Cable Show 2013: RSNs Look to Enhance Local Control

Panelists Want To Maintain Game Packages, Add TVE Rights 6/12/2013 5:33 AM Eastern

Washington -- Playing a major role in the sports-team revenue ecosystem, regional sports networks want to maintain and expand their in-market rights.

RSN executives speaking on the panel entitled “Home Field Advantage: The Changing Environment for Regional Sports Networks at The Cable Show” here Tuesday afternoon said it’s imperative that they retain a robust schedule of games as the primary programming assets in their negotiations with distributors.

Asked by moderator and Los Angeles Times media reporter Joe Flint if the sports leagues and networks that carry games nationally were nearing a tipping point that is encroaching on their home turf so to speak, Jeff Krolik, executive vice president of Fox Sports Networks, said contracts are fundamentally negotiated based on the availability for a large number of exclusive games. “We have to be careful to keep local games, to be on the right side of that balance with the national networks," he said.

David Rone, president of sports, news and local programming for Time Warner Cable, which last October launched two services centering on the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, including the nation’s first Spanish-language RSN, said the leagues are “sensitive” to maintaining the right mix of national and regional/local exposures. “They understand the association, what the teams are getting back from our services. They push the envelope, but understand our needs as well,” he said.

Jon Litner, group president of NBC Sports Group, said the further national games “creep” into RSNs’ schedules it can become “problematic. The equilibrium that exists today is the right one.”

RSNs are also interested in expanding their local rights into the TV Everywhere arena. Krolik pointed to his children age 24 and 21 as examples of consumers who, if given a choice between just a TV or a computer, would choose the latter. He said that in order to keep younger people engaged in sports, “they have to be interested in our technology. It’s incumbent on us for our services to be part of an authenticated world.”

Rone said since Time Warner Cable only had recently completed the distribution negotiations, both RSNs are fully streamed services, including game action. “TV Everywhere, within the constraints of the league, we think, is the right way to go,” he said. Rone said it’s important for RSN content to be accessible on varied platforms, otherwise advertisers would miss out on reaching younger fans. “We have to provide those eyeballs,” he said.

Overall, Litner said streaming rights have progressed more rapidly on the national side than with RSNs. He said NBCU’s streaming of last summer’s London Olympics not only generated 65 million views, but also served to push consumers into primetime, resulting in strong Games' ratings. NBC Sports Live Extra is now featuring an expanded streaming roster that includes golf, the National Hockey League, Formula One and Sunday Fight Football, among other properties. 

However, the NBA, NHL and MLB have not moved as quickly in enabling streaming on the local side. Litner wants RSNs to be able to activate those rights, adding that if RSNs presented authenticated game rights on various vehicles it would elevate the value of the networks and, in turn, their distribution affiliates in the eyes and wallets of consumers.

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