News

NBA Eyes Streams of Cash

10/26/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

The National Basketball Association wants regional sports networks to run a fast break regarding streaming live games on their Web sites, but some networks are crying foul over a proposed fee of $3,000 or more per game.

The NBA for the first time is offering regional sports networks the ability to stream local, in-market game telecasts live on the Web during the 2008-09 regular season — which tips off this week — in an effort to expand its audience beyond cable, according to several regional sports executives.

Currently, other major U.S. sports leagues — Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Hockey League — do not permit regional sports networks to stream their contests live.

The proposal calls for the regional networks to offer such telecasts on their own Web sites, or to enhance value to operators by offering live streaming games via providers' high-speed broadband services, such as Time Warner Cable's Road Runner or Cablevision Systems' Optimum Online, according to the network executives. NBA officials would not comment on the matter.

The Webcasts would be gated by either the cable affiliates or the regional networks, so subscribers would have to sign in to access them, network executives said.

But as part of the pitch made about a month ago, several executives with regional sports networks said that the league is asking for a per-game streaming fee.

While no one would reveal the precise per-game fee the NBA was said to be asking, some networks said it was about $3,000 while other sources indicated it could be higher.

Several regional sports-network executives told Multichannel News such costs would be prohibitive, as it would be very difficult to recoup the costs through additional ad revenue or consumer fees. In order to appease TV advertisers, regional sports nets would most likely have to run the same commercials on both platforms, leaving little opportunity to sell new spots or sponsorships. Regional executives also don't believe enough consumers are going to pony up a monthly fee for online access to games they can already watch on TV.

Along with the high streaming costs, RSN executives also worry that streaming games on the Web could siphon viewers away from the live telecasts, angering both the advertisers paying a premium for TV time and operators who pay, on average, more than $1 a month per subscriber to regional sports networks primarily for the value of live games.

FSN spokesman Chris Bellitti confirmed the regionals' rights to stream local NBA telecasts but would not comment on streaming fees. “We have the right to stream the games, but we would like to do it in conjunction with our teams and distributors,” the spokesman said. “There's no timetable. There are still a lot of details to be worked out.”

FSN holds cable television rights to 16 NBA teams.

Comcast SportsNet, whose regional sports networks telecast live games from eight NBA teams, is “exploring the possibilities for streaming and have had a number of conversations with the NBA about it,” according to company spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick.

On the national level, ESPN will continue to stream its 72-game NBA schedule via its ESPN360.com site, as well as to cellphones as part of its mobile TV deal with Verizon Wireless, according to senior director of programming and acquisitions Doug White.

ESPN and Turner Sports acquired streaming rights for their respective telecasts as part of a new eight-year, $7.4 billion deal with the league reached in 2007.

The network will also offer a “handful” of high-definition games on the Web as part of its digital NBA offerings, he added.

“With the streaming of games on ESPN360.com and on our mobile-TV platform, it basically puts all of our NBA content across our ESPN platforms,” White said.

Turner Sports, however, will not stream live its package of 53 Thursday-night TNT telecasts. Instead, it will offer NBA fans the option of following their favorite players via an online player cam through NBA.com, Turner Sports president David Levy said. Turner Sports oversees the operations of NBA.com.

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