YouTube TV has been held up as one of the gold standards of over the top streaming services, along with Hulu Live, since its preliminary launch three years ago. Last month, we tabbed it as the best value for a sports fan who has cut the cord, and it hasn’t been been beset with the carriage issues that its competitors, most notably Sling, have dealt with.
However, that all appears to be changing this week. On Thursday, YouTube TV announced that they couldn’t come to a new carriage agreement for the Fox RSNs with Sinclair, and that they’d all be pulled, effective as of Saturday, February 29th.
We purchase rights from Sinclair to distribute content to you. Despite our best efforts, we’ve been unable to reach an agreement with Sinclair. As a result, we will no longer offer FOX Regional Sports Networks, including YES Network, beginning February 29th.
— YouTube TV (@YouTubeTV) February 27, 2020
Well, that’s not good!
As mentioned earlier, the Fox RSNs were pulled from Sling (and Dish Nework, which owns Sling) over the summer, and still haven’t been re-added. fuboTV also dropped the RSNs at the start of the new year, and like Sling, hasn’t added them again.
Interestingly, during Sinclair’s earnings call Wednesday morning, CEO Chris Ripley seemed to indicate that Sinclair was locked in negotiations with YouTube TV to add the recently launched Marquee Sports Network (also, note the typo in the transcript of Fubo as “SuBo”). Could pulling the RSNs just be a negotiation ploy from YouTube TV?
So, we did take SuBo out of our guidance. And – but it was immaterial, as you noted. And we just recently added Hulu, Marquee onto Hulu and YouTube is an active negotiation that’s near term.
The Fox Sports RSNs are still available on Hulu ($54.99/month) and AT&T TV Now (on the $80/month Max package), but that’s no consolation to YouTube TV subscribers and loyalists.
The optimist in me thinks this is just a negotiation tactic, and that the RSNs will be re-added (with the addition of Marquee) in a matter of days or weeks. The pessimist in me sees the month-long standoff between Dish and Sinclair (Charlie Ergen’s recent comments aside) and thinks subscribers should prepare for months, rather than weeks, without the Fox RSNs on YouTube TV.
This is very bad news for sports fans, especially at this time of year. MLB Spring Training started a week ago and the start of the regular season is weeks away, while the NBA and NHL seasons are both in full swing and heading into crunch time. This will also affect a handful of Major League Soccer teams (five teams’ games air on Fox RSNs, by my sloppy math), whose regular season starts this weekend.
Update: Here are statements from both sides (via The Streamable), starting with Sinclair:
We offered YouTube TV the best terms under which their competitors carry our Regional Sports Networks. Unfortunately, they alone decided to drop these channels citing ‘rising costs’ despite our offer to actually lower the fees they pay us.
We also offered to continue negotiating under a short-term extension so that their subscribers could continue to watch their favorite hometown teams. They’ve not yet responded to this offer.
Given the ease with which YouTube TV subscribers can drop the service and switch providers, we are surprised that they’ve chosen this course. At the very least, you have to imagine YouTube TV will be receiving lots of questions from subscribers asking about how much they intend to lower the subscription fee given that they are removing some of the most popular and in-demand programming they carry.
And YouTube TV:
Our goal with YouTube TV is to offer you the content you love, delivered the way you want. Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to reach an agreement with Sinclair, the content provider that offers the FOX Regional Sports Networks and YES Network.