Bad Timing: YouTube TV Blackout of MLB Network Compounds Baseball's TV Distribution Problems Entering Spring Training

MLB Network
(Image credit: MLB Network)

As if Major League Baseball didn't have enough TV distribution problems to deal with as it gets ready for the Feb. 24 official start to Spring Training, its signature cable channel, the MLB Network, was pulled from the top virtual pay TV service, YouTube TV, earlier this week in a carriage dispute

With an unofficial mid-2022 tally of around 5 million subscribers, YouTube TV now ranks at the fifth largest pay TV service in America, so this is a meaningful carriage impasse.

“With Spring Training about to start, we regret that YouTube TV has been unwilling to negotiate a fair carriage agreement," Major League Baseball said in a statement. "MLB Network has offered terms consistent with what close to 300 other U.S. providers have agreed to for distribution.”

For MLB, the carriage battle comes as it gets ready for a major meltdown of its regional sports network ecosystem, with 16 teams impacted by what now appears to be an imminent bankruptcy filing by Sinclair's Diamond Sports Group subsidiary.

Debt-ridden Diamond operates 19 Bally Sports channels, which serve as the RSN home to 14 MLB teams. Additionally, Diamond co-owns RSNs with the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs. 

And at least in terms of subscriber growth, the loss of the MLB Network could represent a consequential loss for YouTube TV, too, if the matter isn't resolved soon. 

MLB Network, which carries live regular season MLB games and popular studio shows, isn't cheap to license. A pricing sheet leaked by a virtual MVPD to analyst Dan Rayburn four years ago pegged carriage of the network at $2 a subscriber. That ranks it in the upper tier of pay TV channels, price-wise, ahead of other signicant pro sports league-owned channels, including the NFL's coveted RedZone network. Renewal demands have almost certainly risen over the last four years. 

However, carriage of channels featuring live sports has become a differentiator amid the super-competitive vMVPD race. Notably, Sling TV made the pricy decision to add access to ABC owned stations in eight major markets this week, upping the price of the service by $5 in those areas, but also giving affected subscribers accesws to the NBA Finals, sans over-the-air antenna, when they air exclusively on ABC in about five months. 

YouTube TV still carries Turner Networks, FOX and ESPN, so the bulk of live MLB games shown in the pay TV ecosystem are still available. But competitors including DirecTV Stream and Hulu + Live TV carry those channels, too, in addition to the MLB Network. 

The real pain could be felt by sports fans, many of whom are growing tired of having their pay TV service suddenly enter into carriage disputes right before coveted events

This Reddit post, first uncovered by TheVerge, says it all:

(Image credit: Reddit)
Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!