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Rob Thun on RSN Demise: Broadcast TV is Not the ‘Silver Bullet’

“We’re hitting a point where, ‘Do the broadcast channels make sense?'”

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Rob Thun
Courtesy: DIRECTV

As the regional sports network (RSN) model faces inherent change, there are questions about how fans will be able to access live and local sports content. In today’s marketplace, there are several RSNs that are owned by independent companies – most notably those from Diamond Sports Group. The company is currently within an exclusivity period to try and restructure its more than $8 billion in debt to emerge from Ch. 11 bankruptcy. As these proceedings continue to linger, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League are trying to remain prepared in the scenario that the company ultimately fails to come to a resolution with its creditors. 

There are also several regional sports networks owned by the teams themselves, including YES Network, Altitude Sports Network, NESN and Monumental Sports Network among others. Even so, DIRECTV Chief Content Officer Rob Thun feels that there is a sense of uneasiness among teams utilizing traditional RSNs to distribute their games as it pertains to future carriage.

“I think all of them are nervous that, ‘What happens if our deal is up, and if the RSN business is taking a drastically different course, are pay TV providers going to want to plug those RSNs into their programming lineups?,’” Thun said during an appearance on The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast this week. “DIRECTV obviously has a long history of being a leader in sports programming, and we don’t intend to deviate from that, but there are going to be exceptions as broadcasters step into the fray and try to opportunistically take these rights where we have technical limitations.”

In being a satellite television service, DIRECTV does not have unlimited bandwidth and is thus not able to carry every digital multicast. The satellites simply do not allow for these capabilities, part of the advantages inherent with internet TV, a space in which the company also has involvement.

“There are going to be some changes to the whole marketplace,” Thun said, “and we’re as anxious as everybody else to see how these play out because they plug into our overall strategy of leading in sports.”

Essentially, the company could be moving from an instance where it had been paying several regional sports networks because of the breadth of sports rights to having to pay retransmission consent fees to local broadcast channels picking up those rights. The Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes recently inked deals with Scripps Sports to be broadcast on over-the-air television, while the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury are working with Gray Television and also have a direct-to-consumer solution.

The Utah Jazz made the return to over-the-air television and recently reached distribution deals that will reach 3 million additional fans in the region, expanding the presence of their games and reach of potential fandom. Even so, Thun does not feel the broadcast model will be a panacea or “silver bullet” for answers in coming to a solution.

“Why we even got here with Diamond Sports and RSNs in general is because the model is broken,” Thun said. “The rights just kept going up and up and up, and the actual viewership or the demand for these local sports – while there are some that engage very heavily in watching their local team, the lion’s share of people do not watch RSNs, at least on our dial, and I think it’s fairly common across all the other distributors. It’s the same concern that the prices didn’t match the viewership, and so we are overpaying for these rights and they need to be re-rationalized.”

Dish TV moved out of the regional sports network when it dropped the FOX Sports-branded group of networks in 2019, which started a three-year process of ultimately removing all such channels from its service. Brian Neylon, the group president of the outlet, called the model “fundamentally broken” and did not foresee the company entering the business again.

“I think we’re going to see a replay of this down the road because the broadcast stations are also too expensive, and they’ve been asking for crazy increases over the years,” Thun said. “We’re hitting a point where, ‘Do the broadcast channels make sense?'”

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NBA Finals Game 3 Up 2% on ABC and ESPN

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Graphic for the NBA Finals

Game 3 of the NBA Finals series which saw Boston take a three games to none lead in the series was up 2% from last year’s Game 3. The game averaged 11,426,000 viewers and peaked at 13,926,000 at 10:45 p.m. ET.

The game was the top draw in all of television for the night and took the top spot in all of the key demographics. So far through three games, the series is even with the television numbers from 2023.

NBA Countdown, the show which airs right before the game begins, was also up two percent compared to the same show a year ago. NBA Countdown averaged 4,330,000 viewers. Through three games, the show is up five percent from last season’s pregame shows.

The Celtics will look to secure their 18th NBA Championship when the two teams meet again for Game 4 tonight at 8:30 ET. If a Game 5 is necessary, it would be played on Monday, June 17.

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Report: Netflix Looking for Production Partner for NFL Christmas Day Game Broadcasts

The report also indicates that there could be “more resistance among current NFL partners to help out Netflix” because the company may be looking to become a long-term media rights partner for the league in the future.

