by Rocco Pendola
By the time this article publishes, News Corp's (NWSA) Fox and Time Warner's (TWX) Turner may have already locked up rights to Major League Baseball regular and postseason telecasts through 2021. They join Disney's (DIS) ESPN as the primary sources of baseball on national television.
The three companies will have combined to spend $12.6 billion on the rights.
Time Warner and Disney dominate National Basketball Association television rights. Together they spend $7.4 billion over eight years.
Nevertheless, that's roughly $62 billion spent by five companies to control a majority of national MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL telecasts.
Several of these companies, particularly Fox, own local MLB, NBA and NHL rights.
Also consider in the mix, regional powerhouse Madison Square Garden (MSG), which owns the New York Rangers and New York Knicks and broadcasts their games as well as other New York area sports via the MSG television networks.
This landscape - especially when you consider that most of the deals run for another 10 years or so - boxes out media companies such as Viacom (VIAB) (VIA) and, given the weak link that is the NHL, Comcast to a point (though NBC will air several upcoming Olympic Games and is in tight with professional golf).
In Canada, where hockey actually matters, Rogers Communications (RCI) and BCE, Inc. (BCE) control the landscape. Nationally, the only bit of hockey Rogers and Bell do not control are the games shown by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, particularly the iconic Hockey Night in Canada. Thanks to deep pockets and the duo's joint purchase of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, there's a more than good chance Rogers and Bell steal hockey away from CBC starting next season.
That would keep Canada-wide, regional and local hockey telecasts almost solely on Rogers and Bell-owned Leafs TV, Bell's The Sports Network and Rogers' stable of regional networks.
It should come as no surprise that these companies have not only circled the wagon on sports content, but freely commit billions of dollars to securing sports rights.
Given the proliferation and popularity of on-demand offerings such as TV Everywhere, Hulu and Netflix (NFLX), there's not much that viewers must see live, save major events such as the Oscars or Emmys. You're less likely to DVR and watch sports or awards shows after the fact.
Given their sports presences and all-around strong businesses, I continue to consider DIS, CBS, NWSA, MSG, TWX, RCI, BCE and, to a lesser extent, CMCSA strong buys. Since adding TWX, RCI and BCE to the Paid2Trade Options Investing Newsletter model portfolio in January, the stocks are up 22.3%, 8.8% and 4.8%, as of this past Thursday's close. I sold DIS several weeks ago for a double-digit gain.
Viacom needs to get creative if it wants to survive in 2020-21. Look for a buyer. Take out MSG. There you have two potential ways forward.
No matter how you look at it, though, I don't see how Viacom thrives when its primary franchises consist of MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. Given the ever-increasing array of entertainment choices available, not much from those cable selections cuts it.
Viacom either needs to make an aggressive digital push - which could interfere with the revenue it receives from cable and satellite companies - or conceive a new form of "appointment viewing," meaning programming that viewers need to catch live at a particular time. While they have tinkered with them on VH1, live concert events never seem to have taken off on cable. Even if they did, I'm not sure that's the savior.
Bottom line - Viacom is in a pickle. If it's not ready to break meaningful ground digitally, it needs to work some sort of deal for itself. If U.S. regulators would allow a deal to happen, it would be a solid acquisition for many of the abovementioned big names.