Disney Invests $1 Billion in MLB's Streaming Business, BAMTech

Bob Bowman - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Bob Bowman - Getty - H 2016

Disney now owns a 33 percent stake in a deal that values BAMTech at around $3 billion.

Walt Disney officially owns a large stake in Major League Baseball's streaming technology business, BAMTech

The entertainment and media conglomerate confirmed Tuesday that it has agreed to acquire a 33 percent stake in BAMTech for $1 billion. The deal, expected since reports first surfaced in late June and announced with the release of the company's fiscal third-quarter earnings report, values BAMTech, which powers streaming services for several sports and media companies, at around $3 billion. Disney will pay over two installments, one now and one in January, and has the option to acquire a majority stake in the future.

"Our investment in BAMTech gives us the technology infrastructure we need to quickly scale and monetize our streaming capabilities at ESPN and across our company," said Disney CEO Bob Iger. "We look forward to working closely with BAMTech as we explore new ways to deliver the unmatched content of The Walt Disney Company across a variety of platforms."

The deal gives Disney access to BAMTech's powerful streaming technology that many observers have speculated to be used for an ESPN streaming service. Disney confirms that it will work with BAM to launch and distribute a new ESPN-branded, multi-sport subscription streaming service. But it won't be the over-the-top ESPN service that some were hoping for.

Instead, the new ESPN streaming service that BAM will work on will not include content available on ESPN's linear networks. It will instead be a direct-to-consumer offering with content provided by both BAMTech and ESPN that includes live regional, national and international sports events. "Bringing a multi-sport service directly to fans is an exciting opportunity that capitalizes on BAMTech's premier digital distribution platform and continues ESPN's heritage of embracing technology to create new ways to connect fans with sports," said ESPN president John Skipper. "As WatchESPN continues to grow and add value to the multichannel video subscription, this new service will be an outstanding complement."

BAMTech also will support streaming and other digital products from ABC Television Group and other Disney divisions. 

Iger, speaking on a call with investors later on Tuesday, explained that Disney is looking to create streaming opportunities that are "complementary" to its cable deals. But he also acknowledged that his goal is "to ensure that our brands, especially ESPN, remain strong, vital and relevant in a totally changed media landscape."

Iger also offered up a few more details about the forthcoming ESPN streaming service, revealing that the plan is to launch it by the end of the year with MLB and NHL content already licensed by BAM as well as ESPN-licensed content including college sports, tennis, rugby and cricket. "The goal is not to take product off ESPN's current channels but use sports and product that ESPN has already licensed that's not appearing on the channels," he said, calling it complementary to ESPN's current broadcast offerings. 

Although Iger didn't share how much the service will cost, he said that it will have multiple options based on what customers want to pay for. "There will be so much product that you can buy the whole thing or parts of the whole and that will have an impact on pricing," he added.

BAMTech began in 2000 as an outgrowth of MLB called MLB Advanced Media, powering its MLB.TV service that provides $50 annual subscriptions to stream out-of-market games for all professional baseball teams. Over time, MLBAM — which is owned by MLB's 30 club owners — has expanded its business, powering WatchESPN, HBO Now, the WWE Network and CBS Sports, among others. That technology business was recently spun out into BAMTech, which is majority owned by MLBAM. The NHL, which also streams its games using BAM technology, joins Disney as a minority shareholder. 

"Every day the powerful partnership of technology and content becomes more important to consumers," said MLB commissioner Robert Manfred Jr. "We are excited to get to work with Disney and our longtime partners at ESPN in the important and ever-changing area of content distribution."

This is the largest digital investment from Disney during Iger's tenure. In 2014, it purchased YouTube network Maker Studios for $500 million, with a final price tag of $675 million including financial incentive-based earn outs. Disney also has invested $400 million into edgy youth media business Vice.

BAM has been a hot commodity. According to an earlier report from Bloomberg, WME-IMG also bid for a stake in the business.