Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sports TV: Who Has the Leverage?

There’s no way of knowing how big of a catalyst Jeremy Lin was in settling MSG and Time Warner’s 48-day carriage dispute.  What’s certain is that in these cable disputes, the sports content providers have the leverage.  Sporting events are one of the few things people still watch live, and with most games unavailable on the internet, having access to channels such as MSG is an incentive not to cut the cable cord.

However, increases in sports rights fees ultimately are passed onto consumers.  Disney's ESPN, which has multi-billion dollar TV deals with the NFL, NBA, MLB and several college conferences, charges subscribers nearly $4.70 per month.  By comparison, TNT is the second most expensive national network and receives just $1.16 a month in subscriber fees.

The problem for sports TV is that content providers stiff-arm their way into homes, driving up your cable bill.  For instance, 99 million Americans pay to have ESPN, whether they watch the Disney-owned channel or not.  If rights fees continue to skyrocket, non-sports fans could rebel and drop cable altogether in favor of digital “TV everywhere” models.  In response, cable operators could move towards “a-la-carte” programming, in which consumers choose specific channels they want rather than general tiers.

In any event, expect sports to drive the future of television.