55-year-old law that enables Walt Disney World to essentially function as its own municipal government. (Disney had already been at odds with the governor on pandemic issues like a vaccine mandate for employees.)
In trying to offend no one, Disney had seemingly lost everyone.
Candlelight Processional events, Bible verses and all.
It took the company until 2009 to introduce a Black princess.
But in recent years, there has been a noticeable change. Robert A. Iger, who served as chief executive from 2005 to 2020, pushed the world’s largest entertainment company to emphasize diverse casting and storytelling. As he said at Disney’s 2017 shareholder meeting, referring to inclusion and equality: “We can take those values, which we deem important societally, and actually change people’s behavior — get people to be more accepting of the multiple differences and cultures and races and all other facets of our lives and our people.”
powerful Afrocentric story line. Under his tenure, Disney refocused the “Star Wars” franchise around female characters. A parade of animated movies (“Moana,” “Coco,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Soul,” “Encanto”) showcased a wide variety of races, cultures and ethnicities.
Read More on the Walt Disney Company
The result, for the most part, has been one hit after another. But a swath of Disney’s audience has pushed back.
review bombed” in the fall because it depicted a gay superhero kissing his husband, with online trolls flooding the Internet Movie Database with hundreds of homophobic one-star reviews. In January, Disney was accused by the actor Peter Dinklage and others of trafficking in stereotypes by moving forward with a live-action “Snow White” movie — until it was revealed that the company planned to replace the seven dwarfs with digitally created “magical creatures,” which, in turn, prompted complaints by others about the “erasure” of people with dwarfism.
Disney executives tend to dismiss such incidents as tempests in teapots: trending today, replaced by a new complaint tomorrow. But even moderate online storms can be a distraction inside the company. Meetings are held about how and whether to respond; fretful talent partners must be reassured.
As Disney prepared to introduce its streaming service in 2019, it began an extensive review of its film library. As part of the initiative, called Stories Matter, Disney added disclaimers to content that the company determined included “negative depictions or mistreatment of people or cultures.” Examples included episodes of “The Muppet Show” from the 1970s and the 1941 version of “Dumbo.”
“These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now,” the disclaimers read.
The Stories Matter team privately flagged other characters as potentially problematic, with the findings distributed to senior Disney leaders, according to two current Disney executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential information. Ursula, the villainous sea witch from “The Little Mermaid” (1989), was one. Her dark color palette (lavender skin, black legs) could be viewed through a racial lens, the Stories Matter team cautioned; she is also a “queer coded” character, with mannerisms inspired in part by those of a real-life drag queen.
changing of the guard, with Mr. Iger stepping down as executive chairman in December.
Mr. Iger occasionally spoke out on hot-button political issues during his time as chief executive. His successor, Bob Chapek, decided (with backing from the Disney board) to avoid weighing in on state political battles. Disney lobbyists would continue to work behind the scenes, however, as they did with the Florida legislation.
gently explored gender identity. Gonzo donned a gown, defying a directive from Miss Piggy “that the girls come as princesses and the boys come as knights.” Out magazine wrote that the episode “just sent a powerful message of love and acceptance to gender-variant kids everywhere!” And a far-right pundit blasted Disney for “pushing the trans agenda” on children, starting an online brush fire.
Around the same time, some L.G.B.T.Q. advocates were criticizing Disney over “Loki,” a Disney+ superhero show. In the third episode of “Loki,” the title character briefly acknowledged for the first time onscreen what comic fans had long known: He is bisexual. But the blink-and-you-missed-it handling of the information angered some prominent members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community. “It’s, like, one word,” Russell T. Davies, a British screenwriter (“Queer as Folk”), said during a panel discussion at the time. “It’s a ridiculous, craven, feeble gesture.”
The fighting will undoubtedly continue: The Disney-Pixar film “Lightyear,” set for release in June, depicts a loving lesbian couple, while “Thor: Love and Thunder,” arriving in July, will showcase a major L.G.B.T.Q. character.
Last month, when Disney held its most recent shareholder meeting, Mr. Chapek was put on the spot by shareholders from the political left and right.
One person called Disney to task for contributions to legislators who have championed bills that restrict voting and reproductive rights. Mr. Chapek said that Disney gave money to “both sides of the aisle” and that it was reassessing its donation policies. (He subsequently paused all contributions in Florida.) Another representative for a shareholder advocacy group then took the microphone and noted that “Disney from its very inception has always represented a safe haven for children,” before veering into homophobic and transphobic comments and asking Mr. Chapek to “ditch the politicization and gender ideology.”
