Viewers continue to lose out in dispute between NESN and YouTube TV

NESN, the regional sports network home of Bruins and Red Sox broadcasts, was dropped by YouTube TV on Oct. 31.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
There was some hope that NESN and YouTube TV would reconcile once the NHL season began in January, but that did not happen.

If you’re a YouTube TV subscriber, the plan you’ve come up with to watch Bruins games since the streaming service dropped NESN months ago is probably what you will have to do to watch Red Sox games, as well.

NESN, the regional sports network home of Bruins and Red Sox broadcasts, was dropped by YouTube TV on Oct. 31. There was some hope that the sides would reconcile once the NHL season began in January, but that did not happen.

Asked this past week whether the stalemate might end before the Red Sox season starts April 1, a NESN spokesperson indicated that a resolution soon is unlikely.


“While we have initiated and had additional conversations with YouTube TV, it is clear they have no plans to return the dropped regional sports networks or add new ones to their lineup despite consumers’ preferences,’’ the spokesperson wrote in an e-mail.

“Therefore, we hope our fans will find NESN on the other cable, satellite, or streaming options available to them — the vast majority of which offer NESN currently.”

NESN is available on cable providers, as well as streaming services fuboTV and AT&T TV. But its absence on YouTube TV — the second-most-popular streaming service after Hulu, with more than 3 million subscribers nationwide — is frustrating for Boston-area viewers who subscribed to the service when it still carried NESN.

(It is unclear how many subscribers the Google-owned YouTube TV has in Boston; getting specific demographic data out of YouTube TV is rarer than an enjoyable trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.)

So, why did YouTube TV drop NESN? Cost, primarily. Its leadership decided, as it has with several RSNs nationally, that it did not want to pay NESN’s per-subscriber fee to put a sports channel that has primarily regional appeal on its basic channel tier.

Because of the popularity of the Red Sox and Bruins, NESN has long been one of the pricier regional sports networks. While the specific carriage fees of individual networks are a guarded secret within the industry, multiple sources said NESN most likely costs $5 or more per subscriber. The last specific data I saw had the rate at just under $5 in 2015.


From YouTube TV’s perspective, paying that rate for a regional sports network doesn’t make sense. Most of its subscribers do not care about NESN or market-specific RSNs, and instead subscribe for access to popular national networks. There’s a reason YouTube TV hiked its rates from $49.99 to $64.99 last June after adding the ViacomCBS bundle of channels, including TBS, CNN, and MLB Network.

YouTube TV has not responded to requests asking what a palatable monthly rate for NESN might be.

The streaming service fuboTV, which carries NESN, has taken a different approach than YouTube TV, and one that hits its customers in the bank account. Subscribers were informed last month that their bill will include a “regional sports fee” starting with the March 11 billing cycle, no matter whether they want or watch the channels or not. The fee is $5 per month.

I’ve received quite a few inquiries about why NESN doesn’t just launch its own streaming app that carries all Bruins and Red Sox games. The network does have its own app upon which games can be streamed, but you must subscribe to one of its cable or streaming providers to watch.

A NESN-only subscription — or one to another specific regional sports channel, such as the YES Network in New York — would interfere with Major League Baseball’s all-encompassing lucrative brands such as Extra Innings, MLB TV, and MLB At Bat. Major League Baseball prioritizes subscriptions to its national products, not regional ones.


Because of local blackout restrictions, subscribing to the league products and their claims of “stream every game live or on demand” is no solution for fans who are mostly interested in watching their local team live. There’s been some push in recent years for MLB to lift those restrictions. But even with them in place, MLB considers it counterproductive to selling the overall product to allow regional sports networks to stream games on their own app without a cable or streaming subscription.

MLB does not allow individual RSNs with team broadcast rights to do their own thing independent of what’s best for MLB’s rights deals as a whole. Further, NESN would have to charge subscribers a significant monthly amount to make up for the potential viewership and subscriber fees it would be losing from not being on other streaming services.

An independent app with all the games at a reasonable price might be the dream for frustrated viewers right now. But they’re the only ones for whom it makes sense. And viewers, as we keep learning over and over the hard way, are rarely the priority.

In September, Skip Bayless criticized Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott for going public with his battle with depression following his brother’s death a few months earlier. Fox Sports issued a statement denouncing Bayless’s comments, made on his FS1 show “Undisputed,” the following day. On Thursday, the New York Post’s Andrew Marchand broke the news that the network was awarding Bayless a new four-year, $32 million contract. Tells you all you need to know about the value of that denouncement … ESPN confirmed a poorly kept secret this past week, formally announcing that Mike Greenberg will be the new host of its NFL Draft coverage. Don’t know about you, but I miss Trey Wingo already.


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