Comcast Preparing to Divest 22 Fox RSNs, To Submit 2nd All-Cash Bid by July 27th  


Comcast (CMCSA) is reportedly lining up buyers for 21st Century Fox’s (FOXA) regional sports networks to alleviate anti-trust concerns, as it prepares a bid that would be favorable to The Walt Disney Company’s (DIS) $71 billion dollar offer (cash and stock) for FOXA film & TV assets. CMCSA is open to divesting all 22 RSNs, but believes just 8 overlap with the existing Comcast sports footprint. Reuters is reporting that the company has held conversations with publicly-traded buyout firms Apollo Global Management (APO) and Blackstone Group (BX). Just 2 weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Justice approved DIS’ bid after reaching a settlement with the mouse house to rid itself of the regional sports networks.

Howie Long-Short: It’s been assumed that the RSNs will fetch $20 billion+ (Comcast’s first bid placed a $24 billion valuation on them), so selling them off will help Comcast coffers as the company prepares to submit a 2nd all-cash bid (no dollar amounts given). FOXA shareholders are scheduled to vote on the DIS bid on July 27th, Comcast will submit their bid prior.

Rumors of P.E. firms taking down the RSNs is relatively surprising as most of the discussions surrounding potential landing spots having focused on telecom and media companies. Everyone from Amazon (AMZN) and YouTube (GOOGL) to AT&T (T) and Dish Network (DISH) has been mentioned.

I asked T.K. Gore, sports media consultant, advisor and professor, for his thoughts on who lands the RSNs?

T.K.: The RSN world is a tricky business and experience — coupled with deep pockets — matters. Look for groups like Liberty Media and AT&T to get involved given their experiences.

MSG is among the companies that has been associated with having interest in the regional networks. James Dolan has said that he’d be interested in acquiring the assets “at the right price”, noting they’re highly profitable now but a “slow, declining revenue stream.”

Fan Marino: The 22 RSNs collectively control exclusive broadcast rights to 44 NFL, NBA, MLB & NHL franchises, including teams in Detroit, Southern California, Dallas, Cleveland and Miami. The YES Network is the most valuable of the lot, worth an estimated $4 billion; the Yankees are likely to re-acquire that network.

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YouTube TV, Hulu Engaged in Sports Sponsorship Arms Race


A brand awareness campaign is among the ways (exclusive content and user experience are others) that an MVPD, OTT live-streaming service or VOD platform can distinguish itself from the competition and drive growth. Over the last month, rivals YouTube TV and Hulu have announced noteworthy sponsorship transactions (without disclosing financial details) surrounding marquee sporting events. Below is a brief each deal:

  • YouTube TV will remain (was in ’17) the presenting sponsor of the World Series, (“World Series Presented by YouTube TV”) through the 2019 season. As part of an expanded partnership, the subscription streaming service will also add MLB Network to its base package. For an additional fee, YouTube TV subscribers will eventually have the option to add (provides regional broadcasts of games) to their package. “On-air callouts”, a national advertising campaign and in stadium signage are also included within the deal.
  • YouTube TV will become the first-ever presenting sponsor for the NBA Finals. The deal, which runs through at least ’19, will also make the company the presenting sponsor of the WNBA and G-League Finals. On-court and in-arena signage, ABC ad spots, “in-game callouts” and branding across the league’s digital and social channels, are also included within the pact.

It must also be noted that YouTube TV has also landed exclusive streaming rights to Los Angeles FC and Seattle Sounders games.

  • Hulu has signed on as an official partner of the NHL & NHLPA for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals; a “comprehensive partnership” that will “cross all league touch points including NBC Sports, the NHL’s digital and social channels, as well as camera-visible, in-stadium inventory within all U.S. venues.”
  • Hulu also signed a deal with Turner Sports, to sponsor NBA playoff games on TNT. A “Presented by Hulu” graphic will be prominently displayed on “opening graphic cards, custom billboards and scorecards” throughout all first-round coverage, Conference Semifinals action and Western Conference Finals broadcasts. NBA on TNT talent will appear in ad spots promoting the streaming service.

Howie Long-Short: The success YouTube TV had using live telecasts of the 2017 World Series to drive subscriptions initiated this competition between rivals; but, YouTube TV isn’t the leader in this space. In fact, the size of its subscriber base (300,000+) has the company competing with Hulu (450,000) for a distant 4th place. The oldest service, Sling TV, leads with 2.22 million subscribers; while AT&T’s (T) DirectTV Now comes in second with 1.2 million. Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation Vue is 3rd with +/- 500,000 monthly subscribers.

