Digital sports platform DAZN reaches distribution deal with Comcast

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Media and communications company Comcast Corp has agreed to a distribution deal with digital global sports provider DAZN Group, further blurring the line between traditional television operators and the streaming services that have disrupted them.

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Starting on Thursday, Comcast’s internet customers who use its Xfinity Flex box for streaming apps - its answer to the Amazon Fire Stick and Apple TV - will gain access to the DAZN app, according to Ben King, DAZN’s SVP of Global Distribution and Business Development.

The app will also be available to Comcast cable customers on its Xfinity X1 set-top boxes in time for DAZN’s line-up of high-profile fall championship fights starting Oct. 5. Customers must pay to subscribe to DAZN.

DAZN (pronounced “da zone”) launched in the United States a year ago with John Skipper, former president of Walt Disney Co’s ESPN, as executive chairman.

It is best known for shaking up the boxing world by paying huge sums of money for marquee fighters - including Mexican Canelo Alvarez’s $365 million, five-year contract, which is the largest in sports history.

The deal with Comcast, America’s biggest cable TV provider, is DAZN’s first distribution agreement in North America, but probably not its last.

It is in active discussions in all nine of the countries it is in to replicate the deal with other cable, satellite and internet providers, through a program it calls “DAZN for Operators,” King said.

It already has similar distribution agreements in Switzerland, Italy and Germany. It declined to release subscriber numbers.

Such partnerships will make DAZN “easier to find, quicker to subscribe to and better to watch,” King said.

For Comcast, including DAZN among its apps could help retain viewers by offering more viewing options. Netflix, Alphabet Inc’s YouTube and Amazon Prime apps are already available to Xfinity customers.

As more viewers cut the cord to pay-TV providers and watch their favorite content on digital platforms, linear television broadcasters and operators have begun launching their own streaming products.

The latest is Disney+, expected to launch in November, while Comcast’s NBCUniversal plans an April roll-out of its new service, called Peacock.

Separately, a spate of other digital media companies, starting with Netflix, have launched in recent years.

Partnering with pure digital providers could help pay-TV operators regain some portion of the revenue they have been losing as customers cut the cord.

Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Additional reporting by Helen Coster; Editing by Stephen Coates and Chris Reese