Former NBA Commissioner David Stern doesn’t sound overly concerned about Sling TV and the prospect of live sports streaming over the Internet.
The Dish Network’s recently-announced video streaming service includes ESPN among a handful of television channels that will be available to stream over the Internet for just $20 per month. Sling TV has the potential to change the way people watch sports while adding to the growing momentum around the cord-cutting movement that eschews costly cable subscription packages.
Talking on CNBC on Wednesday, Stern said that the NBA could actually benefit from having its games streamed through web subscriptions in addition to appearing in traditional cable television packages. Sling TV’s service “is appealing to an audience that either has cut their cord already, or the nevers—the never had cable [people]—so actually I think it will bring in more people and I would hope that somebody who gets to see the occasional game on ESPN, or ABC, will want to make sure they get to see all the games, which requires a whole different package,” Stern told CNBC.
Stern stepped down from his role as the NBA’s top executive last year after a 30-year tenure that saw him turn the league into a financial juggernaut thanks, in part, to huge television revenue. Not long after current commissioner Adam Silver took the reins, the league signed a massive new television rights deal with The Walt Disney Company (DIS) and Time Warner worth $24 billion over nine years. The deal allows for the broadcast of NBA games on Disney-owned channels ESPN and ABC, as well as Time Warner’s TNT, through 2025.
Before this week, the fact that most live sporting events are only available on cable channels that require relatively expensive subscription packages was often cited as the reason why cord-cutting had yet to go completely mainstream. Sports programming is a big moneymaker for cable companies due to the large audiences its attracts. Cable companies such as Time Warner Cable and Cablevision (CVC) even charge customers monthly surcharges of several dollars that are specifically tagged to sports programming.
The cord-cutting movement was already gaining momentum, with HBO recently deciding to make its HBO Go streaming service available as a standalone option later this year. Now, Dish’s announcement that ESPN — along with ABC, TNT, and several other channels — will be made available online at such a low monthly price has been heralded as a potentially major disruption to the traditional cable model.
How such a disruption could affect a league such as the NBA remains to be seen. At the very least, the league will continue to reap great rewards from its contract with Disney and Time Warner for many more years and those companies agreed to partner with Dish on Sling TV, so they clearly see a benefit in appealing to cord-cutters as well.
What’s more, the NBA’s deal with ESPN also included plans to create an online streaming service specifically for NBA games that would not require a cable subscription. If Stern is correct, and Sling TV viewers do end up thirsting for more NBA coverage, then the league’s online streaming service could receive a boost.