Sinclair’s Bally Sports Live Streaming Service to Miss Major League Baseball Opening

Sinclair Broadcast Group last year spent almost $10 billion acquiring 21 former Fox (renamed Bally Sports) regional sports networks with an eye toward live-streaming Major League Baseball to consumers. With the baseball season beginning April 7, Sinclair’s pending Bally Sports streaming service offering access to five MLB teams (Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays) reportedly isn’t slated to “soft launch” until this summer.

Sinclair, which has broadcast rights to all 30 MLB teams, is looking to establish first-mover status in live sports streaming at the regional level concurrent with a brand name synonymous with gambling. The media company also has streaming deals with the Chicago Cubs through their joint Marquee Sports Network, the New York Yankees as a part owner of the ballclub’s YES Network.

“It is the start of a new paradigm for how fans can watch and engage with their local teams,” CEO Chris Ripley said on last month’s fiscal all. “The potential market for a [direct-to-consumer] product is significant as approximately 83 million households reside in the territories for which we currently have DTC rights.”

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Fast-forward a month, and the Bally Sports streaming service — with a goal of 4.4 million subscribers paying $20 monthly to stream out-of-market baseball games — remains wishful thinking.

The Kansas City Star reported that the Royals expects to offer fans a streaming option by the second quarter, according to ballclub CEO John Sherman.

“We’re working on some things. Sinclair is working on some things,” Sherman told reporters last week during the club’s spring training stint in Arizona. “I don’t know how long it will take. The whole landscape is changing, streaming, the way young people consume the game and connect to teams and players. But there’s a lot of work being done at MLB right now with some really bright people on our media committee. And we’re monitoring Sinclair and that whole situation.”

With Disney-owned Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV both dropping Bally Sports, Sinclair finds itself under pressure to diversify its distribution channels — a sentiment, Sherman says, ballclubs share.

“When you think about that, reach is more important than revenue for us in baseball,” he said, downplaying media suggestions that the recent delay to the start of the baseball spring training was due to a revenue disagreement with the players’ union.

“I think a lot of what you heard during the CBA was all we cared about was revenue,” Sherman said. “But reach is more important than revenue. Revenue will come if we connect with more fans over time. That’s the strategy that we’re employing. How we get there, I think there’s some turbulence. But we want to make it easy for people to connect and see our games.”

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.”

Major League Baseball Eyeing Nationwide Streaming Service

With the national pastime in the throes of postseason play, Major League Baseball is reportedly considering launching a branded subscription streaming service to supplant declining pay-TV viewership. The service, which would cost $10-$20 monthly, could start by the 2023 season.

MLB currently operates MLB.tv, a SVOD service affording subscribers access to out-of-market games. The new service would co-exist while sharing revenue with pay-TV operators, according to The New York Post, which first reported the news.

“We believe those digital rights are crucial,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told the recent CAA World Congress of Sports conference. “And we want to own and control the platform on which they’re delivered, we may have partners in that process.”

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A possible challenge to any launch is the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns regional TV rights to 14 MLB teams, including streaming agreements with Amazon for the New York Yankees and, separately, the Chicago Cubs.

Sinclair acquired the former Fox Sports regional rights (which include 16 NBA teams, and 12 NHL teams) from Disney for $9.6 billion. Since then, viewership has declined with Dish, Hulu and YouTube TV dropping coverage. The media report suggests Sinclair would be open to working with the MLB’s streaming service in exchange for the league lowering its annual carriage fees.

Cinedigm’s ‘The Bob Ross Channel’ Streaming on Sinclair’s STIRR

Cinedigm May 19 announced the launch of The Bob Ross Channel on STIRR, an ad-supported, live and on-demand streaming service owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group. The channel can be accessed on iOS and Android devices, as well as Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and online at www.STIRR.com.

Ross, who died in 1995, was an art instructor and television host. His show “The Joy of Painting” aired on PBS from 1983 to 1994 in the United States, Canada, Latin America and Europe.

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“The Joy of Painting” has more than 5.5 million social media followers, as well as 5.6 million unique views on Twitch, nearly one million hours consumed on Hulu, and an hour-long YouTube special that attracted over 2.5 million viewers.

The Ross Channel will showcase the series’ 380 episodes. As part of Cinedigm’s agreement with Bob Ross Inc., the distributor will produce and distribute PSAs for public television on the channel, as well as spots highlighting Ross painting products and certified instructors.

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“Through our partnership with the Bob Ross company, we aim to leverage our broad reach and expertise within the OTT space to extend the legacy created by Bob Ross,” Erick Opeka, president of digital networks at Cinedigm, said in a statement.

Major League Baseball Owners Eyeing Game Play in July

Major League Baseball owners May 11 approved a proposal to be sent to the players union that could see the national pastime resume play in July. Spring training could begin in June with the season boiled down to a 82- game regular-season.

Speaking earlier in the day on the virtual MoffettNathanson 7th Annual Media & Communications Summit, Chris Ripley, CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group, said Major League Baseball would likely start in July with or without fans in attendance. Ripley said his comments were based on discussions with MLB executives.

“July has some potential for some of these leagues to start, or maybe August,” Ripley said, adding that without a coronavirus vaccine, he doubts professional sports would risk subjecting spectators to the virus.

“Are you really going to put 30,000 people into a building when there’s no vaccine yet?,” he said.

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The German pro soccer Bundesliga last week announced it would resume the remaining nine weekends of its season on May 16 — the first sports league to do so.

Sinclair, which operates the second-largest collection of sports TV channels in the country, this year is partnering with the Chicago Cubs for the debut of the Marquee Sports Network, a regional sports pay-TV platform that includes an over-the-top element. The channel is similar to the New York Yankees’ YES Network and Los Angeles Dodgers’ Spectrum SportsNet LA.

