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Volume 21 No. 1
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Still no live local streaming in U.S. for NHL

The NHL has started another season without any local streaming deals in place for its U.S.-based teams.

The league is talking with Fox Sports Net and Comcast SportsNet, which collectively hold the rights to 15 of the NHL’s 23 U.S.-based teams. But, as in past years, talks have stalled about where the streamed games will be offered to viewers.

The NHL wants to make the games available through its online and mobile platforms. U.S. regional sports networks want to make the games available through their online services.

Both sides are optimistic that something can be worked out this season. But sources also caution that they were optimistic a deal could be cut at the start of last season, too, and no deal was ever done.

The Canucks and Leafs plan to resume streaming games.
Meanwhile, the two Canadian teams that streamed games locally last season — the Vancouver Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs — both plan to restart their streaming services this season, though both started the season without it.

Another big issue for both Fox Sports Net and Comcast SportsNet is that online viewers need to be authenticated as pay-TV subscribers, sources say. Both groups want to offer streamed games as an add-on to existing pay-TV subscriptions and block out viewers who do not subscribe to their RSNs.

Fox rolled out its first authenticated service earlier this month when it began streaming Big Ten Network to broadband and mobile. It launched BTN2Go at the start of this football season, allowing a live feed and archived access to BTN programming for people who subscribe to a digital service that gets BTN.

RSNs are hesitant to sell mobile streaming services to people who do not subscribe to cable or satellite systems because they believe it will lower subscription fees from cable distributors, said Lee Berke, president and CEO for the consultancy firm LHB Sports Entertainment and Media. Thanks to its local sports content, RSNs are among the most expensive channels on cable systems.

In general, media companies believe it’s important to make services like this free to existing subscribers, primarily because usage has been underwhelming for most local streaming tests in the United States. Sports leagues, like the NHL, believe local broadband and mobile rights have more value and want to be compensated for them.

“There’s a certain amount of hesitancy to be the first ones to do it,” Berke said. “The RSNs are depending on subscription fees, and if a distributor says ‘Wait a second, you are charging me this amount and allowing your team to offer up games on technology that is competitive to mine,’ they might have to lower the fees.”

In Canada, the Canucks and Maple Leafs plan to stream their games live to mobile devices in-market. Unlike in the United States, where regional sports networks hold broadband and mobile rights to the games, the Canucks and Maple Leafs have retained those rights in Canada. Both teams held onto their mobile streaming rights in their separate local television deals with Rogers Sportsnet and designed streaming applications that are based on the NHL’s GameCenter Live mobile player, which is designed by NeuLion.

Canucks Live debuted in December 2010 and Leafs TV Interactive Mobile rolled out in January. The Canucks charged $9.99 for the application, and the Leafs charged $19.99 for their service.

Both teams declined to say how many users downloaded the application by the season’s end.

The teams have not launched the services this year because they haven’t settled on an effective price point.

Chris Hebb, senior vice president of broadcast and content for the Maple Leafs, said the Leafs will start offering the mobile game streaming service again in November.

In addition to the games, Hebb said the Leafs will stream team practices live to the application. Hebb said that the team plans to lower the price from last year but declined to say how much the application will cost.

“We played around with the price, and the one we had was probably too high last year,” Hebb said. “It’s still up in the air.”

A Canucks representative confirmed that the service would return for 2011-12, and said the team is working on an improved version of the application with NeuLion, which will stream live Rogers Sportsnet broadcasts as well as highlights, ice tracker and player stats. It will be supported on iPhone, iPad and Android systems.

The Canucks also declined to release the price point for the 2011-12 application and declined to say when the application would be ready to download.