With the National Basketball Association's regular season around the corner, several regional sports networks are shooting around the prospect of streaming live league games on the Web.
First to tip off could be Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, which may have in place plans to offer a fee-based package of live Philadelphia 76ers games in time for the Oct. 27 launch of the 2009-10 NBA season.
Other regionals, such as New York's YES Network — which this summer streamed New York Yankees Major League Baseball games online — have no plans to dribble live NBA games over the Internet mostly due to authentication issues with operators, satellite distributors and telcos within its television territory.
Sources close to Comcast said the MSO is looking to stream live games over the Web for as many as two to three of the seven NBA teams that have television deals with Comcast SportsNet, beginning with the MSO-owned Sixers on CSN Philadelphia.
In fact, Comcast could launch a fee-based service on its Web site for the streaming of 76ers games later this month to coincide with the launch of the NBA season.
Last year, the NBA granted regional sports networks the ability to stream local telecasts, with regional sports networks having to ante up $3,000 per game.
But most regional sports networks cried foul at the high streaming costs, while other RSN executives were concerned about the effects streaming games would have on their deals with affiliates. Further, operators and networks worried about the technological hurdles regarding authenticating subscribers.
But this year, from a logistical standpoint, Philadelphia is the perfect testing ground for Comcast. The MSO owns the 76ers. It has dominant market share — RCN and Verizon Communications are minor players in the Philadelphia DMA. And the network's unique cable-exclusive standing means that it doesn't have to worry about initially authenticating DirecTV or Dish Network subscribers.
It's unclear whether Comcast would charge consumers a per-game, monthly or season-based fee to stream the games.
CSN spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick would only say that the company “is exploring the issue with all of our team partners to find the most effective streaming solutions.”
None of the 16 Fox Sports regional networks with NBA rights plan to launch a streaming service by the launch of the league's regular season. But Fox Sports spokesman Chris Bellitti said the company hasn't ruled out the potential for some experimentation later in the year.
“It's something we're exploring for the upcoming season, but we need to work it out in conjunction with our teams and distribution partners,” he said.
Some regional sports networks have decided that streaming NBA games is not worth the effort or the cost. Most companies averse to streaming games point to the difficulties regarding authentication, while others fear the effort would not draw enough viewers to justify the distribution and rights costs. YES, which this summer became the first regional sports network to stream live baseball games through deals with Cablevision Systems and Verizon, will not pursue the same strategy for its coverage of New Jersey Nets basketball games this season.
“We continue to speak with our affiliates, but we have no plans to launch an in-market streaming product for the upcoming NBA season,” said a network spokesman.
Still, Lee Berke, principal in sports consultancy LHB Sports and Entertainment, said he believes several regionals and teams will launch a live streaming NBA package in some shape or form during the season: “I think it's going to take time, but it's inevitable.”