SBJ/Sept. 23-29, 2013/In Depth

League, RSNs still talking on local game streaming

Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the NHL is negotiating with regional sports networks about the possibility of streaming local games this season.

For at least the fifth season in a row, the league and RSNs started talks over the summer to try to find the best way to move forward with an in-market streaming plan that would allow RSNs to make games available to broadband and mobile users via the cable industry’s TV Everywhere initiative.

Both sides have hit the wall in previous talks, with price being the main issue.
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The NHL and RSN groups, such as Fox Sports Net, NBC Sports Group and Root Sports, still were negotiating just two weeks before the Oct. 1 start of the NHL regular season. League officials declined to comment on the negotiations.

Even if deals are struck in the next few days or weeks, it’s unlikely that any streaming system will be ready in time for the league’s season debut. It could be introduced later in the season, though.

The NBA and MLB also have been unable to reach local streaming deals with RSNs. Some Major League Soccer teams, like D.C. United, have streamed road matches that were not available on television. Monumental Networks picked up rights to stream those games. It’s not known how many people watched the streams.

The NFL streams its games through Verizon and DirecTV. NBC and ESPN stream the games they produce.

The NHL talks have become something of an annual tradition, as the league, teams and RSNs look to build out their broadband and mobile offerings.

For the past five years, neither side has been close to reaching an agreement. The most contentious issue, sources said, has been price.

The NHL views local streaming as a potential new revenue stream that would be a nice complement to the money it brings in from its TV rights. The league office is conducting the talks with the executives of each RSN group.

It’s not known how much the league is seeking for rights to stream games locally. In the past, RSNs complained that the league was overestimating the market. Three years ago, for example, various local streaming tests produced underwhelming results. Fox Sports Net and NBC Sports Group have not conducted extensive local streaming tests in recent years.

But streamed video has become more important to RSNs, as more channels adopt the TV Everywhere system, where authenticated cable subscribers are allowed to stream channels to their broadband and mobile devices.

Fox, for example, is working to launch a mobile application called Fox Sports Go. It was expected to be ready for the August launch of Fox Sports 1, but was delayed.

There’s still no timetable for the app’s launch. Though when it does, in-market local streaming is expected to be a pillar of the service.

With streaming services like ESPN3 and HBO Go becoming more popular, the market for streaming services is becoming hotter.

Money is not the only holdup. RSNs won’t roll out streaming services unless mobile rights are part of the offering. In recent years, the NHL wanted to sell broadband and mobile rights separately, sources said.

The NFL sold streaming rights to its Sunday afternoon games to Verizon, signing a four-year deal earlier this summer.

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In-Depth, NHL Season Preview

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