TV Answer Man, now that the NHL and NBA seasons have started, do you think YouTube TV or Hulu will bring Bally Sports back? That would be great and I would definitely cut my cord then!! — Marcia, Scottsdale, Arizona. 

Marcia, Hulu Live and YouTube TV have been missing the 19 Bally Sports regional sports networks (RSNs) since the fall of 2020 due to separate carriage battles. Fellow streamers Sling TV and FuboTV also lost the RSNs after failing to reach new agreements with Sinclair, which owns Bally Sports. (DIRECTV Stream is the only multi-channel live steaming service that carries Bally.)

The four streamers say Sinclair is asking for too much money to carry Bally, a charge denied by Sinclair although it acknowledges that it’s more difficult for the profit-strapped live streamers to carry regional sports because they charge less than cable and satellite.

Despite of, or perhaps because of, the long blackout, I am still frequently asked by readers if the streamers will bring back Bally Sports. The opening of a new sports season, such as this week when the NBA returns to play, often triggers even more inquiries. (The NHL started its season last week.)

However, there are two major reasons why it’s highly unlikely that YouTube TV, Hulu Live, Sling and FuboTV will ever settle with Sinclair, no matter which season is starting.

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1. Sinclair has launched a standalone app that allows consumers 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 app now has the games of 16 NBA teams, 12 NHL teams and five MLB teams.)

With the standalone app, the pressure on the streamers has eased because they 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 have an alternative.

In addition, the streamers have been without Bally for so long, that it’s likely that if a subscriber would drop one because it doesn’t carry the RSNs, he or she has already done so.

2. 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. (Sling TV, which charges just $35 a month for its base plan, is even less likely to carry Bally now.)

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.

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

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— Phillip Swann
@tvanswerman