YouTube TV Is in Trouble: Service Loses Regional Sports Networks

YouTube TV Is in Trouble: Service Loses Regional Sports Networks

Sports are one of the biggest draws for the troubled service. Can it overcome this challenge? 

YouTube TV, the Google-owned “vMVPD” (virtual multichannel video programming distributor), has had something of an up-and-down year.

The service, in May, reached a deal to finally add the channels from ViacomCBS, including MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and Paramount Network, which had been missing since YouTube TV’s national launch.

However, at the end of June, the service announced an uncommonly large 30% price hike, bringing its price up to $64.99.

“We don’t take these decisions lightly, and realize how hard this is for our members,” Christian Oestlien, YouTube TV’s Vice President of Product Management, said at the time. “That said, this new price reflects the rising cost of content and we also believe it reflects the complete value of YouTube TV, from our breadth of content to the features that are changing how we watch live TV.”

Now, there’s more bad news for YouTube TV—the service has lost access to the Fox Sports regional sports networks.

“To bring you 85+ channels, we periodically renegotiate contracts with content owners. In February, we announced we had negotiated an extension with Sinclair to continue providing FOX Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) through the end of MLB, NHL and NBA seasons,” YouTube TV wrote in a series of tweets on its official account.

“Now that the seasons are over, that extension is expiring. Starting October 1, 2020, FOX RSNs will no longer be available on YouTube TV. Members that are impacted will no longer have access to Library recordings from the FOX RSNs… This was a difficult decision made after months of negotiations. We hope we can bring FOX RSNs back in the future. We thank you for your membership as we work to make YouTube TV the best streaming experience. You will receive an email today if you are impacted by this change.”

It’s a potentially crushing blow for YouTube TV, because the ability to watch local sports is a key selling point in getting customers to sign up for vMVPDs, as opposed to cutting the cord on cable altogether. Now, sports fans in twenty different U.S. markets will no longer be able to watch their teams through YouTube TV.

YouTube TV hopes to get the Fox RSNs back in the future and negotiations appear to be ongoing. "While we are disappointed that YouTube will discontinue carriage of the RSNs, we remain in discussions in an effort to find a mutually acceptable path to returning the RSNs to YouTube TV," stated Barry Faber, Sinclair's President Distribution & Network Relations. 

Meanwhile, YouTube TV’s rival Hulu + Live TV, continues to offer the Fox Sports networks, although Sling TV and Fubo TV have both dropped them in the last year.

The Fox Sports regional sports networks, despite their names, are no longer owned by Fox. They were acquired by Disney, as part of its acquisition of the 21st Century Fox assets that closed in 2019, and the majority of the channels were later sold to Sinclair. Rebranding of the networks to a non-Fox name is said to be under consideration.

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters