The streaming universe shrank for New England sports fans Saturday when NESN, the regional sports network that carries Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins games, vanished from YouTube TV’s channel lineup.
The Google-owned OTT service broke the news to subscribers the day before.
“We’re writing to let you know that our agreement with New England Sports Network (NESN) has expired,” an email sent to one Massachusetts viewer at 4:19 p.m. Friday read. “Unfortunately, we were unable to reach a new agreement to continue offering you this network.”
NESN, still available at Fubo and AT&T TV Now, blamed YouTube TV.
“Despite offering our most favorable rates and terms for carriage, YouTube TV chose to deny fans our top-rated programming on October 30th,” the Watertown, Mass., network said in a tweet Friday. “Given we received no offer in return, we assume this is purely an economic decision to maximize profitability for their business at the expense of viewers.”
Google did not answer a request for comment sent Monday morning.
YouTube TV’s move came a month after it ditched 19 Fox regional sports networks owned by Sinclair — which itself followed the March exit of two other Sinclair-owned RSNs as well as YES, the New York network carrying Yankees games.
RSNs have also become unpopular at Hulu, which staged its own dump of Sinclair-owned sports networks in late October. That culling included YES as well as Marquee Sports Network, the network launched February for Chicago Cubs games.
Among major linear OTT services, only AT&T TV Now continues to carry a nearly-full slate of regional sports networks, albeit on its $80 Max tier.
“What we see is 75%-78% of people just don't need an RSN,” emailed Jason Cohen, co-founder of the video-service shopping tool MyBundle.TV.
Before March, 25% of visitors to the site picked at least one RSN; since then, that figure has dropped to 22% as the Coronavirus pandemic has caused massive delays and cancellations across sports leagues.
That minority of viewers, however, can exert a disproportionate influence in TV-service choices. Roger Entner, founder and lead analyst at Recon Analytics, said, “Usually, the decision maker in the house is the sports nut.”
He suggested that sports leagues would eventually follow the example of such entertainment brands as Disney.
“Over time, I think what you will see is that the sports leagues will improve their own SVOD offers,” Entner said. “They will simply go directly to the consumer.”
Cohen said the economics of a direct-to-consumer product would be difficult, but that sports leagues may have no choice if linear OTT services continue to shun them.
“While hardcore sports fans may stick with cable for their favorite teams, how many more marginal fans will cut the cord over the next few years and just find something else to watch?” asked Cohen.