Nothing sums up the creative bankruptcy of the television industry better than today’s news—which broke in Sports Business Journal—that Disney, ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal and Fox are close to wrapping up renewals of their deals to carry National Football League games on their broadcast TV networks. Disney, owner of ESPN and ABC, will reportedly pay 30% more for its rights than what it is currently paying while the other companies will double what they’re now paying.
These extraordinary increases are for sports programming that last season lost viewers! Can you imagine what the NFL would get if audiences were growing? There is a rationale for the heftier spending. Viewers are fleeing to streaming and entertainment companies are responding by shifting dramas and comedies to their streaming services. Their old-fashioned networks are increasingly havens for news and sports. In that world, live sports—particularly NFL games—are becoming even more important to drawing audiences to the networks. If they want to stay in business, they can’t afford to lose the NFL, giving them little bargaining leverage.