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Distributors Warn Sinclair They Will Drop RSNs If Streaming Service Launches

Recent discussions of a DTC app have caused confusion between Sinclair and its distributors.

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Courtesy: Sinclair Broadcast Group

More and more content companies are releasing their projects on direct-to-consumer platforms leaving plenty of eyes on a mysterious path for Sinclair Broadcasting. The company has been dropping hints at its own DTC plan for the Bally Sports RSNs. One big hurdle in this business model is existing relationships with TV distributors who would instantly have a new competitor in the DTC app. 

That’s where the issue comes up this week with Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand writing, “Execs from two big distributors, both of whom asked to remain anonymous, told me that they haven’t had meaningful contact with Sinclair and are in the dark about the company’s DTC plans.”

This comes after Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said, “We’ve already cleared the path with the distributors to launch direct-to-consumer” on their Q1 earnings call last month. The confusion has distributors a bit miffed and according to Ourand “warned [Sinclair] that they would consider dropping the RSNs — either through contractual provisions or through expirations of contracts, which typically last three years — if Sinclair moves forward with plans to launch an unauthenticated DTC service.”

Ourand noted Dish Network is the example for these distributors as one of their own that stood up to the RSNs and hasn’t backed down since dropping them in 2019. 

Sinclair has discussed their app with potential investors this year to hopefully have the platform ready by the start of the 2022 MLB season. The standalone RSN-only app would cost subscribers $23 a month to watch their favorite teams without cable.

This back and forth is the headache of adapting to a new era. Who knows whether the confusion ends up being the death blow for the DTC app. There were always going to be difficult discussions between Sinclair and their distributors as they try to navigate a new era of watching sports.

Sports TV News

ESPN’s MegaCast Draws Over 23.1 Million Viewers for MNF Wild Card Weekend Debut

The Cardinals-Rams playoff game became the most-watched Monday night NFL game during ESPN’s Monday Night Football era.

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The first Monday night Wild Card playoff game proved to be a successful one. In fact, it became the most-watched Monday night NFL game during ESPN’s Monday Night Football era (2006 – present).

ESPN’s MegaCast presentation (across ESPN, ABC, ESPN2, and ESPN Deportes) recorded 23,150,000 viewers for the Los Angeles Rams’ blowout victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The audience peaked at 27.9 million viewers while the Rams led 21-0 in the second quarter (from 9:30 – 9:45 p.m.).

The game puts a bow on top of a season during which Monday Night Football finished the regular season with its best viewership since 2010, up 16% from 2020 and 13% from 2019.

As part of ESPN’s MegaCast, NFL Super Wild Card with Peyton and Eli continued its massive success that viewers have grown accustomed to. The “ManningCast” was again one of the network’s most-watched alternate telecasts, with the duo’s most recent shows now among ESPN’s nine most-watched alternate broadcasts. The audience on ESPN2 for the Wild Card game registered 1,419,000 million viewers.

The successful debut adds to an entire season of bests for ESPN. During the 2021-22 season, including the Monday Night Wild Card debut, ESPN delivered two of the four most-watched NFL Monday night games and three of the six during this era of MNF (2006 – present).

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NBC 2022 Winter Olympics Broadcast Teams Will Not Go To Beijing

NBC’s Olympic broadcasters will work remotely from the network’s Stamford, Connecticut facility.

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NBC Sports

On Wednesday, NBC announced that Olympic gold medalist and Alpine skiing legend Lindsey Vonn is joining the network’s coverage for the Beijing Winter Games. Unfortunately, any excitement over an Olympic star getting into broadcasting and providing analysis was soon undercut by a reminder that the world is still dealing with a global pandemic that is preventing life from returning to normal.

As reported by USA Today‘s Christine Brennan, NBC has decided not to send any of its Olympic broadcast teams to China and the announcers will cover their respective events remotely due to COVID-19 concerns.

Most of NBC’s Olympic announcing teams were already going to broadcast remotely from the network’s Stamford, Connecticut facility. But the original plans were for broadcasters to be on-site for figure skating, Alpine skiing, and snowboarding. That has obviously changed with the Omicron variant causing breakouts throughout the world.

Host Mike Tirico will still travel to Beijing for the opening ceremony on Feb. 4 and the initial few days of the Winter Olympics. But he’ll return to the U.S. to host NBC’s Super Bowl coverage on Feb. 13.

“We’ll still have a large presence on the ground in Beijing and our coverage of everything will be first rate as usual,” NBC Sports senior VP of communications Greg Hughes told Brennan. “But our plans are evolving by the day as they are for most media companies covering the Olympics.”

Viewers who have watched any sporting event with broadcasters working remotely have noticed the difference in how the action is called. Announcers can’t get a feel for how the reaction of the crowd influences the event. And in some cases, watching from a monitor rather than the usual on-site broadcast position can inhibit proper view of a play.

So NBC’s Olympics coverage will certainly suffer from broadcasters not being on-site, especially for the events mentioned above in which spectators can be a factor. That could make some showcase moments feel less compelling at times. But the excitement of an Olympics and standout athletic achievements should still be enjoyable to watch, regardless of where the announcers are situated.

The Beijing Winter Olympics begin Feb. 3 with broadcast coverage on NBC, USA Network, and CNBC, and streaming on Peacock, NBCOlympics.com, and the NBC Sports app.

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‘The Tuck Rule,’ ESPN’s Latest 30 for 30 Documentary, Debuts Feb. 6

The film chronicles the infamous play from the 2001 NFL playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots.

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Will we get more 30 for 30 documentaries from ESPN this year? In 2021, the network broadcast three new films in the series: Al Davis vs. the NFL, Breakaway, and Once Upon a Time in Queens.

Though to be fair, Once Upon a Time in Queens was a four-part documentary, providing the longer-form film that ESPN seems to prefer at least once a year since O.J.: Made in America and The Last Dance.

Just as Al Davis vs. the NFL debuted last February, the next 30 for 30 will be a NFL-related film that premieres during the off-week between the conference championship games and Super Bowl. The Tuck Rule debuts Feb. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET and will be available to stream on ESPN+ after its TV airing.

As the title indicates, the film chronicles the infamous play from the 2001 NFL playoff game between the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots. Late in the game, Oakland’s Charles Woodson appeared to have forced a fumble by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. But since Brady’s arm was moving forward and he was apparently attempting to tuck the ball into his body, the referees called the play an incomplete pass.

Check out the trailer for The Tuck Rule:

The “tuck rule” play was one of the most controversial in NFL playoff history. Rather than the Raiders forcing a turnover and protecting a three-point lead, the Patriots maintained possession and continued a drive that eventually led to a game-tying field goal by Adam Vinatieri. New England won the game in overtime, 16-13, the first step in a playoff run that ended with a Super Bowl championship, the first of six during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.

Directed by Ken Rodgers (The Two Bills, Al Davis vs. the NFL), The Tuck Rule gets Woodson and Brady together to watch the play and recount their memories of that moment. What appeared to be a fumble to nearly everyone involved in the game was negated by an obscure rule of which only the officials seemed to be aware.

Perhaps the most important figure interviewed for the documentary is referee Walt Coleman, who made the rule. Belichick, team owner Robert Kraft, and players Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, and Willie McGinest give the Patriots side. Current Raiders owner Mark Davis, Tim Brown, Eric Allen, and Lincoln Kennedy provide the Oakland perspective.

The Tuck Rule debuts Sunday, Feb. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. The documentary will be available on ESPN+ following the television premiere.

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