Sinclair, which owns more than 100 local TV stations, and nearly two dozen regional sports channels, released its fourth quarter report this week.
Following the statement’s release, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley took questions from industry analysts on a variety of topics including when Dish, Hulu and YouTube TV might again carry the sports channels, the company’s plans for in-game gambling, and when Sinclair will allow consumers to subscribe to the sports channels on a la carte basis. (No subscription to a cable, satellite or a live streaming service required.)
Here are the highlights of that discussion:
Sinclair expects to introduce an in-game gambling app this spring around the start of the 2021 MLB season.
Sinclair has partnered with Bally Sports to bring a gambling component to the company’s regional sports broadcasts. (As part of the deal, the Sinclair-owned, Fox-named RSNs will soon be renamed Bally Sports.) Viewers who live in states where online wagering is permitted will be able to bet on everything from who wins the game to who has the most hits. Sinclair believes that in-game wagering will lead to a significant increase in viewers, and more revenue for itself and its partners.
“We are in the process of developing a new app which will encourage viewers to actively participate in the sports viewing experience by offering interactive elements such as free-to-play contest, rewards and the ability to engage and interact with other fans. The idea is to make watching sports similar to playing a videogame,” Ripley said. “This spring around the time the MLB season commences, we expect to unveil our new Bally’s sports app, which will allow viewers a more personalized and interactive viewing experience. The app will provide significant enhanced functionality and a new design that will be a key enabler for our initiatives around the gamification of sports viewing.”
Sinclair plans to launch a streaming app in 2022 that will enable viewers to subscribe to a regional sports channel without a subscription to a cable, satellite or live streaming service such as Hulu Live or YouTube TV.
“We are working on a direct-to-consumer product that is expected to launch in 2022 and will allow unauthenticated users (non-pay TV service customers) the ability to access and even subscribe to certain content from our RSNs as well as other unique content,” Ripley said.
Ripley said the company’s contract with Dish for its 100 plus local TV stations expires this summer. That could trigger renewed negotiations for Sinclair’s regional sports channels, which Dish and the Dish-owned Sling TV have been without since July 2019 due to a fee dispute.
“The only thing of significance that happens on the retrans side (carriage negotiations) for broadcast (in 2021) is Dish this summer,” Ripley said.
The Sinclair chief hinted that the lure of the company’s local stations could push Dish to carry the regional sports channels as well.
“We’ve had tremendous success with all the traditional (cable and satellite operators) coming with incentives to take broader packages of content. And I would expect us to continue to have that success in the future,” Ripley said.
Ripley acknowledged that live streaming services that do not carry the regional sports networks may have strong economic reasons for their decisions. (YouTube TV, Hulu Live and Fubo TV all stopped carrying the RSNs last year due to fee disagreements.)
“The (live streamers) have a different business model. There are skinnier bundles, lower-priced targeting lower economic, socioeconomic strata for consumer…so there is a difference in the way that mechanic works, and there is a difference in their business model as well in terms of what they can afford and what they value. So that’s – that does tend to lead to different outcomes,” he said.
Ripley did not comment on when, or if, he thought the live streaming services would add the sports channels. But in reference to a recent deal with Hulu to carry the company’s CBS affiliates, the executive dismissed an analyst’s suggestion that the agreement should have included the sports channels.
“We don’t get into specific negotiations on specific distributors because those are confidential, but we are satisfied with the deal we did with Hulu,” Ripley said.
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— Phillip Swann