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Streaming and legalized betting usher in new era for sports content

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The transition to streaming, the legalization of sports betting and the rise of esports have created new dynamics for the sports industry that will continue to play out next year.

The big picture: Sports betting is driving a new content industry. Betting on a sports event increases the likelihood of watching it on TV, according to a new telecommunications, media and technology report from Deloitte.

  • Media companies are already looking for ways to create content that will satisfy sports gambling fans. CBS launched its first-ever sports gambling show on its streaming platform earlier this year. The Action Network, a subscription service for sports betters, made waves last month when it signed ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell.
  • Non-media companies, like DraftKings and FanDuel, are beginning to integrate more live and on-demand media content into their betting experiences.
  • "You're also likely to see an increase in esports betting and content," says Jeff Loucks, the executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Technology, Media and Telecommunications.

Leagues are expanding, and getting choosier. Sports leagues that have traditionally distributed their content to pay-TV providers are thinking more strategically about licensing their content to digital streamers where it will eventually get wider mass distribution.

  • The New York Post reported Monday that MLB is considering giving individual teams streaming rights. Many teams, as the Post's Josh Kosman points out, already have stakes in their own regional sports networks, which makes this dynamic complicated.
  • The NFL has led the charge in licensing its Thursday night games exclusively to Twitter last year and then Amazon this year and again next year. To accommodate the needs of die-hard fantasy sports fans, two new football leagues are expected to debut in the next two years — the Alliance of American Football and the XFL, per the Washington Post.

Regional sports networks are losing value: As it turns out, Fox may not be getting the types of bids it wants for its 22 regional sports networks that it has to divest as a part of its deal with Disney.

  • The high cost of RSNs distorts the value of the traditional cable bundle, writes BTIG Media Analyst Rich Greenfield. "If anyone buys the channels beyond a large network owner such as Fox, the RSNs will almost undoubtedly be tiered – great for consumers, but devastating to the new RSN owner," which needs to maintain maximum distribution.

Football is keeping the lights on: Despite weak November ratings for cable and broadcast networks last month, NFL ratings continue to grow, according to research firm MoffettNathanson.

  • Ratings are up 5% so far this season as of last week, particularly on Sundays. This may be due in part, according to the firm, because news network ratings have been down in the -10% to -20% range for the better part of this year.

Go deeper: The high-stakes game for sports betting dollars