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Warner Bros. Discovery to Overhaul TruTV With Sports; Sets Nightly Block for Games and More (EXCLUSIVE)

Warner Bros. Discovery wants to bring one of its “zombie” cable networks back to life with a big jolt of sports.

The media company intends to create a new nightly sports block for TruTV, the reality-series cable network that has largely been left to show endless episodes of the popular prank show “Impractical Jokers” and the caught-on-camera serial “World’s Dumbest.” In doing so, Warner no doubt hopes to create new value where there has only been a little. A new sports schedule would likely draw broader viewership and new ad dollars to the network, and might even spur cable distributors to accord the outlet more value in future carriage contracts.

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The sports schedule will not consist only of simulcasts of NHL, MLB and NBA matchups that typically turn up on the company’s flagship TBS and TNT cable networks. Warner intends to air new “alterna-casts” that target different audiences; a new live half-hour “TNT Sports Update” each evening at 6 p.m.; and a new weekly program based on the social-media driven clip showcase “House of Highlights.”

The new block is expected to launch on March 11, the week prior to the start of the NCAA March Madness basketball championship, which Warner Bros. Discovery airs in conjunction with Paramount Global’s CBS. TruTV typically airs many games in the tournament. “Impractical Jokers,” a TruTV stalwart that enjoys a devoted fan base, will debut fresh episodes on TBS starting this summer. The series will continue to simulcast on both TruTV and TBS through early April.

“We are constantly striving to create and deliver the best sports content and experiences to sports fans wherever they are, and this is an exciting opportunity to expand the reach of our premium TNT Sports programming with greater consistency throughout the year,” said Luis Silberwasser, chairman and CEO of TNT Sports, in a statement. “By creating a primetime block of sports programming on TruTV, in addition to our existing premium live sports on TNT and TBS, we are now able to deliver a more comprehensive sports offering for our fans, while generating additional growth opportunities for our sports division and strategic business and league partners.”

Other new programs include “The Line,” a nightly look at betting across multiple sports genres, which will air live at 6:30 p.m., and “Handles,” billed as interactive show that sifts though the top conversations on social media surrounding the night’s NBA games, slated to air in late-night. Sports movies and documentaries will air in the new programming block, including “The Inside Story,” a look at TNT’s “Inside The NBA” program, slated to start March 15 at 9 p.m. Vodcasts from Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal will also appear, as will a slate of MotoGP races.

TruTV could use some attention. The network is seen commanding monthly subscription fees of just 33 cents per customer in 2024, according to estimates from Kagan, a market-research unit of S&P Global Intelligence. Meanwhile, ESPN is seen winning $10.08 per subscriber per month, while TNT would require $2.97 per month. TruTV is expected to capture less revenue from distributors in 2024, with Kagan projecting a decline of 4%, to nearly $260.8 million from $271.3 million.

And sports TV has also some under recent scrutiny. Younger audiences have grown more accustomed to streaming portions of games as well as clips and highlights. The regional-sports network business, dominated in the past by Fox, NBC and others, is transforming rapidly, with traditional media companies abandoning it while Diamond Sports Group, a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcasting, is working to emerge from bankruptcy after taking over a big group of local sports outlets. NBCUniversal shut down its own sports network, NBCSN, at the end of 2021.

Still, the decision might lend a boost to some Warner initiatives, including a new sports-focused streaming video joint venture it has established with Fox and Disney. The new outlet aims to repackage the three companies’ sports networks, which include ESPN, Fox Sports1 and TNT. TruTV is included in the new outlet’s offering and investing in new programming could add to the venture’s appeal. The new sports property is expected to command a monthly fee somewhere between what is sought by a traditional regional sports network and a broader streaming offering such as YouTubeTV or Hulu + Live, according to people familiar with the matter.

The move would also xpand the role of Warner’s sports division, TNT Sports, which is largely known for having one of the industry’s more focused rights portfolios. To be sure, TNT Sports has rights to a significant selection of NBA. NHL and MLB games, along with a significant passel of rights tied to European carriage and the NCAA March Madness event. But its sports holdings are smaller than those held by rivals such as Disney or Fox, and the company lacks any ties to the National Football League, whose games have become pivotal to the economic underpinnings of many media companies.

The new TruTV perch would help Warner compete more directly with Fox Sports and ESPN, both of which show not only games, but hot-talk shows, documentaries and shoulder programming that bolsters the games rights both networks enjoy. And it could give the company a new edge in critical negotiations looming with the NBA, which is looking to strike new rights contracts. The league’s current deals expire at the end of the 2024-2025 season, and interest in getting even a sliver of games is said to be intense among both traditional TV players and new digital video counterparts.

Warner isn’t the only media company that has sought to bolster its cable holdings with additional sports content. NBCUniversal has tried to boost its USA general-entertainment cable network with sports previously shown on the now-scuttled NBC Sports Network. Disney recently experimented with placing games from the relaunched XFL on its FX cable network.

Warner Bros. Discovery has built a business with this strategy in the past. Its Cartoon Network has gained traction among hard-to-reach young male consumers with a nighttime programming block known as Adult Swim. At 5 p.m. each evening, regular Cartoon Network fare such as “Teen Titans Go!” and “The Amazing World of Gumball” fades away in favor of young-adult-skewing series such as “Rick and Morty” and “American Dad.”

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