With pay-TV operators continuing to charge subscribers for sports networks devoid of sports content, there is increasing regulatory concern among some states that consumers are getting ripped off.

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New York State Attorney General Letitia James last month called on seven major cable and satellite TV providers operating in New York to provide financial relief for consumers amidst the pandemic by reducing or eliminating fees attributable to live sports programming.

Ripley said there is some discussion about offering rebates to distributors for non-broadcast games.

“We’re doing a lot of research into that,” he said. “There are more sports fans outside the bundle than you may think.”

Tennis Channel Launching International OTT Video Service

Despite zero professional tennis being played anywhere in the world due to the coronavirus, Tennis Channel is launching another subscription streaming video service in select European countries.

Owned and operated by Sinclair Television Group, a subsidiary of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Santa Monica, Calif.-based Tennis Channel already operates subscription services, TC Plus and TV Everywhere. The company has rights to 90% of all the televised tennis in the U.S.

Now it wants to bring 24-hour OTT video access to Germany, Austria and Switzerland where tennis is popular.

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The new Tennis Channel International app is bowing ahead of the Tennis Point Exhibition Series, a 32-match event headlined by German star Dustin Brown and taking place in an empty arenas without spectators, May 1-4, in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

The service will also be available at www.tennischannel.com, in addition to iOs and Android mobile devices, tablets, FireTV and select smart TVs for €2.49 ($2.70) per month. Subscribers of Tennis Channel Plus in the United States will have automatic access to select Tennis Channel International programming as part of the Tennis Channel Plus service.

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“Tennis Channel has changed the tennis-media landscape here in the United States, and I’m honored to guide the next phase of expansion into an international arena that counts this sport among its top favorites,” Andy Reif, SVP of international for Tennis Channel, said in a statement. “We’re especially excited to launch this groundbreaking service in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where tennis has a storied past, strong levels of participation and fan interest, and is positioned for growth.”

Hulu Missing From Chicago Cubs Spring Training Lineup

The Chicago Cubs, like many Major League Baseball teams, begin their 28-game Spring Training season Feb. 22 in Mesa, Arizona. While inclement weather is delaying the start to many games on Saturday, Disney’s online TV platform, Hulu with Live TV, won’t be around to stream the action regardless of projected rain in the forecast.

The Cubs, together with Sinclair Broadcast Group, are bowing their jointly created Marquee Sports Network, which was supposed to stream on Hulu, priced at $54.99. Subs were to get access to 148 regular season games (not being broadcast nationally), in addition to Spring Training.

In a Feb. 21 statement, the Cubs said Marquee would be available to stream on AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) and “Hulu+Live TV in the near future.” No reason was given for the delayed launch on Hulu, which recently disclosed 2.7 million subscribers — topping Dish Network’s Sling TV.

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“The provider determines the launch date for the service,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green told the Chicago Tribune.

Per ongoing secular changes in media distribution, the Cubs for the first time in their history will not broadcast games locally over-the-air TV after 71 years.

Marquee has also bowed a branded Sports Network App, enabling fans with pay-TV contracts access to live and on-demand mobile and desktop access.

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Disney Offloads 21 Fox Regional Sports Networks to Sinclair

The Walt Disney Co. and Sinclair Broadcast Group have entered into a definitive agreement under which Sinclair is paying $9.6 billion to acquire equity stakes in 21 regional sports networks and “Fox College Sports,” which were acquired by Disney in its $71.3 billion acquisition of select 21stCentury Fox assets.

Completion of the transaction is subject to the approval of the U.S. Department of Justice, which had mandated Disney sell the RSNs.

The RSN portfolio, which excludes the New York Yankees’ YES Network, is the largest collection of RSNs, with a footprint that includes exclusive local rights to 42 professional teams consisting of 14 Major League Baseball teams, 16 National Basketball Association teams, and 12 National Hockey League teams.

In 2018, the RSNs generated a combined $3.8 billion in revenue across 74 million subscribers.

The RSNs will be managed under wholly-owned subsidiary of Sinclair, Diamond Sports Group LLC.

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Byron Allen, CEO of Entertainment Studios and owner of The Weather Channel, is an equity and content partner in Diamond Sports Group.

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Sinclair’s existing sports business consists of Marquee Sports Network (a joint venture with the Chicago Cubs), Tennis Channel and Tennis Media Company (dedicated to live tennis events and tennis lifestyle), Stadium (a joint venture focused on college sports and professional highlights), Ring of Honor Wrestling (professional wrestling), and high school sports programming (with Friday Night Rivals and Thursday Night Lights).

“While consumer viewing habits have shifted, the tradition of watching live sports and news remains ingrained in our culture,” Chris Ripley, CEO of Sinclair, said in a statement. “This acquisition is an extraordinary opportunity to diversify Sinclair’s content sources and revenue streams with high-quality assets that are driving live viewing. We also see this as an opportunity to realize cross-promotional collaboration, and synergistic benefits related to programming and production.”

“We are pleased to have reached this agreement with Sinclair for the sale of these 21 RSNs, subject to the conditions of the consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice,” said Disney CFO Christine McCarthy.

The RSNs include Fox Sports Arizona, Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports Florida, Fox Sports Sun, Fox Sports North, Fox Sports Wisconsin, Fox Sports Ohio, SportsTime Ohio, Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Carolina, Fox Sports Tennessee, Fox Sports Southeast, Fox Sports Southwest, Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports New Orleans, Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Kansas City, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports San Diego, Fox Sports West, and Prime Ticket.

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.