Fan Marino:  For reference purposes, Sling TV is a subsidiary of DISH Network (DISH). Google (GOOGL) owns YouTube TV and The Walt Disney Co. (DIS), pending final approval of its 21st Century Fox acquisition, controls 60% of Hulu; Comcast (30%) and Time Warner (10%) own the balance.

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Comcast Drops Big Ten Network from All But 9 “Home Markets”


Comcast Corporation (CMCSA) has dropped Big Ten Network from its cable offerings in all but 9 “home markets”, explaining several factors played into the decision; “ranging from the costs programmers charge us to carry their channels and the amount of viewership, to available alternatives.” Subscribers in Illinois (IU, ILL, NW) Indiana (IU, PUR), Maryland (UM), Michigan (UM, MSU) Minnesota (UM), New Jersey (RU), Ohio (OSU), Pennsylvania (PSU) and Wisconsin (UW) will continue to receive the conference network. Iowa (IU) & Nebraska (NU) are the only “home markets” excluded from the list, as Comcast does not provide services to residents of those states. CMCSA has stated there are no plans to cut the network from the remaining “home markets.”

Howie Long-Short: The timing of this decision is likely related to a recent report indicating the Pac 12 Network average subscriber fee declined 63% over the last 5 years (to $.11), while the Big Ten Network (B10) fee increased 30% over the same time (to $.48). Rising carriage fees are directly correlated to the “(rising) costs programmers charge us to carry their channel”; and with basketball season over and football season not starting for another 4 months, CMCSA sees the opportunity to lower the amount it pays the conference to carry the channel.

If in fact the decision is final, their loss would be a gain for Time Warner (TWX), DirecTV (T), DISH and Verizon (VZ); carriers that offer the network nationwide, as passionate Big Ten football fans will switch providers before missing a big game. For those interested in owning a piece of the Big Ten Network, you can invest in Fox Entertainment Group (FOXA); they control 51%, with the 14 member Universities owning the balance.

Fan Marino: College football programs utilize different accounting methods, with some schools allocating a larger percentage of their conference payouts to the sport (in FY16 it ranged between 45%-85% at Big 10 schools); making it tough to compare apples to apples. If you remove the conference payout ($16.1 million) from the ledger, the picture becomes clearer.

In 2016-2017, Michigan ($40.3 million), Ohio State ($24 million) and Penn State ($16.3 million) had the football programs within the conference, that generated the largest surplus (discounting the payout); while Purdue ($11.97 million), Minnesota ($13.4 million) and Indiana ($14.6 million) operated at the biggest losses. Of course, it’s not a coincidence that Michigan, OSU and PSU finished 1st, 3rd and 2nd, respectively; while Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana ended that season that season 10th, 5th and 11th out of 13 teams. The more a program wins, the more revenue it generates. Northwestern, a private institution, does not release its football program’s financials.

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Pac-12 Networks Lags Far Behind Big Ten, SEC Networks


SNL Kagan, a media research firm, has published a report detailing the average subscription fees for 26 national sports networks; data that reflects just how far Pac-12 Networks (P12) lags behind the Big Ten (B10) & SEC Networks. While the B10 and SEC command average subscriber fees of $.48 (+30% since ‘12) and $.74 (launched in ’14), respectively, P12’s average subscriber fee has declined 63% to $.11, over the last 5 years. Just 4 of the 24 national sports networks that existed in 2012, have failed to increase their average subscriber fee since (Olympic Channel -11.5%, Tennis Channel -17.5%, beIN Sports -35%) and P12 experienced the sharpest decline among the group. The Sportsman Channel ($.06), Outdoor Channel ($.06), Outdoor Television ($.05) are the only national sports networks that command less per subscriber than P12 does.

Howie Long-Short: College networks operate on a tiered structure where subscribers within “home markets” pay higher subscription fees than “out of market” subscribers. So, as a network expands distribution and adds out-of-market subs, the average per sub fee will decline. In 2016, P12 signed distribution deals with Dish Network (DISH) and DISH owned Sling TV; a conscious decision to add viewers at the expense of their average subscription fee. One would imagine the average fee would drop even further if the network wereable to work out its long-time impasse with DirecTV and add 37 million households nationwide.

