Q. Thank you for writing today about the Dish and Sling TV sports fight with Sinclair. But what about Hulu’s live streaming and YouTube TV, too. Any chance they will settle before baseball begins next month? Or Fubo TV? We need a streaming alternative of some kind. — Morgan, Mason, Ohio.
Morgan, you’re right. In addition to Sling TV (and Dish), three other streaming services are not carrying the Sinclair-owned, Fox-named regional sports channels due to separate fee fights. They are Hulu Live, YouTube TV, and FuboTV,. All three lost the channels last year.
Before I tackle your question regarding whether they will reach a settlement prior to the start of the 2021 MLB season, which is April 1, did you know that AT&T TV does carry the Sinclair regional channels? The AT&T TV plan that includes your local regional network is not inexpensive — $84.99 a month — but at least there is one streaming alternative. (Despite some reports that Sinclair would launch an app this spring that would allow you to subscribe without a pay TV service, the company says that won’t happen until 2022 at the earliest.)
Now to your question: When Hulu Live, YouTube TV and FuboTV lost the channels last year, I wrote here that I didn’t expect they would return when the NBA and NHL returned in late 2020. Some analysts thought they would, but I explained that the live streamers operate on thin profit margins (due to lower subscriber prices and no contracts) so they could no longer afford to carry the channels. At least not for while.
I added that I thought if there were a settlement or two, it would more likely come around the start of 2021 baseball season. By waiting until then, the live streamers could avoid paying carriage fees for several months.
Since I wrote that last year, I have become less confident that there will be a deal between Sinclair and any of the three live streaming services. More evidence has surfaced to indicate that those profit margins might even be thinner than we thought, and Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley even acknowledged late last month that this was the case.
“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 told financial analysts in a conference call.
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.
Seeing Ripley’s pessimistic spin, I can’t be hopeful of a deal between Sinclair and Hulu Live, YouTube TV or FuboTV anytime soon, and certainly not before opening day.
That said, if there is a Sinclair deal this month, I suspect it’s most likely to come from FuboTV. The service has deeper pockets now thanks to a public offering of its stock, and it has grand plans to offer in-game wagering. It’s quite possible that it will display its new found wealth, and sports emphasis, by bringing back the Sinclair channels.
Morgan, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann