Pay TV Plays Hardball, Future Strikeouts Loom

The NFL $100 billion deal is a real thing. (Yes, that number still seems like a mistake in print.) The next big question: Who is really going to pay for it -- networks, TV distributors, advertisers, consumers?

Let’s focus for a moment on broadcast TV station affiliates: Fox, NBC, CBS, and ABC/ESPN. In the business chain, those outlets will pass along those extra sports programming costs by charging higher retransmission rates to pay TV providers, cable, satellite, virtual and telco.

Charlie Ergen, chairman/founder of Dish Network, says this won’t be happening. “Retrans has peaked,” he exclaimed in a recent earnings phone call.

Now, the always independent and controversial Dish Network chief executive has been blunt when it comes to these programming costs over the years -- especially as it concerns ever-higher sports programming costs.

But now, he may have a point. Consider all the premium streaming platforms legacy TV networks.



Now, you are probably saying: Wait, a second TV Watch. The bulk of the NFL TV deals will run games on live, linear TV networks with a few simulcast on those company’s respective streaming platforms.

But it’s not about those games moving to streaming at the moment. Networks just don’t run sports content. In the near term, consider all those  prime-time entertainment programs severally affected when moving to streamers.

What’s left? Retrans money will be even more focused on live sports. In large part, that means the NFL.

Current high fees and future increases will be put up against pay TV carriage of stations on NFL and sports programming -- as entertainment programming usage diminishes.

Remember, Ergen led the charge of declining to pay for high-priced regional sports networks a few years ago -- something virtual pay TV providers, Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV, and Dish’s Sling TV, have now followed.

Right now, for example, the biggest RSN groups are owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Bally Sports, and still looking for homes in the virtual pay TV world.

And the baseball season has already started.

In terms of the next round of higher retrans and/or cable network carriage fees, who will play ball?

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