To be fair, P12 has added 7 million subscribers within the last 5 years and the network is on solid financial ground; paying out $2.75 million to each member institution in 2018. Of course, that’s just a small fraction of the estimated $8 million that each SEC and B10 member institution earned, from their respective conference networks, in 2016.

Fan Marino: You can’t buy Pac-12 Networks, as the outlet is wholly owned by the conference’s member institutions, but you can buy shares in both the B10 and SEC. Fox Entertainment Group (FOXA) controls 51% of B10 (Universities own balance) and SEC, is a joint venture between The Walt Disney Company (DIS, 80%) and Hearst Communications.

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Sling TV Now Offering NBA League Pass, Team Pass

League Pass

Sling TV has added NBA League Pass, providing subscribers with the option to add live out-of-market games to their streaming package; the first multi-channel OTT service to offer the add-on package for basketball junkies. For an additional $29/mo. Sling Orange, Sling Blue and Sling International subscribers can add NBA League Pass to their existing subscription, gaining access to an additional +/- 1,000 live game broadcasts. In the coming weeks, those looking for a cheaper alternative will have the option of adding Team Pass for $18/mo.; though, that package only provides access to out-of-market games for a single NBA franchise, of the subscriber’s choice.

Howie Long-Short: Sling TV is a subsidiary of Dish Network (DISH). Earlier this week, as part of the company’s Q4 ’17 financial report, DISH disclosed the number of Sling TV subscribers (2.212 million) for the first time (previously counted them with DISH TV subs). For full year 2017, total revenue declined 5.4% (to $14.39 billion). Net income grew $600,000, but only because of the $1.2 billion (one-time) tax benefit that the company received from recent tax reform legislation.

Fan Marino: No NBA games were scheduled Monday-Wednesday this week, giving the league’s stars a chance to rest after All-Star weekend; but, it’s been anything but a quiet week for Mark Cuban the Dallas Mavericks. On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated published an expose highlighting the “Corrosive Workplace Culture” (see: sexual harassment, domestic violence etc.) within the Mavericks organization. On Wednesday, the league fined the Mavericks’ owner $600,000 for suggesting that losing (or tanking) was in his team’s best interests. It’s been a quick fall from grace for a guy that had been mentioned as a potential Presidential candidate in 2020.

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No, This Isn’t the End of the NFL

Will Leitch (of Deadspin fame) wrote an article that appears in the November 27th issue of New York Magazine entitled “Is This the End of the NFL?”. The piece claims “so many people just aren’t watching (the league) at all”; supporting the argument with just a single fact, TV ratings are down 5.7% YOY. Leitch believes that concerns regarding player brain injuries, anthem protests, the quality of play and even league implemented rules (i.e. targeting) designed to make the game safer are turning fans away. Exacerbating the demise is the ascension of the NBA; a league that he sees as “vibrant, organic and alive” because it embraces the personalities and opinions of its athletes.

Howie Long-Short: I saw this click-bait and felt the need to provide some context. TV ratings are down as Leitch stated, but the league is still averaging 15.1 million viewers/game; the ’17 NBA playoffs (1st round through conference finals), on ESPN/ABC, only averaged 4.26 million. Television ad revenue is up 3% YOY (to $738 million) across the league’s broadcast networks and fan attendance is up (from 68,914 in ’16 to 69,264) this season. Those metrics simply don’t show present the picture of a business nearing its end.

Fan Marino: 3 million DISH subscribers “weren’t watching” the Chargers-Cowboys game on Thanksgiving, due to a blackout of CBS Corp. (CBS) channels. The 2 companies have since managed to agree on a transmission agreement for satellite subscribers; though Sling TV subscribers (DISH’s digital service) remain in the dark. Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker said it was DISH who caved, giving in to consumer demand on a “popular NFL-heavy holiday weekend.”

Is This the End of the NFL?

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NFL Fans in NY, LA, DAL and CHI Could Miss NFL Action on Thanksgiving

More than 2 million Dish Network (DISH) subscribers will miss out on Thanksgiving Day NFL football (and SEC football on Friday and Saturday) if a pricing dispute with CBS isn’t solved within the next 24 hours. DISH dropped CBS Corp. (CBS) channels in 18 major markets after the 2 sides were unable to agree on a new carriage deal by Monday evening’s deadline. CBS is reportedly asking for the same terms it receives from its other distributors and believes it deserves a retransmission fee increase as CBS is the most watched DISH channel. DISH has balked at the demands; arguing CBS is asking for an increase on programming with declining viewership or that can be found free over the air.

