FuboTV Threatens Cable With Help From Murdochs, ‘House Hunters’

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  • Digital streaming service attracts 100,000 subscribers
  • CEO plans to expand outside U.S.; sales near $50 million rate

Cable and satellite-TV companies worried about cord-cutters face a growing threat from a New York-based startup backed by some of their biggest suppliers.

FuboTV Inc. has persuaded more than 100,000 consumers to sign up for as many as 80-plus live TV channels, the company said Tuesday, competing with Sling TV, YouTube, DirecTV Now and PlayStation Vue. FuboTV has attracted investments from Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. and from Scripps Networks Interactive Inc., the parent of networks such as HGTV and shows like “House Hunters.”

The company is targeting customers who want to swap their cable package for a cheaper, online alternative -- without losing live sports. Using Fubo, customers can watch the National Football League on CBS or NBC or baseball and basketball on regional sports networks. Fubo offers a $19.99-a-month promotional price for the first two months and then charges $39.99 thereafter.

“It’s no secret that people are looking to cut the cord -- folks are looking to watch sports online or over the top,” David Gandler, founder and chief executive officer, said in an interview. “We have a solution for customers at a fraction of the price they pay to existing pay-TV providers.”

Major media companies companies have created cheaper, slimmer online alternatives to the typical $85-a-month cable package, an effort to stop customers from abandoning live TV for Netflix. Sling, the leader in skinny bundles with about 1.7 million subscribers as of July, is owned by Dish Network Corp., DirecTV Now by AT&T Inc., YouTube by Google and PlayStation Vue by Sony Corp. Gandler, who says sales are approaching a $50 million annual rate, wants FuboTV to be part of that mix.

FuboTV started in 2015 as a hub for streaming soccer matches. The company has since raised $75 million and added rights to CBS and Fox, along with cable sports networks owned by those companies.

The service says it can offer more than 70 percent of all professional football, basketball and baseball games in the U.S., and has signed up regional sports networks, many of them owned by Fox and Comcast Corp. New York sports fans, for example, can watch the local basketball and hockey teams.

The package still lacks two important companies in sports: Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Inc. Disney owns ESPN, the most-watched sports network on TV, and home to every major sport in the U.S. ESPN airs the college football championship and NBA playoffs. The package also lacks Time Warner’s Turner unit, the other national broadcaster for the NBA.

FuboTV is working to sign more deals, Gandler said. But it’s hard to sell an inexpensive package that includes all major networks. Most skinny bundles lose money or break even, according to analysts. ESPN is the most expensive basic cable network in the U.S.

With or without Disney, Fubo is taking its skinny bundle overseas. The company plans to begin selling a live service outside the U.S. in 2018. Gandler declined to say where the company would start, though Latin America and Western Europe are most likely.

“We’ll be the first one to do this globally,” Gandler said. “You’ll see us making some announcements as early as first or second quarter.”

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