SBJ/Sept. 20-26, 2010/Media

Few streaming plans for local NBA games

Live streaming of local NBA games will be virtually nonexistent this season as teams and TV networks struggle to create a moneymaking model out of the digital rights.

Once considered the hottest new service in the market, results from initial rollouts have been disappointing. Comcast SportsNet launched live streaming in two markets last year — Chicago and Philadelphia — and wound up with less than 1,000 subscribers for each. The Portland Trail Blazers said they attracted 800 to 1,000 online viewers for the 15-game package they launched last year.

Right now, Comcast SportsNet has no plans to roll out any live streams this season, though executives say that could change if they are able to find an economic model that works.

“At this point, I don’t think that we feel there’s a strong economic model for us to spend a lot of our resources on live game streaming,” said Eric Grilly, executive vice president and chief digital officer for the Comcast Sports Group.

Fox Sports Net, which holds the rights to 17 NBA teams, says it is talking about rolling out streaming service with several teams but has no specific plans to do so.

“We’re in discussions with distributors and teams about targeting certain markets for the upcoming season,” said Clark Pierce, FSN’s senior vice president of emerging technologies.

Currently only one team has concrete plans to stream games — the Portland Trail Blazers plan to make 16 of their games available via broadband.

“We’re still working with teams and RSNs to see if we can find a more compelling offering,” said Bill Koenig, NBA executive vice president of business and general counsel.

Comcast has been negotiating with the league about obtaining the rights to stream games to mobile devices, something Koenig said the league is thinking of allowing.

“It needs to be a Web and a mobile experience for us,” Grilly said. “At this point, we see a greater opportunity on the mobile.”

The problem is that RSNs have lost money on their streaming services so far. This year, RSNs that want to stream have to pay $3,300 per game to the NBA, up from last year’s fee of $3,000. These costs, along with production and bandwidth costs, have caused RSNs such as Comcast SportsNet to experiment with different business models.

Comcast is looking into streaming a package of games rather than every game. Last year, it tested a free model in Chicago and a pay model in Philadelphia. If it ends up launching local streaming this year, it wants to explore selling games in packages, rather than making every game available online. “You have to experiment because the market hasn’t evolved yet,” Grilly said.

The Blazers are rolling out a free service this season, with the games streamed to Last season the Blazers, the first NBA team to stream games live, charged $3.99 per game, or $39 for the entire package.

They hope the move to a free model will boost streaming viewership that ranged between 800 and 1,000 last year. The team plans to sell sponsorship and advertising to support the product, though it does not yet have a presenting sponsor for its live streaming schedule that begins on Oct. 26, the team’s opening game against the Phoenix Suns.

The Blazers will stream their games on from the team’s over-the-air television broadcast schedule on KGW-NBC. The remaining Blazers games are carried on Comcast SportsNet Northwest, which has not been able to sign carriage deals with big distributors in Portland, including DirecTV, Dish Network and Charter.

The team wants to use live streaming as a way to increase exposure given the RSN’s carriage problems.

“We have the rights to 26 over-the-air games and have yet to work out an agreement with Comcast for streaming or for distribution on satellite,” said Blazers chief marketing officer Sarah Mensah.


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