Even as cord-cutting – moving off cable and satellite-based television to internet-based offerings – continued to accelerate in the fourth quarter, sports fans are regretting their decision in growing numbers.
The promise of “cutting the cord” was to be able to continue receiving the same channels for far less money. Instead, financial disputes have led to the removal of important channels from the internet offerings, creating angry customers in their wake.
For example, almost two dozen regional sports networks – including the home of the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues, FOX Sports Midwest (soon to be Bally Sports Midwest) – have been pulled from key providers across the country.
This has left fans anxious to see their favorite teams in the dark for what is heading into a third season in some cases. This will again be rubbed in customer noses starting this Sunday when the Cardinals’ first spring training game will be televised on FSM.
Direct-to-Customer RSN offering delayed
A glimmer of hope for an outside the box solution had been offered in late November 2020 by Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO Christopher S. Ripley. (Sinclair acquired the FOX regional sports networks (RSNs) from Disney last year.)
Ripley stated that FOX Sports Midwest, along with other regional sports networks owned by Sinclair, would be available in 2021 via a direct-to consumer offering to which customers could subscribe independently.
”We have a pretty aggressive plan,” Ripley stated just before Thanksgiving. “It will happen next year.”
Just 90 days later, this has become another episode of “Ripley’s Believe it – NOT!” His tune has changed, as evidenced by his latest remarks shared during Sinclair’s Wednesday Fourth Quarter Investor Call.
“…we are working on a direct-to-consumer product that is expected to launch in 2022…,” Ripley now says.
“We plan to roll out various gamification elements throughout 2021, starting with our sports assets,” Ripley said. “You should expect to see gaming elements being incorporated into our sports network and digital programming as soon as the third quarter of this year.”
So, cross this off as a solution to watch FOX Sports Midwest/Bally Sports Midwest in 2021.
(The precise timing of the name change remains vague, but it would not be crazy to guess it may happen when the aforementioned “gaming elements” are ready to be rolled out.)
Dodging the streaming standoff
This bad news continues a downward spiral that began in 2019, when both Dish Network and Sling TV dropped the regional sports networks from their offerings. This past year, YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV, and fuboTV customers all lost access to the RSNs, too.
As one would expect, each side blames the other, with the following an example from a few weeks back.
.@hulu and @YouTubeTV subscribers: We share in your frustration. We’ve offered both providers rates in line with what hundreds of others have agreed to. We’ve been waiting to have constructive conversations, but until then encourage you to make the switch: https://t.co/gaEubCo4yS
— FOX Sports Midwest (@FSMidwest) January 20, 2021
As one clicks on the link to evaluate the options to see FOX Sports Midwest, the pickings presented are slim, indeed – the same cable companies we abandoned due to sky-high rates plus AT&T TV, with a price that begins at $84.99 per month.
Some hoped that the stalemates with YouTube TV and Hulu Plus would have ended once the delayed NHL and NBA seasons got underway. That did not happen.
Another unrealized hope was that when Sinclair acquired the FOX Sports RSNs, their ability to bundle their local network affiliates and RSNs together would make the agreements easier to secure. Again, this has not been the case.
In fact, recently, Sinclair’s local CBS stations went dark on Hulu for a period. But when they returned earlier this month just prior to the Super Bowl, the RSNs were not included in the new deal. What synergy?
In the same Wednesday investor briefing referenced above, Ripley provided no encouragement that any agreements are coming. Instead, when asked if the return of live sports has accelerated negotiations with Hulu and YouTube TV, he made a generic reply that said nothing and only drew more attention to his company’s ongoing failings.
“…undoubtedly, the return of sports is very important to us,” Ripley said. “In terms of our value proposition to distributors, these are some of the highest rated programs on television. They have tremendous value, and that definitely plays a role in discussions with distributors.”
(The full transcript of Ripley’s remarks are posted at The Motley Fool.)
All the while, countless fans cannot see their favorite teams – and no one seems to care enough to do anything about it.
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