Sinclair says discussions with Google continue over sports networks

(Logo: Sinclair Broadcast Group/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

Discussions between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Google’s YouTube TV continue over the fate of two dozen regional sports networks that were officially dropped from the streaming pay TV service on Thursday.

In a statement released just before the channels were removed, executives at Sinclair Broadcast Group said they were disappointed in YouTube TV’s decision to remove the Fox Sports-branded channels and the YES Network, but said they were optimistic by continued discussions that the channels may one day reappear.

YouTube TV warned users earlier this year that the channels were scheduled to be dropped because its contractual agreement with Sinclair to carry them had lapsed. Talks to preserve the channels broke down after Sinclair asked for more money to carry them and another network Stadium, according to officials.

Eventually, both sides reached a temporary agreement that saw some of Sinclair’s Fox Sports-branded channels and the YES Network remain on the streaming service through the end of September.

That deal ended October 1, prompting YouTube TV to warn customers in affected markets that they would soon lose access to the regional sports networks. YouTube TV said the decision to remove the channels would not be coupled with a decrease in its $65 a month subscription fee.

“While we are disappointed that YouTube will discontinue carriage of the [regional sports networks] we remain in discussions in an effort to find a mutually acceptable path to returning the [networks] to YouTube TV,” Barry Faber, a Sinclair executive in charge of distribution and network deals, said in a press release on Wednesday. “We intend to keep the public informed as to the progress of these discussions so that YouTube TV subscribers can make informed decisions regarding how to view the extremely popular programming carried on these [networks].”

Whether the regional sports networks are popular is debatable: Dish Networ, which operates rival streaming service Sling TV, dropped the same channels from its satellite and streaming TV platforms last year. In a call with investors, Dish Network founder and chairman Charlie Ergen said the company was in no rush to add the networks back because they weren’t watched by most of their customers and those who wanted access to the sports channels had already switched to another service.

“Today on our network, we may have people who want to watch regional sports, but it’s a fraction of what it was last August,” Ergen said in February. “The programmers have a hard time understanding that, once somebody leaves [Dish], there’s no reason to put something back and tax the rest of the [customers] because the people who really watch the channel leave us because they have alternatives.”

YouTube TV appears to be in the same boat. In a series of social media posts earlier this week, a company spokesperson suggested the channels would be removed for the long-term when they failed to offer any insight into whether it was negotiating with Sinclair for carriage of the channels.