TV Answer Man, I am happy that YouTube TV and NBC got a new deal so I won’t lose my programming. But which company caved here? Did NBC cave because of the ratings they would lose? — Gina, Flint, Michigan.
Gina, YouTube TV and NBC signed a new carriage agreement on Saturday that keeps 14 NBC channels in the streamer’s lineup. We don’t know the length of the agreement, but it’s likely to be at least two or three years.
The pact is great news for YouTube TV subscribers, particularly considering that NBC suggested earlier in the week that it was likely they would lose the channels when the old agreement expired on Thursday (September 30.) The two companies appeared headed for an inevitable standoff.
Whenever there’s a carriage settlement after a period of name-calling and charges, it’s also inevitable that people will speculate that one company caved. Why else would they settle so soon after so much acrimony?
The first thing that should be noted is that companies often engage in excessive rhetoric during a carriage dispute. They will say almost anything to curry favor with their viewers and subscribers, even if the words bear little resemblance to reality. It’s done to generate leverage in the negotiations. For instance, if a pay TV operator charges that a programmer wants a 1000 percent increase in carriage rates, the operator’s customers may be more willing to be patient with it rather than demand a settlement.
In the YouTube TV-NBC fight, we don’t know the terms of the new deal, or exactly what they were asking for prior to the settlement. So it’s difficult to determine if one company ‘caved.’
However, I will say this: My educated guess is if anyone caved, it was YouTube TV. The streamer needed NBC more than the network needed it.
YouTube TV has roughly four million subscribers, which is significant but not so many that NBC’s ratings would take a serious dent if there was a protracted blackout. The network was not under great pressure to exact a quick settlement.
However, in contrast, YouTube TV, like other live streaming services, such as Hulu Live and DIRECTV Stream, can not afford any blackout of what can be regarded as essential programming, the NBC suite of channels. Unlike DIRECTV, Dish and some cable ops, the streamers do not require subscribers to sign contracts with termination penalties if they cancel early. Streaming customers can cancel anytime they want, and it’s easy to do so.
If YouTube TV lost NBC, there’s no doubt that many of its subscribers would have jumped to Hulu Live or DIRECTV Stream, both of which carry it. YouTube TV had promised to lower its monthly price by $10 if there was a blackout, but that probably wasn’t enough to stop a large number of defections.
So if I had to say someone caved, it would be YouTube TV. Part of the appeal of subscribing to a live streaming service is the ease of signing up, and canceling. But it’s a double-edge sword for the streamers because it makes them more vulnerable to hardball demands from the programmers.
Final note: You could argue that YouTube TV has been able to maintain its base without the Bally Sports regional sports channels, which it lost last year when they were still known as Fox Sports channels. But they are niche channels, not essential channels, in my view. And DIRECTV Stream is the only major live streamer that carries them. YouTube TV has less to fear by not having them.
Gina, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!
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— Phillip Swann