The last regional sports network to get the heave-ho from DISH Network is now the first of its kind to go over the top, as Boston’s NESN today announced the launch of a new direct-to-consumer service.
In what’s being billed as a pair of “exclusive limited time offers,” Red Sox and Bruins fans starting today may opt for an annual or monthly paid membership to the new NESN 360 offering. Priced at $329.99, the yearly plan includes eight tickets to a Sox game at Fenway Park, a bonus worth up to $450, per NESN’s marketing materials. Tickets must be redeemed by Aug. 31.
The monthly plan will cost fans $1 for the first 30 days and then $29.99 for every subsequent billing cycle. Both options will allow cord-cutters to stream up to 220 live Sox and Bruins games, and will include expanded access to highlights, on-demand games from the archives and a library of hundreds of video-on-demand titles. Along with the slate of Sox games that originate on NESN’s linear TV network, subscribers also will be able to catch up with on-demand presentations of the teams nationally televised outings.
In addition to the MLB and NHL content, NESN 360 includes access to select games featuring triple-A affiliate Worcester, the Connecticut Suns of the WNBA, and Hockey East, the NCAA Division I conference that includes Beanpot antagonists Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern.
NESN’s new streaming product arrives in advance of the comprehensive Bally Sports DTC service set to soft-launch before the end of this month. NESN 360 is quite a bit pricier than Bally Sports+, which will be made available to subscribers at a rate of $188.99 per year, or for a monthly fee of $19.99.
Both RSN streaming schemes are considerably more expensive than the other active DTC products on the market; for example, a monthly ESPN+ subscription runs $6.99, while the Disney sports and entertainment bundle (ESPN+, Disney+, Hulu) goes for $13.99.
The early adopters of NESN 360 may have to get over the initial sticker shock, but the cost of the DTC service is a steal when compared to the monthly cable bill. Fans who subscribe to Comcast’s “Standard+” package pay a base rate of $111 per month, which includes cable and high-speed Internet service, but that jumps to around $180 a month once rental fees for set-top boxes, modems and other digital adapters are factored in.
Comcast’s monthly rate includes a “regional sports fee” surcharge of $19.15, which is designed to offset the costs of carrying the various RSNs it offers across its national footprint. NESN’s affiliate fee works out to around $5.14 per subscriber per month, which is only slightly higher than the average RSN rate ($5.01).
NESN is an ideal candidate for going the DTC route, as it is the most-distributed RSN in the sector. According to data from Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, NESN reaches 89% of the pay-TV homes in its footprint. By comparison, New York’s MSG Network is available in 44% of its overall service area.
The initial cost of subscribing to NESN 360 is sufficiently high to keep Comcast’s New England bureau from having to sweat out a sudden surge in summertime churn. The nation’s largest cable operator boasted just over 17 million video subs at the end of the first quarter, which marked an 8% decline versus the year-ago 18.6 million and an 18% drop compared to the analogous period in 2020 (20.6 million).
For its part, DISH Network, which parted ways with NESN—the last of its RSN partners—in December, had 7.99 million satellite-TV subs at the end of the quarter. That’s down 8% versus the first quarter of 2021 and down 17% from 9.64 million two years ago. At the time of the split with NESN, DISH group president Brian Neylon characterized the RSN model as “fundamentally broken,” inasmuch as only a fraction of subscribers actually watch the regional sports networks for which they are charged.
NESN is generally one of the most-watched RSNs in the sector, although as is the case with all local nets, the TV turnout is at its highest when the hometown team is on a hot streak. Among adults 25-54, the network’s 152-game slate last year showed a 19% lift compared to the 2019 season. That said, the 2022 Red Sox aren’t doing much on the field to boost the summertime numbers; as of Tuesday night, Boston has compiled a 23-27 record and sits 11.5 games back of the AL East-leading New York Yankees.
At launch, NESN 360 will be available on Roku and Apple TV as well as mobile platforms. As the summer progresses, the service will find its way to Google TV and Amazon’s Fire TV.