There is an enduring truth that content remains king, regardless of how it is delivered. That truism particularly applies to hometown team sports, where fans have a decades-old track record of adopting any new technology or delivery mechanism to follow their favorites. Soon, one of the most prominent of those distribution systems -- regional sports networks -- will reconfirm the primacy of content as they begin to deliver bundled local programming via a range of emerging media platforms.
The evolving regional sports networks (RSNs) are beginning to shed their linear delivery skins. From broadband Internet, cable, and satellite, to video-on-demand (VOD) and wireless, RSNs will increasingly exist across all screens. They’ll continue to draw sports fans and viewers, who will, as usual, be the early adopters of any new technology needed to stay in touch with their teams.
To begin with, it will be professional team sports that will lead the way into this new RSN era. Reportedly, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is considering whether to allow its member clubs to market and distribute their respective intra-market broadband and wireless rights as soon as next season. Whenever this new policy is adopted, the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Jersey Nets, and 28 other NBA clubs will each be able to offer up live telecasts of their games plus supplemental programming within their respective regions across every available traditional and new media platform.
This follows recent in-market streaming opportunities provided by the National Hockey League to their clubs. Major League Baseball has been very successful at controlling all new media rights at the local level but is increasingly allowing its clubs to offer up regional VOD programming. The league is exploring methods for baseball clubs to exploit live local-market streaming of their non-nationally televised games.
As a natural progression, regional college and high school sports programming will also become part of this bundle. Moreover, categories of sports content will migrate to the screens that show them off to the best advantage. Live, near-live, and condensed games will be found on cable, satellite, and broadband, while condensed games and highlights will increasingly end up on broadband, VOD, and wireless.
Recent announcements indicate a growing trend toward the creation of localized regional sports networks. This week, a federal arbitrator ruled that Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) must carry a regional sports network that includes professional baseball and North Carolina collegiate athletics among its programming. In another report, Fox Sports Net is bringing a branded regional sports network to Kansas City.
The evolving RSN will eventually adapt itself to other media breakthroughs as well -- such as portable DVRs, WiFi, and WiMax-driven iPhones, and other screens and platforms yet to be invented. If someone can watch sports on it, there will be a bundle of regional sports rights that will adapt to it. Concurrently, the same process will apply to national and international sports, entertainment, and news networks as well, each becoming much more than just a single 24/7 linear channel.
Still, the scarcity and exclusivity of regional sports attracting passionate fans will ensure that future forms of RSNs will continue to be at the forefront of these changes. In turn, sports fans will remain a reliable audience eager to adopt new technologies that quickly deliver RSN content.
— Lee H. Berke, President & CEO of LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media Inc.