YouTube TV is about to lose a decent chunk of sports programming. Today, customers of the streaming TV service received an email alerting them that Fox’s regional sports networks (RSNs) and the YES Network will no longer be available as of February 29th. YouTube TV and Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns all of the networks involved here, have been unable to reach a new carriage deal. Unfortunately, as is usually the case in these situations, that means customers are in for a very abrupt cutoff come Saturday. Live, on-demand, and even DVR’d content from the Fox RSNs and YES will all be gone.
[Update: YouTube and Sinclair have agreed to an extension to keep the sports programming available to YouTube TV customers.)
“Please know that we do not take this decision lightly,” YouTube wrote in the email. The company seems prepared for some cancellations as a result of this latest streaming rights dustup. “We value your membership and will continue to strive to build the best streaming experience possible.”
In a tweeted statement, YouTube TV spelled out that “the rising cost of sports content” is squarely to blame. (YouTube TV will continue to offer other sports programming including ESPN networks, MLB Network, NBA TV, sports networks belonging to NBC and CBS, and more.) But some subscribers are inevitably going to be very displeased about losing live access to the games of their favorite local teams. Opening day for Major League Baseball is just under a month away.
Sinclair pushed back against YouTube TV’s explanation in an emailed statement to The Verge. “We offered YouTube TV the best terms under which their competitors carry our regional sports networks,” a spokesperson said. “Unfortunately, they alone decided to drop these channels citing ‘rising costs’ despite our offer to actually lower the fees they pay us. We also offered to continue negotiating under a short-term extension so that their subscribers could continue to watch their favorite hometown teams. They’ve not yet responded to this offer. Given the ease with which YouTube TV subscribers can drop the service and switch providers, we are surprised that they’ve chosen this course.”
Sinclair completed its purchase of the Fox RSNs from Disney last year — Disney was forced to find a new home for them by the Justice Department after its blockbuster acquisition of 21st Century Fox — and Sinclair is allowed to continue using the Fox Sports branding during a transitional phase. Here’s what Sinclair said at the time:
The RSN portfolio, which excludes the YES Network, is the largest collection of RSNs in the marketplace today, with an extensive footprint that includes exclusive local rights to 42 professional teams consisting of 14 Major League Baseball (MLB) teams, 16 National Basketball Association (NBA) teams, and 12 National Hockey League (NHL) teams.
So you can see why sports fans with YouTube TV are in for some hurt. That’s a lot of teams.
YouTube TV hasn’t indicated that any price reductions will result due to Sinclair pulling its networks. So you’re paying the same $49.99 — but now for less content. “At the very least, you have to imagine YouTube TV will be receiving lots of questions from subscribers asking about how much they intend to lower the subscription fee given that they are removing some of the most popular and in-demand programming they carry,” the Sinclair spokesperson said.
YES Network is already pointing Yankees fans to competing services like Hulu with Live TV and AT&T TV Now, with which Sinclair has deals in place. “We hope that we can reach an agreement with YouTube TV,” Sinclair wrote in an FAQ explainer. “However, based on the discussions we have had to date, we are not optimistic.” Not optimistic! Pretty blunt. Sounds like these channels are truly on the way out. Sinclair has also butted heads with Sling TV and even the sports-centric FuboTV, so YouTube isn’t alone in having a tough time making a deal and there’s reason to believe this situation isn’t as straightforward as Sinclair lets on.
Instead of raising its monthly subscription even higher to keep all of these sports networks in place, YouTube has (for now) decided to keep things where they are and hope it won’t withstand too many subscriber losses. But fans across social media are already threatening to bail and cancel the service. Since all of these streaming TV services are month to month without contracts, they’ve certainly got the option. If enough people do, YouTube will likely have to get this situation sorted out — and potentially pass those higher costs on to customers.
Update February 29th, 10:50AM ET: The article has been updated to reflect a last-minute extension reached by YouTube and Sinclair Broadcast Group.