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Data: eMarketer; Chart: Axios Visuals

The pandemic has taken a huge toll on the Pay-TV industry, and with the near-term future of live sports in question, there are no signs of it getting better in 2021.

Why it matters: The fraught Pay-TV landscape is forcing some smaller, niche cable channels out of business altogether.

Driving the news: Comcast's NBCUniversal said Friday it will shut down its sports cable channel, NBCSN, at the end of the year and move some of its premium programming, including NHL playoff games and NASCAR races, to its USA Network.

  • Reports previously suggested that NBCU was considering nixing some of its other "long-tail" channels, like E! and Oxygen, for leverage in cable bundle negotiations.
  • NBCU is hopeful that beefing up its USA Network offerings can strengthen the network's appeal in cable and satellite negotiations.

The big picture: The pandemic will drive cable and satellite TV providers to lose the most subscribers ever, according to the most recent data from eMarketer.

  • Early estimates suggest roughly 5 million people cancelled their cable subscriptions last year.
  • Last year's lockdowns slowed cord-cutting by forcing people to stay inside, but it will accelerate again as the country opens back up.
  • Streaming has also taken off during the pandemic, which will push more consumers to cut the cord in coming years.
  • One forecast expects that pay-TV subscriptions will shrink by 36% in the next 5 years, compared to 9.5% from 2015-2019.

Be smart: Sports networks are often the most costly channels within a cable bundle. Telecom operators have been under pressure to rebate consumers for the expensive cable packages that lacked live sports during the pandemic.

  • While some networks, like news and variety programming, are struggling to demonstrate value in the cable bundle, sports networks are by far under the most pressure, given much cable operators are required to pay them for live sports rights.
Data: S&P Global Market Intelligence; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

What's next: With many major sports contracts set to expire in the next few years, analysts predict that the ultimate collapse of the cable TV model will happen when a tech or streaming company finally is granted rights to stream a major sports franchise.

  • AT&T's top executive John Stankey has said the telecom giant would consider dropping its exclusive rights to the NFL's Sunday Ticket package from its DirecTV satellite service.

The bottom line: In the interim, expect a flood of cable programming to start migrating over to streaming in anticipation for the day when cable is no longer a viable platform for networks to reach audiences.

  • News networks — NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX News and others — have begun building streaming services tailored to news and opinion programming.
  • Big entertainment giants — like Disney, Discovery, Comcast/NBCU and AT&T — have all set up streaming networks in the past year during the pandemic that mostly combined content from all of their outlets.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Jan 27, 2021 - Economy & Business

Wanted: New media bosses, everywhere

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Reuters, HuffPost and Wired are all looking for new editors. Soon, The New York Times will be too.

Why it matters: The new hires will reflect a new generation — one that's addicted to technology, demands accountability and expects diversity to be a priority.

Updated 41 mins ago - Sports

Experts predict major boom for North American sports stadiums

Rendering of the $375 million Moody Center on the UT-Austin campus. Photo courtesy of Moody Center

Stadium and arena construction in North America will total a relatively tame $5.8 billion this year, a 12% decrease from 2021.

The big picture: What the industry lacks in construction it expects to make up for in design, with experts predicting a sports venue boom over the next half-decade, SBJ reports.

Updated 43 mins ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

The latest: “I can’t comment on specific pieces of intelligence. But we’ve been warning about just this kind of tactic for weeks and we’ve spoken to that publicly," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

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