2ND UPDATE with NBCUniversal statement: NBCUniversal and YouTube TV have agreed to an extension of their carriage agreement, which officially expired Thursday, while they continue to negotiate a renewal.
In a statement, NBC described it as a “short extension while parties continue talks.”
While 14 networks hang in the balance, the broadcast mother ship is nearing a significant tune-in event this weekend. NFL Sunday Night Football on NBC will feature Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visiting the New England Patriots in Brady’s return to Foxboro, MA, where he quarterbacked the Patriots for 20 years. The show has been the top ratings draw in primetime for years, but this Sunday’s game could over-index even by the usual lofty standards of the timeslot.
Streaming is a significant element in the renewal discussions. YouTube says NBCU is asking it to bundle Peacock, its year-old service, into its interface. But the tech giant has resisted for two main reasons. First, it believes the user experience is more cumbersome when viewers must download a separate app with some overlapping content. Also, while Peacock’s basic tier is free, the Premium level would require a separate subscription fee in addition to what viewers pay for YouTube TV.
1st UPDATE, Sept. 27: As a carriage dispute with NBCUniversal broke into public view, the Google-owned streaming platform announced an unusual plan if the parties are unable to reach a deal by Thursday’s deadline.
In a blog post, YouTube TV said if it is prepared to lower the monthly price for its service by $10, from $64.99 to $54.99, for as long as the NBCU networks remain dark. As to the negotiations, “Our ask is that NBCU treats YouTube TV like any other TV provider,” the company wrote. “In other words, for the duration of our agreement, YouTube TV seeks the same rates that services of a similar size get from NBCU so we can continue offering YouTube TV to members at a competitive and fair price.”
While posturing and heated rhetoric are commonplace in carriage battles, it is rare for a provider to promise customers to offer financial relief.
PREVIOUS, Sept. 27: NBCUniversal is warning the more than 3 million subscribers to Google’s streaming bundle YouTube TV that 14 of its networks are just “days away” from going dark.
The media company did not specify a deadline, but said the impasse is imminent. Programming like fall primetime premieres and NFL football is at risk, as are local NBC stations, NBCU noted.
“NBCUniversal is seeking fair rates from Google for YouTube TV’s continued carriage of the only portfolio offering entertainment, Hispanic, news and sports networks,” the company said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Google is refusing to make a deal at these fair rates and is willing to withhold entertainment, news and sports programming from their paying customers. NBCUniversal feels a responsibility to inform our fans that they are at risk of losing their favorite shows if Google continues with their demands.”
YouTube TV, which launched in 2017, has grown steadily to become one of the top internet-delivered TV packages, but along the way it has had several impasses with programmers. Regional sports networks, because of their cost structure, have gone dark on YouTube TV. Six NBCU RSNs are also among those poised to have their signals interrupted, along with NBC and cable nets like USA, MSNBC and E!
The economics of streaming bundles have not settled into a reliably profitable mode. Large companies like Google or Disney, which operates Hulu + Live TV, have heavily promoted the services as a way of enhancing their other lines of revenue. But maintaining comprehensive channel lineups entails raising prices for customers. Initially proffered as cost-saving options for consumers, the internet bundles have seen their monthly prices rise almost to parity with traditional pay-TV.