Howie Long-Short: DISH reported Q3 revenue declined 5% YOY (to $3.58 billion), attributing the loss to a one-time removal of 145,000 subscribers in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands (related to Hurricane Maria). The company added 16,000 subs during the quarter, offsetting losses in pay TV subscribers with the addition of an estimated (by Evercore analysts) 224,000-264,000 Sling TV streaming service subscribers. DISH shares are down 14% YTD.

Fan Marino: Cowboys and Chargers fans may want to consider taking DISH up on their proposed solution. Fans can drop their local channels in exchange for a $10 reduction on their monthly bill and have DISH install an antenna, at the company’s expense. It’s a slight inconvenience, but it beats missing the game.

Dish Network Drops Some CBS Channels Ahead of Thanksgiving Football Weekend

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A Streaming Service for the Sports Fan

Sports fans that are considering cutting the cord may want to look at the channel lineup for FuboTV; a sports-centric, OTT, live TV streaming service that offers fans the “most sports for the least money”. Originally introduced as a skinny bundle for soccer fans, the service now carries a variety of sports on 37 (of 65) channels (both regional and national) including; FS1, FS2 and NBCSN. The $40/mo. niche bundle is looking to stand out in a crowded streaming TV market that includes; Hulu (TWX), YouTube TV (GOOGL), DirecTV Now (T), Playstation Vue (SNE) and Sling TV (DISH). Amazon (AMZN) and Verizon (VZ) will also be introducing streaming bundles soon.

Howie Long-Short: FuboTV has raised $75.6 million to date, with several publicly traded companies investing in the streaming provider. 21st Century Fox (FOXA), Sky (SKYAY) and Scripps Networks Interactive (SSP) all participated the $55 million Series C round that closed in June; so there are no shortage of ways to play the OTT streaming service.

Fan Marino: FuboTV has 100,000 soccer-loving subscribers, but is counting on their next 100,000 subscribers to be fans of traditional American sports. The carriage deals they’ve signed to date have given them some valuable programming (like the World Series), but you can’t convince the American sports fan to cut the cord without ESPN’s network of channels. ESPN (DIS) holds the rights to the College Football Playoffs (and NBA) through 2025 and MNF through 2021. If your key differentiator as an OTT streaming service is your sports programming, you must carry those games. The success of the service, at least as it is currently marketed, depends on it.

The next 100,000 subscribers: FuboTV’s skinny bundle moves beyond live soccer

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Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, is predicting that traditional pay TV companies (i.e. CMCSA, T) will lose another 10.8 million subscribers by 2021, while virtual services like Sling TV (DISH) and Playstation Vue (SNE), grow collectively to 11 million users. It has been estimated that 18 million households (14% of U.S.) will rely solely on over the top, self aggregated, online content, by that time. The news isn’t all bad though for traditional providers, as households with multichannel subscriptions are expected to remain the solid majority for at least the next 5 years.


Kagan Releases Multichannel projections through 2021

Howie Long-Short opines: 10.8 million more cord cutters, fully offset by 11 million OTT subs, in 5 years? This would probably be good news, at least for the cable companies that can charge streamers $100 for high-speed broadband.

Adam Dow-Jones comments: Has the furor over cord cutting gone to far I wonder? Not while these numbers continue to be abysmal. Mr. Dow-Jones smells some value in media though as market overprices these declines.

Fan Marino says: I’m literally just ESPN and ESPN2 away from making the move to FuboTV. Look at the channel lineup, what else do you need?


21st Century Fox, Inc. (FOXA), Sky Plc (SKY) and Scripps Networks Interactive (SSP) have invested in an online television service, with a focus on the sports fan.  FuboTV raised $55 Million to expand their channel lineup and improve technology. The company intends to compete in an increasing competitive field that includes Sling TV (DISH), Playstation Vue (SNE), DirectTV Now (T), YouTube (GOOGL) & Hulu (TWX).


Fan Marino says: Do you hear that noise?  It’s me opening up the junk drawer and pulling out my scissors. We’re an ESPN and ESPN2 away from the snip.