The NBA will tip off its 2013-14 season this week. TNT will join ESPN in streaming their national games live to authenticated viewers.
About a month later, some regional sports networks that carry professional basketball games are expected to join Time Warner Cable’s pair of Los Angeles Lakers-centric services in presenting live, in-market streaming of NBA games.
While there have been in-market streaming tests by Comcast RSNs in Philadelphia and Chicago in the past, the NBA has removed a couple of impediments that have halted the process over the past half-decade. The league is now encouraging its teams, their RSNs and distributors to live stream games within the networks’ territories on a TV Everywhere basis, making the contests available on varied devices to authenticated video subscribers.
“The NBA has been a supporter of technology for a long time,” said Bill Koenig, executive vice president of business affairs and general counsel for the NBA. “With the push toward authentication by networks and distributors, we are encouraging our teams and regional sports networks to open up the platforms. We believe this will add value for our fans, as well as our clubs, the RSNs and distributors.”
To facilitate this push, the NBA has dropped a $3,500 rights fee it had charged per game in each market, a fee the RSNs should have been waived considering the considerable outlays they make in securing linear rights. Moreover, the league is enabling the RSNs to house video players on their sites.
“We did eliminate the charge,” Koenig said, maintaining the fee was not the main snag. Rather, he said there hadn’t been widespread video authentication, which will now open more TVE doors.
“We’re not hung up about the platform,” he said. While RSN sites will play home to live-streaming, he said entry points could later extend to distributor sites, as well as team pages and NBA.com.
Koenig anticipates that many RSN/clubs will jump into the TVE arena at various points over the course of the season. “My sense is Fox will go first, sometime late in the first month of the season.”
In a statement, Jeff Krolik, executive vice president of Fox Sports Regional Networks said: “We are at a point where fans expect to watch their games wherever they want on whatever device they want. We’re working hard with our teams and distribution partners to meet that expectation.”
Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have yet to cut deals that allow for TVE, live in-market streaming. The YES Network, home to the New York Yankees, has been offering authenticated in-market live streaming through deals with Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS and Blue Ridge Communications over the past several seasons. However, subscribers must pay $29.99 for a full-season streaming, subscription package, or $9.99 on a monthly basis.
“Now that the rights have been activated, it will come down to ensuring the quality of the streams, developing the proper authentication systems and marketing the TVE programs,” said an executive in the RSN community. “You’re probably looking at early December” for NBA in-market streaming.
When and which clubs/RSNs that will be remains to be seen, but they will be following the lead set by the Lakers and Time Warner Cable Sports.
At the outset of last season, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks tipped off with the streaming service, while DirecTV, Cox, Verizon FiOS and Hawaiian Telcom came on board over the course of the 2013-14 campaign. On Monday, Oct. 28, AT&T U-verse subscribers will gain TV Everywhere access to the RSNs on www.twcsportsnet.com and www.twcdeportes.com via the “Live” and “En Vivo” tabs) and on iOS and Android tablet and mobile devices via the mobile applications titled “TWC SportsNet” and “TWC Deportes.” The apps are available in the iTunes store and on Google Play.
Mark Shuken, senior vice president and general manager of TWC Regional Sports Networks, said there have been almost 100,000 downloads of the app and that last season’s game streams averaged 12,000 viewers, a total that grew over the course of the season as the service became accessible to more of the networks’ affiliate customers and there was additional promotion of the TVE service. There were 200,000 visitors who combined on some 25,000 hours of monthly stream watching. Moreover, there was an average of 17 visits per user per month to the app, underscoring consistent usage among those who engaged in this practice.
“These are significant numbers that we are certainly paying attention to,” said Shuken, “and they are only going to grow.” Last season, Lakers games on the Time Warner Cable Sports averaged 260,600 households in the LA DMA, the biggest audience for any RSN presenting pro basketball.
Shuken said that in the short term, “TVE is not a profit or loss center, but part of the cost of doing business” and that “mobility was part of the economics of its affiliate agreements.”
He noted that “mobility was an important part of our networks product offering and provides added value to our distributor partners,” he said. “Younger fans are accustomed to authenticating and watching programming on their different devices. For them, this may be their introduction to our networks before they start watching the linear services. We see this as additive, not dilutive.”
Over the course of this season, Shuken anticipates that the streams will include some advertising, as technical issues surrounding delivery are surmounted. “ Advertising is very important for this going forward. We have to make sure all parties are satisfied,” he said.
The NBA said the regional streaming rights will be in place through the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, synching up with its national rights deals. ESPN long has been making its national NBA games available first through ESPN3 and now ESPN Watch, while TNT, which entered the TVE arena this summer, will offer live-stream of NBA games for the first time this season.