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  • January 10, 2024
  • By Rick Allen Chief Executive Officer, ViewLift
  • Blog

How Direct-to-Consumer Regional Sports Networks Use OTT & Companion Content for Android, Apple, Roku, Xbox & FireTV

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The multi-billion-dollar regional sports network (RSN) crisis in the US shows no sign of abating as we move into 2024. Disrupted by the soaring costs of live game rights, changing viewing patterns, and the continuing trend by consumers to cut cable services in favor of streaming platforms, many RSNs are in meltdown.

The fact is that more than a third (35.5%) of the US television viewing market now access TV solely through broadband, according to Nielsen. And the number of US households with traditional pay-TV (cable and satellite) subscriptions has dropped to under half (45.6%), Insider Intelligence figures show.

In many major sports markets, the fast-changing distribution landscape across sports media has resulted in hundreds of thousands – in some cases millions – of local viewers unable to watch their favorite sports teams play. That has led some forward-looking teams, supported by their leagues, to rethink the RSN model and look beyond a band-aid solution.

The upshot is that dozens of sports organizations across the US find themselves seeking alternatives to RSNs that span broadcast and streaming, while the RSNs that are still succeeding are creating new ways to reach their changing markets more thoroughly. A critical element of the new mix is the Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) OTT services that address the vast and growing number of cord-cutters not served by the old-school cable-and-satellite-based RSN distribution. 

Pioneering a new model

We have already seen some leagues and teams adapt to the shifting foundations of regional sports broadcasting, introducing new local sports viewing models in markets such as Las Vegas, where the National Hockey League's Vegas Golden Knights is serving its regional market with both reach and depth.

With the expiration of its old deal and the planned shut-down of its RSN, the Stanley Cup champion Golden Knights’ new arrangement gave it greater control over its content; the ability to reach far more fans; and a digital approach to super-serving its super fans. Through over-the-air (OTA) channels and a top-quality over-the-top (OTT) service called KnightTime+, the Golden Knights are now able to reach both OTA and broadband-only TV viewers (over 40% of all households in Las Vegas, per Nielsen).

VGK chose Scripps Sports’ OTA channels, and ViewLift’s digital platform was selected as the home for KnightTime+, a new streaming service carrying live games and companion content via the web, iOS and Android devices, Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, Vizio, and Xbox. Purchased with a season pass, KnightTime+ carries all locally aired games for fans within the team's NHL-mandated territory, which extends through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and certain counties in California, Nebraska and Arizona.

The Golden Knights' key goal was to build a state-of-the-art live streaming service in addition to its OTA availability, to give fans every possible option to interact with the team and watch hockey – reflecting the reality that cord-cutting was leaving many fans underserved. The new OTA and OTT setup achieves that accessibility and variety.

The KnightTime+ streaming service has rapidly exceeded all expectations, even as TV ratings have more than doubled – delivering nearly universal media reach for fans. The Knights tripled their full-season sign-up targets for KnightTime+ in just its first two weeks and streamed over 4.4 million minutes in its first month – with viewing via the Apple TV, Fire TV and Roku apps averaging approximately 80 minutes per viewer each session.

Hitting more and new fans with DTC

The Vegas Golden Knights are not the only example of a team taking successful control of its local distribution in light of the uncertainty surrounding RSNs and unsettling team ownership groups. An early mover was the Monumental Sports and Entertainment Group, which in 2022 acquired full control of the RSN in its area (NBC Sports Washington), re-christened as the Monumental Sports Network. The Network is home to three of its parent company’s big sports franchises: the NHL's Washington Capitals, the National Basketball Association's Washington Wizards, and the WNBA's Washington Mystics, as well as its G League and esports teams.

Recognizing the importance of establishing a top-tier streaming service to reach those without a pay-TV subscription, the Monumental Sports Network(MSN) re-launched a greatly-expanded DTC service in 2023 ahead of the NHL and NBA seasons – offering enhanced video functionality and extending its digital reach across the web, tablets, smartphones, game consoles and large-screen devices and services.

MSN’s DTC service gives fans the kind of control over content that they have come to expect – even demand – today, allowing them to personalize the user interface around their favorite teams and players, stream on multiple devices simultaneously, access behind-the-scenes programming, opt into scoring alerts and player updates, and tap into real-time data and betting analytics. Additional enhanced viewing experiences will be rolled out later this season,

Many of these features effectively cater to younger GenZ fans – whose sports viewing habits differ considerably from older audiences, as they are more likely to follow a game on the go – dipping in and out and locking in on instantaneous highlights.

The risk of getting left behind

These organizations’ trailblazing new models provide their fans the access they want to local games and related content, while giving the teams more control over their digital footprint. Those examples should resonate with those teams still struggling to deal with the inevitability that more than half of NHL, NBA and MLB teams will likely lose their RSNs at the end of this season, if not before.

As they look at potential new standard TV and streaming models, teams must determine for themselves what constitutes success – and what will secure their fans' future engagement. Some already have set up bespoke OTA alliances and OTT services. Others have secure RSNs that are reinventing themselves as the market continues to evolve, including launching new streaming services. But many teams risk doing too little too late if they don't move soon.

True future-proofing requires each team to examine its game and related content distribution. Direct-to-consumer streaming reaches those fans off the pay-TV grid; provides teams for the first time with detailed data on their fans; delights those viewers with personalized and enhanced viewing experiences – and connects fans and teams at all of their touchpoints. Once again, business disruption will catalyze tech innovation, and reward teams that seize the moment.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from ViewLift. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

Image credit: ViewLift

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