Can DISH Deliver 'The' Sports-Heavy OTT Service?

By Bob Wallace December 12, 2014

Lost in the viewer uproar over the retransmission dispute between CBS and DISH Networks last week was the very real possibility that the satellite TV provider won’t have CBS programming, or those of other broadcast networks, for the over-the-top (OTT) service it plans to launch by yearend.

Though DISH has yet to announce a channel lineup or pricing for the anticipated service, it appeared early on as if their OTT entry would differ from others because of it live sports content deals with the ESPN channel franchise and with regional sports networks (RSN) such as the coveted SEC Network and The Longhorn Network (University of Texas sports),

No Broadcast Networks?

But without CBS and perhaps NBC (Comcast-owned) and Fox, the DISH OTT service will be minus some of the biggest-audience TV shows of late – namely NFL games in primetime and beyond. Sunday Night Football (NBC) was the most watched show last year, beating out CBS’ Big Bang Theory, and averaging over 20 million viewers several times.

Adding NFL programming would provide a huge differentiation for DISH’s OTT services, as most others include live sports games. But doing so is an uphill battle given the fragmentation of the Web sports opportunity thanks to the got it alone approach of some sports content owners when it comes to OTT opportunities.

And CBS has other irons in the video fire, having announced a subscription-based ($5.99 a month) video-on-demand service that will give viewers access to current, previous and classic shows. CBS All Access is available now at and for Apple and Android mobile devices. The company’s CEO claimed the VoD service will be additive to its other programming marketing efforts.

Other OTT Teamings

To potentially further complicate matters, the NBA and ESPN recently announced plans to launch a standalone OTT service. And days ago, HBO confirmed plans to work with Major League Baseball online to drive its highly anticipated (and expected) OTT entry, which is planned for some time next year.

There could be something of a silver lining with DISH’s deal with Disney/ESPN as ESPN carries Monday Night Football and might make it easier to work a deal with the NBA to join DISH’s OTT lineup. Far stranger things have happened.

Price Pressure

The other challenge for DISH (and other TV providers) seeking live sports programming for their OTT services is the high cost of the content, driven by the fact that it’s among the most coveted content available today.

DISH want to keep the OTT service affordable and less than established cable TV packages, but adding sports channels and channels like CBS that carry live sports games work against each other. Adding the NBA would be a coup for DISH but may not be in pro basketball’s OTT plans.

‘Tiering” Up

The most likely solution would be to offer different tiers of the OTT service just as traditional pay-TV providers do today, starting with a basic package tier and moving up to expanded channel groupings that cost more per month. Keep a set of the more expensive live sports channels on a high tier would help DISH compensate for the expensive programming, and keep non-sports fans happy as well.

Another option to add live pro sports punch to the OTT service would be to work out an arrangement with the NFL for non-exclusive, rights to games delivered over the Web. But that’s easier said than done as DISH rival DIRECTV is already streaming out-of-market games on the Web to select customers in three cities and 10 universities as part of a trial. The NFL extended its exclusive deal with DIRECTV to deliver NFL Sunday Ticket (a hugely popular package of out-of-market games) for years to come.

Channel Challenges

With AT&T awaiting approval of its plan to acquire DIRECTV, things in this segment of the NFL could get far more complicated for OTT players such as DISH.

Though the resolved channel retransmission dispute helped DISH retain CBS programming for its traditional pay-TV service packages, it arguably did nothing for the satellite operator’s OTT venture on the live sports front, or with programming in general.

Heavy price pressures, current content agreements, and conflicting strategies of content owners will make a DISH OTT service that’s the big destination for a broad lineup of live sports a Christmas miracle. That kind of differentiation would be beyond powerful in the increasingly crowded OTT space, but is likely beyond affordable for DISH.

The OTT Sports Destination?

Make no mistake; DISH is vying for instant relevance in the OTT space with its planned service. It already has more channels of sports than other offerings as well as plenty of non-sports channels thanks to early deals with Disney ABC—and could be successful without a heavier load of sports content.

But for sports fans, wouldn’t it be nice to have a Web TV service that’s close to a one-stop shop for live sports content?

Keep that on your holiday wish list, but don’t hold your breath.

Stay tuned. DISH’s OTT service is on the clock!

Edited by Maurice Nagle

Founder, Fast Forward Thinking LLC

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