In response, Mr. Chapek noted the contrasting shareholder concerns. “I think all the participants on today’s call can see how difficult it is to try to thread the needle between the extreme polarization of political viewpoints,” he said.
“What we want Disney to be is a place where people can come together,” he continued. “My opinion is that, when someone walks down Main Street and comes in the gates of our parks, they put their differences aside and look at what they have as a shared belief — a shared belief of Disney magic, hopes, dreams and imagination.”
The Times’s David Gelles gives DealBook the backstory to his recent front-page article about rising C.E.O. pay during the pandemic.
Companies battered by the pandemic are handing out enormous pay packages to their C.E.O.s, highlighting the sharp divides in a nation on the precipice of an economic boom, but still wracked by steep income inequality.
Executive compensation has, of course, been soaring for decades now. Chief executives of big companies in the U.S. now make, on average, 320 times as much as the typical worker. In 1989, that ratio was 61 to 1.
Read the full story here.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
A deep split in pandemic fortunes highlights an uneven global recovery. On one hand: The E.U. could let vaccinated Americans visit this summer, bringing much-needed tourism revenue to the region. (One potential hangup is a rising number of people who aren’t getting their second doses.) On the other: India will receive emergency medical supplies from the U.S. as it reports half of all new Covid-19 cases worldwide.
Netflix had a big night at the Oscars. The streaming company won seven Academy Awards last night, the most of any studio, but again fell short in its quest to win Best Picture. (That went to Disney, whose Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland” won the big prize; Disney won five awards over all.) AT&T’s Warner Bros. won three Oscars, while Amazon took home two.
An activist investor steps up its challenge at Exxon Mobil. Engine No. 1 argues in a new presentation that the oil giant faces an “existential business risk” because it is not taking bolder steps to move away from fossil fuels, The Financial Times reports. (Exxon and other major producers are set to report earnings this week.)
Second Chance Business Coalition, which was announced today.
Elon Musk is hosting “S.N.L.” Yes, really. The Tesla chief is scheduled to host “Saturday Night Live” on May 8. (We bet S.E.C. officials will be watching.) John Authers of Bloomberg Opinion has an interesting take on it: The Tesla chief’s antics are doing more to encourage adoption of green technology than any amount of environmentalist scolding.
The ‘massive threat’ in a ‘measly’ Supreme Court case
Today the Supreme Court will hear a case that could upend American politics. It has largely escaped attention because it’s not obviously political at all. “Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez” involves a fight over California’s donor disclosure requirements for charities and “may seem like a measly spat over state nonprofit rules,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, told DealBook. “But a massive threat lurks within.”
Today in Business
Nonprofits want more donor anonymity. Americans for Prosperity Foundation is a “social welfare” nonprofit arguing that the right to anonymous assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment extends to donor data. Critics say that a ruling in favor of the Koch-funded charity would allow more untraceable money to flow through groups designed to mask the outsize role that a few wealthy players have in American politics. If A.F.P.F. wins, “special interests will have a free pass to rig our democracy from behind a veil of secrecy,” Whitehouse said.
Companies secretly influence politics with “dark money” donations that are deliberately opaque. Basically, some “social welfare” groups are quasi-political yet don’t have the same reporting requirements as explicitly political groups. Similarly, trade groups take corporate donations and pass them on, obscuring the sources.
“The importance of dark money in society, the scope of it, is something people don’t really grasp, but it impacts everyday life,” said Anna Massoglia, a researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics.
A decision is expected around late June. Notably, the court took the case on Jan. 8, two days after the Capitol riot prompted a reckoning over corporate political donations. Both the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers filed briefs supporting A.F.P.F.’s case for anonymity, and Allen Dickerson of the Federal Election Commission argued the same in a Wall Street Journal op-ed yesterday.
cottage industry of scammers.
Bain is buying $1 billion worth of desserts
Bain Capital Private Equity is buying Dessert Holdings in a deal that DealBook hears values the company at about $1 billion.
Dessert Holdings makes “Insta-worthy” cheesecakes and other desserts through three brands: The Original Cakerie, Lawler’s Desserts and Atlanta Cheesecake. The company, which sells to retailers and restaurants, was created through acquisitions led by its prior owner, Gryphon Investors. The dessert conglomerate emphasizes the “wow factor” of products like tuxedo truffle mousse cake that are made to look good on social media.
