Q. With YouTube TV dropping the Fox regional sports channels and Dish and Sling not carrying them, do you think the regional sports channel will die and we will get to order our favorite one directly rather than having to subscribe to a cable or streaming service to get it? — Tom, Norfolk, Virginia.
Tom, you’re right. YouTube TV today is scheduled to remove 19 Fox-named regional sports channels, if they haven’t already by the time you read this. The issue is money. YouTube TV is not willing to pay the carriage fees demanded by the channels’ owner, Sinclair Broadcasting.
Dish and Sling TV have also not carried the Fox RSNs for more than a year, and there have been similar carriage scraps in the last few years between other providers and RSNs owned by Sinclair, AT&T and Comcast. With cord-cutting on the rise, and profits shrinking, some pay TV providers have decided that the RSN is a luxury. They can no longer afford to pay the high fees demanded by the RSNs, even if that means the loss of some subscribers. The pay TV ops believe the defections will be relatively small because a relatively small number of viewers actually watch the RSNs. (Although those that do are passionate about them.)
But that doesn’t mean the regional sports channel is going away. What it does mean is that you will find it in the lineup of fewer providers. Those that believe that they can gain a marketing advantage by carrying RSNs will continue to carry them.
For instance, AT&T has added a slew of regional sports networks to both AT&T TV and AT&T TV Now this year. That company clearly believes that they will help attract new customers as well as keep old ones. (It helps that AT&T requires AT&T TV Now subs to pay $80 a month to include the local RSN in their package. Not only does the RSN possibly attract more subs, AT&T hopes it can generate more revenue.)
The decrease in pay TV partners may force the regional sports channels to slightly reduce their fees, or at least, stop raising them so often. But as of now, it won’t force them out of business. The economics of bundling several channels still makes more sense than each channel selling itself on a la carte basis to individual providers. (There are a few channels that are still independently owned, such as MASN in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area.)
Sinclair, for example, owns more than 100 local channels and it can use that leverage to get pay TV providers to carry the RSNs as well. It doesn’t work all the time, obviously, but it’s effective. Comcast, which owns NBC and numerous other networks and services, has similar leverage. (Just ask Roku.)
So as a sports fan, you will need to do your homework before deciding which TV provider to get. Gone are the days when you could assume that a cable or satellite service would carry your favorite local sports channel. Now you want to be sure it does before signing up.
Tom, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann