A portfolio of 21 regional sports networks long operated by Fox and now controlled by Diamond Sports Group, a consortium led by Sinclair Broadcast Group, have gone dark on Hulu’s live TV bundle.
The signals of the YES Network, which is owned by the New York Yankees, Sinclair, Amazon and private equity firms, and the Marquee network launched last February by Sinclair and the Chicago Cubs are also now absent from Hulu.
When some of Hulu’s 3.4 million live streaming customers were notified about the change, they fired questions at the company on social media. The Disney-owned streaming service offered a standard reply, “While we hope to be able to carry Fox Sports regional sports networks again in the future, we don’t have any updates related to these networks returning to Hulu + Live TV at this time.”
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Reps from Sinclair and Hulu did not immediately return Deadline’s requests for comment.
Streaming TV packages, whose programming costs keep rising, had been moving to draw a line with regional sports even before COVID-19 struck. Sling TV (along with satellite parent Dish) reached an impasse with Diamond Sports in mid-2019 and YouTube TV and Fubo have also parted ways with the networks in recent months.
The pandemic knocked most sports off the air from March through May before gradually resuming, but the RSNs’ high fees are challenging for pay-TV operators to absorb when most customers are looking to pay less, not more, for TV. Retransmission consent fees, a key element in the traditional bundle deals, are not part of streaming distribution. The ownership change at the RSNs, which long had leverage in dealmaking because of Fox News, is another new wrinkle.
The RSN model, pioneered by YES, was engineered to maximize the dual revenue streams of traditional broadcasting, with sports a massive draw among fans in local markets. The networks rose to prominence in the 2000s but have faced strong headwinds in recent years amid shifts in viewer habit and the TV ecosystem. They still throw off significant amounts of cash and post gaudy ratings, especially for winning baseball teams, but they face uncertainties as the bundle is remade.