On Monday, NBC announced that Valari Dobson Staab would be the new chairman of NBCUniversal Local. I don’t have much to say about this.
However, included in the news about Staab’s promotion is a note that NBC is looking to expand its RSNs with a direct to consumer offering.
Little bit of news: NBC's regional sports networks, which have regional rights to teams like the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia Phillies, plan to launch a direct-to-consumer offering this year.
— Alex Weprin (@alexweprin) January 31, 2022
Well well welly well well.
UPDATE: An NBCUniversal Local spokesperson clarified this news, stating that the DTC news in the release was misleading and that the company’s “DTC strategy is evolving.”
“In a personnel-related announcement issued by NBCUniversal Local on Jan. 31, a reference to the NBC Sports Regional Networks’ direct-to-consumer (DTC) plans was inadvertently included and was misleading. At this stage in the process, our DTC strategy is evolving as we assess options in each of the unique sports markets we serve. At this time, we don’t have any further details about launch plans including timing or markets. More information will be announced when available.”
Details on the offering remain frighteningly sparse. For instance, here’s the line about the RSNs in NBC’s press release.
The Regional Sports Networks plan to debut their own direct-to-consumer products later this year.
Sinclair is doing the same thing with a direct to consumer RSN offering, and plans to launch it sometime this year. The cost for the service is estimate to be more than $20 per month, though an exact amount remains to be seen.
NBC has actually stuck their toe in the direct to consumer pool before. In 2017, they offered fans the “Blazers Pass” for $34.99, giving viewers without a cable subscription streaming access to 15 Portland Trail Blazers games. A year later, it returned with fans being able to vote on featured games. Last summer, the Blazers left NBC Sports Northwest for Root Sports, leading to the RSN shutting down.
In addition to the Blazers Pass, NBC launched the “Philly Pass“on NBC Sports Gold prior to the launch of Peacock. The Philly Pass, running $29.99, allowed viewers to watch all pregame, postgame, studio, and magazine programming on NBC Sports Philadelphia, but not live games.
The potential launch of a direct to consumer service could seemingly put a pin in Sinclair’s efforts to purchase the NBC Sports RSNs, and could make the AT&T SportsNet RSNs (long rumored to be sold) an attractive proposition for Sinclair or NBC.
NBC has far fewer RSNs than Sinclair (just six, along with a minority stake in SNY), but has footholds in larger markets. NBC’s RSNs include a pair in California (the Bay Area RSN airing the Giants and Warriors, and the California RSN airing the A’s, Kings and Sharks), Boston (Celtics), Chicago (White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks), Philadelphia (Phillies, 76ers, Flyers), and Washington DC (Wizards, Capitals).
Given the existing Peacock infrastructure, adding a direct to consumer package should be far less costly than Sinclair’s attempt to built a whole new service from the ground up. Also, Comcast’s status as an operator in the RSN markets could help shield the RSNs from losing traditional cable carriage fees, another advantage it holds over Sinclair.