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Media Orgs & Sports Business Execs Turn To Streaming In the Face of Floundering RSNs

Jeff Kotuby

What was once the most profitable collection of networks around, regional sports networks (RSNs) are floundering — and are turning to streaming to help stop the fall.

A new report by the Sports Business Journal revealed that over a dozen high-ranking sports business executives are concerned with the future of RSNs and are working with leagues, teams, and cable distributors to help find a new way to broadcast games. “The house is on fire here,” one network executive said to SBJ, referring to the RSN business. But why? It’s twofold — growing streaming services and a lack of pay-TV subscriptions.

Regional sports networks make their money from cable operators who shell out big bucks to keep sports networks happy, as live sports is one of the last bastions of consistently strong TV ratings, which in turn makes it prime time for advertisers looking to buy up ad time. RSNs almost always deal with some kind of blackout or cable standoff as they look to grab more money from cable operators, who in turn charge their customers more to make up for the increased revenue or have to include the RSNs in a separate, costlier subscription tier. Usually, these premium tiers have fewer subscribers than others due to cost, which doesn’t help the RSNs either.

Then there’s Sinclair, the broadcast company that owns the largest assortment of RSNs that are now branded with the Bally Sports name. We’ve discussed Sinclair’s dealings with various cable and streaming TV providers — and how they seem to be ending deals with each and every one of their former broadcast partners. Sinclair has revealed their endgame, though, as they plan to go direct-to-consumer in the form of a sports streaming service that will supposedly launch sometime next year.

The direct-to-consumer approach will likely be the endgame for all RSNs, Sinclair-owned or not. As streaming services like Paramount+, Peacock, and of course ESPN+ all featuring live sports on their platforms, the need for costly cable services to watch our favorite sports is diminished. This is especially true for the NFL, which seemingly has a streaming answer for all of its broadcast partners, including Amazon, NBC, CBS, and ESPN.

Regardless, RSNs will have to adapt a Deutschmanian approach when looking to survive: change or die.

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