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Netflix will stream two National Football League games on Christmas Day this year as part of a new deal with the league that was inked ahead of the official release of the regular-season schedule. The company is starting to prepare for these matchups by reportedly reaching out to broadcasters in an effort to find a partner to produce these matchups, the first of which is an AFC tilt between the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers at 1 p.m. EST. Some of the broadcasters with whom Netflix has reportedly spoken with are ESPN, NBCUniversal and CBS Sports, according to a new report from Lillian Rizzo and Alex Sherman of CNBC.

The Walt Disney Company, which has a majority ownership stake of ESPN, will reportedly not produce these games since it has college football matchups on the same day, according to people familiar with the situation. CBS Sports and FOX Sports produce several games in different regions every week, which could make producing games with Netflix somewhat of a burden. The report also indicates that there could be “more resistance among current NFL partners to help out Netflix” because the company may be looking to become a long-term media rights partner for the league in the future. The NFL is able to opt out of its current media contracts following the 2029-30 season.

Over the years, Netflix has produced a variety of sports-related content in the form of documentaries and live specials. The company signed a media rights agreement with World Wrestling Entertainment to become the new broadcast home of the WWE Raw series beginning in 2025 reportedly worth $5 billion over 10 years.

Netflix also released the trailer for Receiver, the NFL docuseries following players on and off the field throughout the 2023-24 season, which is produced by NFL Films, Omaha Productions and 2PM Productions. The eight-episode series, which is a sequel to Quarterback, will feature Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

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Amazon Prime Video to Broadcast Weekly NHL Whiparound Show in Canada

“We are thrilled to work with NHL Productions on this new concept for hockey offering the ultimate destination for all the NHL action.”

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NHL on Prime Video
Courtesy: National Hockey League, Prime Video & Amazon MGM Studios

The National Hockey League and Amazon’s Prime Video have announced the creation of NHL Coast To Coast, a new weekly whiparound live look-in show airing on Thursday nights in Canada. This new program will feature live views, highlights and analysis of every NHL game on the schedule as Prime Video prepares to embark on a two-year sublicensing deal with the league and Rogers Communications to present live games on Monday nights. The series is produced by NHL Productions in collaboration with Prime Video, and more information, including details surrounding the talent and production for the show, will be revealed at a later date.

“We are thrilled to work with NHL Productions on this new concept for hockey offering the ultimate destination for all the NHL action,” Magda Grace, head of Prime Video, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement. “NHL Coast To Coast will provide fans with a comprehensive look at the latest key moments in games, as-they-happen highlights, interviews and analysis from the world of hockey featuring top players, coaches and commentators. The show will bring innovation and offer more to fans of the game than ever before, all in one place with their Prime membership.”

Earlier in the month, Prime Video and NHL Productions unveiled an untitled docuseries with Box to Box Films that will provide consumers with access to compelling players from around the league at different stages of their careers all trying to win the Stanley Cup. The series will include interviews with players, their rivals and those in their inner circle, trying to accurately depict what life is like for these players on and off the ice.

Amazon and the NHL have worked together since 2021 on their cloud-based delivery system, which has facilitated the delivery of in-game analytics and video highlights to enhance the overall fan experience. Among these ventures is the NHL Edge IQ stats portfolio that implements advanced analytical outputs to engender a better understanding of the on-ice action.

NHL Coast To Coast is yet another example of Amazon’s extraordinary investment in hockey programming and commitment to delivering an enhanced viewing experience for hockey fans,” Steve Mayer, senior executive vice president and chief content officer of the National Hockey League, said in a statement. “We are impressed with Amazon’s all-in approach to hockey and the NHL. Together with our amazing team at NHL Productions, Amazon continues to build on its mission to serve hockey fans across Canada with whiparound coverage that will make Thursday nights appointment viewing.”

Over the last several years, Amazon has expanded its presence in sports media through the acquisition of broadcasting rights within the National Football League, NASCAR, National Women’s Soccer League and Overtime Elite. The company is reportedly set to acquire media rights within the National Basketball Association’s new broadcasting deal, which is also said to include The Walt Disney Company (ESPN/ABC) and NBCUniversal, although no deals have currently been announced.

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