SBJ/Nov. 25-Dec. 1, 2013/Media

In NBA, slow road to streaming

Live local games still expected this season, but several obstacles hold up plans

A month into the NBA season, just two teams have developed local streaming services, even though the biggest regional sports network groups reached agreements with the league to stream games locally at the start of the season.

What gives?

The answer from media and team executives is that local live streaming is still coming this season, but fans need to be patient.

“We want to make sure that we are buttoned up from a user-authentication standpoint,” said Boston Celtics President Rich Gotham. “I think Comcast’s plan is to roll it out and test it, and I’m hopeful by spring to pilot a few games. We want to make sure that when we do it, it will be easy for the consumer.”

The Trail Blazers are selling live streaming, but it’s not part of a TV Everywhere strategy.
Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
Fox Sports Net expects to start rolling out local streaming services next month for all 16 teams for which it holds the rights, sources said. Comcast is moving at a slower pace, but sources said they do expect to have streaming services ready for its seven teams by the end of the season.

NBA executives were not available for comment.

Time Warner Cable Sports streamed its Los Angeles Lakers games last season and is doing so again this season. And the Portland Trail Blazers are selling live streaming of their games to fans who do not have access to that team’s rights holder, CSN Portland.

Reasons for the holdup are relatively mundane and largely center around the networks’ distribution deals. Fox Sports Net and NBC Sports Group plan to make local streams available only to pay-TV subscribers through the industry’s TV Everywhere initiative. As such, they have to cut new deals with distributors to allow for local streaming and set up an authentication process around it.

An interesting wrinkle to the deals has Fox Sports and Comcast SportsNet asserting what is being called “couch rights.” That means that pay-TV subscribers will be able to stream the games anywhere, even in other markets. For example, if a Heat fan who subscribes to Sun Sports is on a business trip to Los Angeles, that fan would be able to stream games to his computer or handheld device.

The Trail Blazers’ streaming efforts are not related to the TV Everywhere strategy used by Fox Sports Net and NBC Sports Group. Because Comcast Portland has not been able to cut carriage deals with several distributors, including DirecTV, the Blazers are offering to stream 58 regular-season games for $99.99 to fans where Comcast is not available.

Last year, the Blazers offered a similar plan and drew a total of 350 subscribers. As of last week, the Blazers had 104 subscribers for the live streaming package this year. The goal is to attract 500 to 600 subscribers this season.

While the Blazers and Comcast are interested in the NBA’s TV Everywhere live streaming, that effort would have no impact on the team’s live streaming package offered to fans with no access to Comcast services.

“We have had internal discussions and we are moving in the right direction on it,” said Dewayne Hankins, vice president of marketing and digital for the Blazers.

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