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Week In Review: NBCU May Gift Its RSNs To Peacock, NewFronts Round-Up Thus Far

1. NBCU May Gift Its RSNs To Peacock

There’s a report buried in the Wall Street Journal this week that Comcast has been toying with the idea of shifting its RSNs over to Peacock or possibly selling them. Given that this comes on the heels of Sinclair’s confirmation that it will be launching its own RSNs as streaming apps next year, this represents a big shift in sports distribution.

Why It Matters

Sports rights are complicated, to put it mildly.

They also vary tremendously by sport.

The NFL has very few games and gives rights to the big broadcast networks (and, as of a few months ago, Amazon.)

But basketball and baseball have lots of games. And so each team’s games are broadcast by an RSN, a regional sports network, that has paid big bucks for the rights to broadcast, say, every Milwaukee Bucks game or every Los Angeles Dodgers game. 

While ESPN, TNT and others also have some rights to MLB and NBA games, the people who are hardcore Bucks or Dodgers fans don’t care much about that. They just want to be able to watch every single Bucks or Dodgers game.

Since rights can be very expensive, the RSNs add a good chunk of change to your cable bill–my colleague Colin Dixon estimates as much as $26.

That’s one of the reasons why most of the major vMVPDs–Hulu and YouTube in particular–no longer carry RSNs. (They need to keep costs down.)

Which means that RSNs are often what keep sports fans tied to traditional pay TV services, because it’s the only way they can access the RSN.

That’s about to change though, as Sinclair launches the former Fox RSNs as streaming apps. On their own, these apps could be very very expensive, but someone at Sinclair had the most excellent idea of partnering with Ballys, whose sports gambling features will help keep the pricing in check. 

So if NBCU does something similar–most likely selling off their RSNs, which they are increasingly viewing as money-losers–the new owners could also make gambling a part of the deal.

That, plus the Sinclair/Ballys deal, will make it easier for sports fans to drop traditional pay TV and move to a streaming only environment. Which is key in that news and sports have been the two content buckets people keeping people tied to their set top boxes.

So if some sort of NBCU RSN deal goes through and CNN finally finds a home and winds up on streaming, look for an even larger uptick in streaming only households in the years to come.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re an MVPD or vMVPD, try and negotiate a deal where your viewers get access to the new RSN app for free. This should not be very difficult and gives you a nice selling point to all those people who aren’t abandoning their set top boxes anytime this decade.

If you are an RSN and you haven’t started looking about how to move to streaming, you’d better start now. Bringing on a sports betting partner who can help defray costs is a good place to start.

If you’re charged with building out an RSN app, take a look at a company called StreamLayer. They’re doing some very cool things with sports around interactivity and additional stats on streaming apps, and can really help your app to stand out.

If you’re a fan and you’re paying far too much money to an MVPD just to watch the Bucks, the Dodgers or any other team, keep the faith. Streaming is heading your way.

2. NewFronts Round-Up Thus Far

The NewFronts are on this week and rather than just pick one or two highlights, it seems to make more sense to point out three of the bigger trends.

The first is that the NewFronts are all about TV now. Which is only surprising in that it was not that long ago that it was about websites who were “pivoting to video”—raise your hand if hearing that immediately reminds you of Stefani Stilton from Bojack Horseman and GirllCroosh—and MCNs. So the fact that much of the NewFronts is now TV-centric and sort of indistinguishable from the Upfronts is worth calling out.

The second trend is how big a role hardware OEMs played, especially on Day 1 when we saw presentations from Roku, Samsung and Vizio. The emerging smart TV ecosystem, where hardware OEMs like Samsung, Vizio and LG play a major role in content distribution, advertising and measurement is a real sea change (not to mention the subject of a series of upcoming reports from TVREV not to mention a panel we’ll be hosting at upcoming Fierce Stream TV Show and Videonuze Connected TV Ad Summit events.)

The third major trend is that programmers are all starting to take advantage of the digital nature of the streaming environment to introduce the sorts of ad plays you can’t do on linear. So everything from NBCU adding digital ad insertion capability on their linear feeds on vMVPDs to Vizio’s deal with Verizon that gives them cross-platform targeting capabilities to Samsung’s offering editorial sponsorship of its linear channels.

Also notable were original content moves by Roku, Amazon (IMDbTV) and Tubi, the latter being particularly notable in that it seemed to indicate Fox’s embrace of Tubi as its primary streaming outlet. As in if Fox rolled out a subscription level of Tubi with lots of original programming in a year or two, I don’t think many people in the industry would be surprised.

Why It Matters

Streaming is growing up, viewers are moving to streaming, either as a complement to linear or as a replacement for it,  in much larger numbers and advertisers want to follow them.

It’s still a confusing landscape, especially to agency types who grew up buying network TV off of Nielsen ratings, but it’s getting there, slowly but surely, and it seems likely that there will be as much buzz about the NewFronts in TV circles as there is about the Upfronts, if not more.

That alone should tell you everything you need to know.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re an agency or brand marketer, yes it’s still mostly confusing, but it’s getting much less so and everyone seems to be aware of how confusing it all is and is working to alleviate that. Meaning you may have to do some more work to make sure dollars follow eyeballs, but in the end it will be worth it and it’s only going to get easier.

If you’re the industry in general, it may be time to stop the increasingly artificial division between NewFronts and Upfronts and gather all of the TV-related presentations together and keep them separate from the digital and social ones. If nothing else, it will be a lot easier for advertisers, and they’re the ultimate audience for these events. 

Just something to consider for 2022.