- MSG+ had been earmarked for early 2023 launch
- SportsZone FAST service will offer a range of non-live content
Madison Square Garden (MSG) Entertainment is delaying the launch of a planned direct-to-consumer (DTC) version of its MSG Network regional sports network (RSN) until the start of the 2023/24 National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) seasons.
MSG Network, which has the local rights to the NBA’s New York Knicks and the NHL’s New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, had originally planned to go live for the final few months of each team’s current campaign.
However, given the service has no relationship with a Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise, MSG+ would have had little or no content to show over the summer months, making it difficult to generate momentum. It has therefore decided that the best course of action is to focus on a full launch this autumn.
MSG is one of several RSN owners looking towards streaming as a way of offsetting declining cable revenues, with its customer base contracting by nine per cent between 2021 and 2022. Boston-based New England Sports Network (NESN) became the first RSN to launch a DTC service, while Sinclair has launched Bally Sports+ in selected markets.
In a bid to drive subscriptions to the planned streaming service, MSG has added its free advertising support television (FAST) channel to Plex’s platform. MSG SportsZone won’t show live coverage, but will offer shoulder programming and other content to generate additional revenues and encourage viewers to take out a full subscription.
RSNs have traditionally been one of the main beneficiaries of the cable bundle, which sees consumers pay for a collection of channels rather than picking and choosing which services they want to receive.
Cable providers pay the RSN a fee regardless of whether the customer wants the channel or not, which means a steady, reliable stream of revenues. However, as more consumers ditch cable for streaming services, RSNs are disproportionately affected.
RSNs face a tricky balancing act. A compelling, attractively priced DTC service could alienate cable companies who might reduce RSN fees in response. But without a streaming alternative to offer cord-cutters and futureproof their businesses, RSNs risk an uncertain future.