TV Answer Man, do you think Hulu or YouTube TV will start carrying the Bally Sports channels after Bally starts its app for cord-cutters? Won’t that put more pressure on them to start carrying them? — Jerry, Scottsdale, Arizona. 

Jerry, Sinclair, which owns the 19 Bally Sports regional sports networks (RSNs), has said it will launch a standalone app in the second quarter that will permit fans to watch their in-market Bally Sports channel without a subscription to cable, satellite or even a streaming service such as YouTube TV or Hulu Live.

The company says the initial app will include at least five Major League Baseball teams (rights have been obtained thus far from the Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays.) with NHL and NBA teams added in the second half of the year. (The timetable is likely dependent on Major League Baseball settling its labor dispute with the players.)

However, if the app does launch in the next few months, I don’t think it will place more pressure on Hulu Live and YouTube TV to carry Bally Sports. In fact, I think it may do just the opposite. It may create a scenario where live streaming services (except for DIRECTV Stream) never carry the Bally Sports channels.

Let me explain.

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Whether it’s Hulu Live, YouTube TV, Sling TV or FuboTV, the streamers’ profit margins are so thin that it’s hard for them to justify paying the regional sports channels, which do charge more than most channels. DIRECTV Stream, which does carry Bally Sports, is able to do so by charging a minimum of $90 a month for packages that include them. But YouTube TV, FuboTV and Hulu Live start with base prices under $70 and they want to keep their basic prices as low as possible to attract cord-cutters.

But if they add Bally Sports, or some other RSNs, they will have to raise prices to the point where non-sports fans would balk.

So YouTube TV, FuboTV, Hulu Live and Sling TV would prefer not to carry Bally Sports even though subscribers in the Bally markets who are sports fans are clamoring for them to do so. The subscriber pressure is the only reason why the streamers could relent at some point.

But when Sinclair launches the cord-cutter app, the pressure eases because the streamers can tell their customers that they can subscribe directly to Bally Sports. Consequently, fans would be less likely to drop YouTube TV or Hulu Live if they don’t carry Bally Sports because they will have an alternative.

The irony here is that Sinclair is starting the cord-cutter app in part because the live streamers dropped Bally Sports in 2020. But the app’s launch will likely ensure that they never bring them back.

Jerry, hope that makes sense. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann