Ending a period of short-term extensions, AT&T and Sinclair Broadcast Group have reached a carriage deal that will keep the 21 regional sports networks once owned by Fox on DirecTV and other platforms.
In addition to the RSNs, which Sinclair snagged after the Disney-Fox deal required they be cut loose, the multi-year agreement covers Sinclair’s owned local broadcast stations and the Tennis Channel.
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Sinclair, the No. 2 owner of local TV stations in the U.S., began warning viewers in September that they could lose access to local stations and RSNs.
One yet-to-launch RSN that also factored into negotiations was the Marquee Sports Network, a venture with the Chicago Cubs that will launch in 2020.
The companies confirmed the deal with a terse, one-paragraph press release. The carriage negotiations were not ideally timed for either company. Sinclair faced a potential blackout just as it closed the $9.6 billion deal to acquire the RSNs, leading an investment group that included Byron Allen. Wall Street analysts initially expected a return of $15 billion to $20 billion for the networks, which remain valuable draws in their markets despite increasing challenges in linear broadcasting.
For AT&T, the tensions came after the company had high-profile carriage disputes with CBS and top station group Nexstar and with activist hedge fund Elliott Management attacking the company’s pay-TV strategy.
While there’s never a good time for a blackout, but fall is an especially risky season given the popularity of the NFL, late-season and postseason Major League Baseball. Broadcast networks also heavily promote their new season offerings starting in September.