Charter Communications to Launch Free Streaming Option for Regional Sports Networks

Charter Communications is planning to launch a direct-to-consumer (DTC) alternative for its proprietary regional sports networks, Spectrum SportsNet and Spectrum SportsNet LA, which will be made available to all affiliate subscribers for free.

The future DTC access to the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers comes as regional sports networks nationwide deal with declining advertising and fiscal bankruptcy. Bally Sports’ parent Diamond Sports Group, which has TV distribution deals with almost 50% of MLB teams, filed for Chapter 11 protection in March.

Charter, in a July 10 release, said Spectrum TV Select in the third quarter would be relaunched as two new services: Spectrum Select Plus, which will include sports programming services and local RSNs, while Spectrum Select Signature bows as an alternative service that will exclude certain sports programming and provide non-sports fan a reduced subscription rate option.

Live sports, while popular with a significant portion of pay-TV viewers, is expensive. Traditionally, sports networks’ agreements have required pay-TV distributors to pay for, and make available their programming service to a large majority (80%) of subscribers — even if many of them never watch it.

Charter says its new options are based on the customer’s viewing preferences, while also supporting the RSNs as they pursue DTC streaming options.

“This new model paves the way for a more flexible approach to the outdated packaging model for sports, and it puts the focus where it should be, on the customer,” Tom Montemagno, EVP of programming acquisitions, said in a statement.

Sinclair Touts Q3 Tennis Channel Streaming Service Launches, Ransomware Issues

Sinclair Broadcast Group Nov. 3 disclosed it launched a subscription streaming service edition of the Tennis Channel in the United Kingdom in September, in addition to an ad-supported version in India.

Baltimore-based Sinclair owns and operates myriad television station groups across the country, in addition to regional sports networks with the New York Yankees (and Amazon), and separately with the Chicago Cubs.

In July, Sinclair and Bally’s unveiled a plan to rebrand Sinclair’s 21 regional sports networks under the Bally’s name that would include a monthly subscription streaming video platform.

“Our focus remains on growth opportunities in the broadcast, news and sports areas … [and] the implementation of gamification elements across our platforms, the ramping up of activities around a ‘Direct to Consumer’ product … will all be key initiatives as we move into the next year,” CEO Chris Ripley said in a statement.

Sinclair said it continues to investigate an October ransomware attack that incapacitated select servers, workstations, office and operational networks. The company added that data was also stolen from its network.

In a statement, Sinclair said legal counsel, a cybersecurity forensic firm, and other incident response professionals have been engaged, and the appropriate law enforcement and other governmental agencies notified.

“The investigation into the incident remains ongoing,” the company said. “While [we have] taken significant steps to contain the incident, the event has not yet been fully resolved, and certain disruptions to its business and operations remain.”

Chicago Cubs, Sinclair Partner for Pay-TV Network — and Streaming

More than 70 years of watching Chicago Cubs baseball broadcasts over the air is coming to an end.

The 2016 World Series winner and Sinclair Broadcast Group Feb. 13 announced a partnership to create the Marquee Sports Network — a new regional sports network (RSN) to be marketed to cable, satellite and telco pay-TV operators beginning in 2020.

The Cubs currently split broadcasts between local networks WGN-9 and WLS-7.

The new RSN will air regular season games, expanded pregame and postgame coverage, archive broadcasts and other local sports programming.

“We’ve been looking at this for a while,” Crane Kenney, president of business operations for the Cubs, told the Chicago Tribune. “We think the new network is going to give our fans unprecedented access and a richer, deeper connection to the team.”

The move comes as RSNs — notably those owned by Fox and Disney — come under increased interest by third parties, including over-the-top video behemoths Amazon and Yahoo.

Also, in a fragmented video landscape, pay-TV operators are upping proprietary and third-party OTT ventures (i.e. Comcast, Netflix, YouTube) to sustain subscribers and attract new ones.

The Cubs and Sinclair also plan to market their network to OTT platforms.

“We have strong relationships with cable companies and satellite operators,” said Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley. “That is a key function we will fill here.”

Bob Leib, a professional sports consultant, told the Tribune that even in a loss-leader priced video world, consumers are willing to pay for sports – a reality driven by affiliate fees charged by the Cubs and Sinclair for the RSN.

“The fan subscriber’s insatiable demand for game programming creates a built in tolerance for price increases,” Leib said.