A sweet deal? In-store bakeries have held up well during the pandemic, while restaurants are expected to rebound post-Covid. There could be more consolidation in the industry, with George Weston announcing in March it plans to put its bakery business — which includes Wonder Bread in Canada — up for sale. Over the years, Bain has invested in a number of food service and restaurant brands, like Dunkin’ and Domino’s Pizza. It plans to develop “new and innovative products” as well as pursue more acquisitions after the Dessert Holdings deal, said Adam Nebesar, a managing director at the private equity firm.
Trevor Lawrence is getting paid in Bitcoin
As cryptocurrency goes more mainstream — thanks in part to the recent public listing of Coinbase — blockchain businesses are hustling for brand recognition. “We’re really trying to get our name out a lot,” said Sam Bankman-Fried, the C.E.O. of FTX, a crypto exchange that competes with Coinbase. One of FTX’s companies, the investment app Blockfolio, has signed an endorsement deal with Trevor Lawrence, the former Clemson quarterback and presumptive number-one pick in this week’s N.F.L. draft, DealBook is first to report.
29-year-old billionaire founded FTX in 2019, and said he regrets spending his early years “playing video games.” Now, he’s trying to make up for lost time and the “low name recognition” of his crypto brands by hitching their wagon to bigger brands. FTX recently agreed to pay $135 million for the naming rights to the N.B.A.’s Miami Heat arena for 19 years.
THE SPEED READ
ByteDance, the Chinese parent of TikTok, has reportedly delayed plans to go public because it hasn’t devised a corporate structure that would win approval from Washington and Beijing. (South China Morning Post)
A close look at the efforts by the Carlyle Group’s C.E.O., Kewsong Lee, to catch up to his private equity rivals. (WSJ)
Politics and policy
The law firm Jones Day has rehired at least seven lawyers who worked in the Trump administration, cementing its status as a top outpost for Republican legal experts. (FT)
Advisers to wealthy Americans are studying various strategies to minimize the hit from the Biden administration’s proposed tax hikes. (Bloomberg)
Ant Group, the Chinese fintech giant, reportedly plans to offer employees zero-interest loans backed by their stock options to bolster morale. (Bloomberg)
The culture of Travis Kalanick’s food-delivery start-up, CloudKitchens, is said to closely resemble the “bro-y” early days of Uber — and it’s losing workers as a result. (Insider)
Best of the rest
Honda said it expects all cars it sells will be electric by 2040. (Bloomberg)
One of the men who created the “Yale model” of endowment investing says the strategy is past its prime. (FT)
An eye-opening look inside the “slander industry.” (NYT)
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And, according to security filings, a select few are rapidly accumulating new fortunes. Chad Richison, founder and chief executive of an Oklahoma software company, Paycom, is worth more than $3 billion and was awarded $211 million last year, when his company made $144 million in profit. John Legere, the former chief executive of T-Mobile, was awarded $137.2 million last year, a reward for taking over the rival Sprint.
“We’ve created this class of centimillionaires and billionaires who have not been good for this country,” said Nell Minow, vice chair of ValueEdge Advisors, an investment consulting firm. “They may build a wing on a museum. But it’s not infrastructure — it’s not the middle class.”
The gap between executive compensation and average worker pay has been growing for decades. Chief executives of big companies now make, on average, 320 times as much as their typical worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In 1989, that ratio was 61 to 1. From 1978 to 2019, compensation grew 14 percent for typical workers. It rose 1,167 percent for C.E.O.s.
The pandemic only compounded these disparities, as hundreds of companies awarded their leaders pay packages worth significantly more than most Americans will make in their entire lives.
“To my mind, they’re the logical consequence of our total embrace of shareholder capitalism, starting with the corporate raiders of the 1980s, to the exclusion and sacrifice of all else, including American workers,” said Robert Reich, a labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “The pay packages reflect soaring share prices, which in turn reflect, at least in part, the willingness if not eagerness of corporations to cut payrolls at the slightest provocation.”
Today in Business
AT&T, the media conglomerate, lost $5.4 billion and cut thousands of jobs throughout the year. John Stankey, the chief executive, received $21 million for his work in 2020, down from $22.5 million in 2019.
T-Mobile said it would create new jobs through its merger with Sprint, but has already begun layoffs. It made $3.1 billion in 2020. In addition to Mr. Legere’s windfall, the company awarded its current chief executive, Mike Sievert, $54.9 million.