Amazon has a history of live sports streaming deals, but its latest reported move is the most intriguing one yet. Amazon is trying to acquire 22 of 21st Century Fox’s regional sports networks (RSNs), including YES, the broadcast home of the New York Yankees. The move has major implications for the future of live TV and streaming.
Per CNBC’s David Faber, Amazon is among the bidders for 21st Century Fox’s RSNs.
21st Century Fox has to sell those RSNs to somebody: a sale of those holdings was one of the conditions for federal approval of the company’s acquisition by Disney in a blockbuster deal. So-called “New Fox” — the parts of Fox left over after Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s studios and other assets — has previously been reported to have the inside track to acquire its old RSNs.
Among the RSNs, YES is a special case: Yankee Global Enterprises, the company that owns the New York Yankees, has a 20% stake in the channel and a right of first refusal to buy out 21st Century Fox. The Yankees would need some financial help to do that, but they’re reportedly getting it from private equity firms.
Even without YES, an acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s RSNs would be a huge move for Amazon. Amazon has previously cut sports streaming deals that put NFL games and other major sports broadcasts on its streaming platform. But acquiring entire Networks would be new for Amazon, and would give the tech giant access to local broadcasts of MLB, NHL, and NBA games, among other content. Amazon would also become entangled with skinny bundle services, many of which have deals with these same RSNs.
Sports have long been seen as integral to the future of live TV, including both legacy pay TV services and skinny bundles. Since fans prefer to watch sporting events live, sports are considered more “DVR-proof” than other forms of programming. Sports channels like ESPN account for a disproportionate chunk of a cable bill, yet those same channels are found in most skinny bundles — despite their price, they’re clearly essential even to the most cost-conscious forms of live TV service.
If sports were to become widely available outside of skinny bundles, the very idea of a live TV bundle could be threatened. If Amazon and other streaming giants begin to acquire live sports rights, that will be a real threat to cable and satellite providers — and, it stands to reason, to cord-cutting skinny bundles as well.
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