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Big Disney Competitor Makes a Major Deal with Comcast

By Daniel B. Kline – Updated Sep 23, 2019 at 4:05PM

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The Mouse House's ESPN+ faces a strong rival in boxing-focused streaming sports service DAZN.

One challenge for streaming services is ease of use for people who have not cut the cord. To watch most of them you have to switch television inputs, which often involves a second remote control.

There are, of course, alternatives to that. Televisions that have smart capabilities built-in allow for easy toggling between services, for example, and some streaming services are embedded into traditional cable lineups. That's something Netflix (NFLX 0.13%) has done with a few cable providers: The streaming leader appears as a channel as consumers flip through their options. When they land on the Netflix "channel," they have the option to enter the service without having to switch inputs, or even leave cable.

For lesser streaming services -- or ones struggling for market share and consumer awareness -- adding visibility can be the key to gaining subscribers. That's why Walt Disney's (DIS -2.31%) ESPN should be very concerned about a new deal between Comcast (CMCSA -2.04%) and DAZN, a sports service that's a rival to ESPN+.

A person points a remote at a television.

DAZN will be easy to access for Comcast customers. Image source: Getty Images.

What does the Comcast/DAZN deal look like?

Comcast and DAZN have agreed to make the subscription sports service available on the cable giant's Xfinity Flex streaming box and to Xfinity1 subscribers. This puts DAZN directly on TVs, without Comcast customers needing a streaming device like a Roku player.

DAZN (pronounced Da' Zone) isn't alone on the Comcast platforms. Netflix already has a deal to be there, as does Amazon Prime, Disney's ESPN3, ACC Network Extra, and the SEC Network. It's worth noting that even though Disney has its foot in the door with ESPN3, a sort of hodgepodge channel of highlights and leftover programming, it has not made a deal to bring ESPN+ to the platform.

For now, this makes DAZN (which has an array of top-tier boxing rights for $20 a month or $100 for a full-year subscription) the premium sports service on the Comcast platform. The added exposure should bring it more subscribers, and that may come at the expense of ESPN+.

"It's a huge partnership for us in a number of ways," DAZN Executive Vice President of North America Joe Markowski told Awful Announcing, which broke the news last week. "Comcast is a huge media partner, and any new entrant to the U.S. will always have an eye on partnering with them because their distribution into American households is behind no one in the set-top box world."

More to come?

DAZN plans to make more of these deals, and Disney may have trouble keeping up. Cable companies like Comcast will likely see DAZN as a bonus for their customers, while Disney, which owns Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+, has a streaming family that offers a clear cord-cutting option. That may hurt the company when it comes to making distribution deals.

"This is a replication of a distribution model we have successfully rolled out in a number of our international markets, so we know what we're doing in this space," Markowski said. "We're very confident in the model. We've seen success with it elsewhere, and in the U.S., this will be the first of many dominoes to fall."

DAZN has a compelling array of programming, but it lacks the name recognition of ESPN+. It also will suffer from Disney offering a $12.99-a-month bundle of Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu.

This type of deal levels the playing field. It makes it easier to get DAZN, and that's important for a service that has compelling content but limited public awareness.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Netflix, Roku, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short October 2019 $125 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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