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Sinclair Broadcast reports strong start to sports streaming service

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s new sports streaming service, Bally Sports+, is on track to grow to as many as 10 million subscribers and expects to draw a young audience interested in interactive features, the head of the Hunt Valley-based company said Thursday.

Sinclair subsidiary Diamond Sports Group launched a limited version of its direct-to-consumer service in June, offering access to Major League Baseball teams in five markets. The broadcaster plans a full launch across all 19 of its Bally Sports regional sports network brands Sept. 26.

Sinclair bought the sports networks in 2019 for $10.6 billion, but then had to write off $4.2 billion of the networks’ value in the third quarter of 2020 after the pandemic decimated live sports programming. In March, the company “deconsolidated” the local sports segment from its financial statements and recapitalized its debt, though it continues to own the networks.

In a conference call with analysts Thursday, after Diamond reported a loss of $217 million on revenue of $751 million for the second quarter, Sinclair CEO and President Chris Ripley said nearly three-quarters of customers who signed up for a free trial have converted to paying subscribers.

“Despite almost no marketing, early subscription volumes have been better than we expected, and subscriber engagement on the platform is strong,” Ripley said. “Everything we’ve seen so far gives us conviction around our long-term target of getting this product up to 5 to 10 million subscribers.”

The company sees the new service as a complement to its broadcast stations carried by cable companies and other distributors. Ripley said the streaming service gives local sports fans in the Bally Sports network footprint a new way to watch hometown teams while also offering interactive features such as polls and trivia games.

“This interaction is an important aspect of this business model, engaging younger viewers,” Ripley said.

The streaming service is currently available for MLB teams in Detroit, Kansas City, Missouri, Miami, Milwaukee and Tampa, Florida. The full launch will include Bally Sports networks in Arizona, Indiana, the Midwest, New Orleans, Ohio, Oklahoma, San Diego, Southern California and other regions.

Starting this fall, viewers will have access to live, local NBA and NHL broadcasts, pregame and postgame shows, and regionally produced programming — including college football and basketball and high school sports. Subscribers will be able to access Bally Sports+ via mobile and tablet devices. The Baltimore Sun

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