The Recap: Another DIRECTV Blackout, ESPN and MLB Lose Tons of Subscribers, and More




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DIRECTV subscribers were hit hard by another blackout, this time with ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX affiliates owned by Tegna. 

Meanwhile, there’s more indication of cable TV’s struggles, along with some tough numbers to swallow for ESPN and the MLB Network. 

As always, there was a lot going on in the world of cord cutting. But that’s why The Recap exists, to catch you up on the biggest stories and why you should care about them. 

Here’s what you need to know from this past week.

DIRECTV Blackout, the Sequel

Programming disputes that lead to blackouts are popping up with increasing frequencies, with DIRECTV again dealing with a blackout of local broadcast channels. Less than three months after settling its dispute with Nexstar and bringing back its local affiliates, it failed to reach an agreement with Tegna. 

Tegna is a much smaller player than Nexstar, but the dispute still meant 64 stations around the country – typically in smaller or mid-sized markets, went dark. That’s bad news for folks looking to watch the array of college football and NFL games this weekend. 

The two sides seem far apart, according to DIRECTV Chief Content Officer Rob Thun. Another wrinkle was DIRECTV’s offer for Tegna to sell local channels a la carte, something the broadcast owner rejected. 

The last dispute lasted two and a half months. We’ll see how long this one lasts. 

Subscriber Defections at Sports Cable Networks

It’s not a secret that cord cutting is hitting the networks hard. But thanks to Nielsen, we have some data on just how hard

ESPN, one of the top-rated cable networks, lost 4 million subscribers in the last year, according to a report from Nielsen and published by SportsTVRatings. The MLB Network, meanwhile, lost 11 million, or more than a quarter of its subscribers. FS1 lost more than 3 million, BTN lost more than 2 million, and TNT lost more than 4 million. 

It’s no surprise regional sports networks are crumbling and many sports teams are looking to bring their games back to local channels. 

Cable TV Expected to Hit New Low

Speaking of cable’s decline. A new study from GlobalData projects that pay TV could hit a new low by 2028, with just a third of U.S. households subscribing to a cable or satellite TV service. The number of pay TV subscriptions should fall below 50% by 2025. 

The numbers offer a stark illustration of how much of an impact cord cutters and cord nevers – people who never bothered to sign up for cable TV in the first place – are having on the industry. 

It’s happening quicker than you think. By the end of the year, the number of cord cutters could surpass the number of viewers of cable and satellite TV, according to Insider Intelligence. 

What’s a Super Bundle?

Get ready to hear the term “super bundle” a lot more. That’s the concept that you’ll start working with one company to manage and pay for all of your different subscriptions? Sound ludicrous? Verizon’s already doing it with its +Play store, which offers everything from Peloton to Apple One services. 

The other wireless players and cable companies, which already have your payment information, are racing to offer similar services. You already see it with Amazon, which is trying to be the one-stop shop for streaming services with its Prime Channels program, which lets you subscribe to Max, Paramount+, and Crunchyroll, among other different services, and pay for it through Amazon. 

FCC Wants to Speed Up Fiber Buildout

The Federal Communications Commission plans to hold a vote on rules about attaching equipment on poles. This seemingly simple procedural issue could actually clear some red tape and allow telecom companies to roll out fiber lines faster, giving more people access to higher broadband speeds. 

Talking about broadband deployment is easy, but it’s often these seemingly small issues like access to a pole – and clearing up disagreements like who should pay for the attachments to the pole – that make a big difference in how quickly these networks are actually deployed.

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