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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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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.

California governor declares drought emergency in most counties

A sign in April on the outskirts of Buttonwillow in California's Kern County, one of the top agriculture producing counties in the San Joaquin Valley, after historically low winter rainfall. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) extended a drought emergency declaration to cover 41 of the state's 58 counties on Monday.

Why it matters: Most of California and the American West are experiencing an "extreme" or "exceptional" drought, per the U.S. Drought Monitor. Newsom and other officials are concerned California could experience a repeat of the catastrophic 2020 wildfire season.

2 hours ago - World

Jerusalem crisis escalates after Hamas and Israel trade rocket fire

Israeli air strikes in the southern Gaza Strip on May 10. Photo: Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images

Nine children were among 20 Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes after Hamas fired dozens of rockets at Jerusalem for the first time since 2014 Monday, per AP and Reuters.

The big picture: The rockets come after escalating violence in Jerusalem has injured 250 Palestinians and several Israeli police officers during protests over the planned evictions of Palestinian families from their homes that began Friday.

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