Wolk’s Week in Review: Amazon knows a Diamond deal when they see one, Mark Thompson reveals CNN 2.0

Wolk's Week In Review

1. Amazon Knows A Diamond Deal When They See One

So Amazon is coming in like a great big white knight to rescue Diamond Sports from the Big Bad Bankruptcy Court. 

In exchange for what is likely pocket change for Amazon, Diamond will give them the rights to sell subscriptions to their streaming RSN apps, all of which will then be integrated into Amazon’s Prime Video interface.

Which, given Amazon’s massive move into ad-supported streaming later this month, is a very good outcome for Diamond, but an even better one for Amazon.


There are a whole lot of “But What Ifs” around the deal that could see it blowing up, but unless they actually happen, it’s a win for everyone, especially fans.

Why it matters

Let’s start off with a quick review of how we got here.

Sinclair, the country’s largest collector of local TV stations, bought Fox Sports’ 21 regional sports networks (RSNs) for $9.6 billion from Disney after Disney bought much of Fox back in 2019.

Owning RSNs used to be incredibly lucrative as MVPDs were more or less forced to carry them in even their most basic tiers, thus ensuring billions in affiliate fees every year.

The flip side, of course, was that carrying them added $25 or more to consumers already sky high cable bills and so non-sports fans were starting to rebel.

By 2019 Sinclair should have read the writing on the wall, but clearly they did not, and they seemed caught unawares as MVPDs like Dish, Hulu and YouTube TV started dropping the RSNs.

This unfortunate turn of events led to Sinclair’s decision to launch 19 of their RSNs as streaming apps under the Diamond Sports umbrella (Diamond is a separate company) and to bring in Ballys (the gambling company not the Swiss fashion brand) to run it with them.

Interest in streaming RSNs varied from market to market but was not high and so Diamond was soon in deep financial trouble and, after much drama, eventually wound up filing for bankruptcy. 

Enter Amazon, who showed up just in time to rescue them from ignominy.

So there’s that and there’s the fact that it is unclear whether the NBA, NHL and (especially) MLB will work with them past this year, versus venturing out on their own.

But in the meantime, Amazon has just notched another W.

For those of you who’ve not been paying attention, in about 10 days, Amazon is going to switch all of its Prime users from ad-free to ad-supported. You can pay an extra $3/month to remain ad-free, but our estimation is that not many people will do that—30% at most.

So figure something like 60 million new ad-supported streaming viewers.

All of whom will now be able to access their favorite RSN via Amazon 

Who will not only be able to collect a vig on the streaming fees, but also now gets massive amounts of data from all those fans watching all those games.

And by “all those games” I’m not talking about once a week Thursday Night Football during Q4.

I’m talking about multiple games for multiple hours every week for seven months straight, more if there are playoffs involved.

So a lot of hours watching ads that Amazon is quite likely to have a hand in serving up. Either directly or by providing the targeting data. Targeting data that will become even more valuable at IPv4 sails off into the sunset.

A very sweet deal for not a whole lot of effort.

What you need to do about it

If you’re Amazon, try not to gloat. This is a great deal, even PR-wise, as the spin has you as the hero of this story, dashing in to save the RSN from ruin.

If you’re one of the leagues, think long and hard before committing to running your own streaming app. Tech/content plays are never as simple as they look and the audience for streaming just isn’t there yet—new stats show the New Orleans Pelicans scoring far more viewers on old school broadcast than on streaming. Which is not surprising because most major league sports fans are pretty old. Like over 50 years old.

So there’s that too.

If you’re a fan, this is good news for you too as either way you probably win— I can’t imagine that the leagues won’t offer a hybrid plan with games both on streaming apps and broadcast. 

Which is why if you’re a local broadcast station or an MVPD that carries said station, this is good news for you too.

2. Mark Thompson Reveals CNN 2.0 

So it seems that new CNN chief Mark Thompson was listening when I suggested he focus on the dog’s breakfast that is the CNN website, given that most people no longer get the bulk of their news from TV.

Not really—you did not need to be all that clever to figure that one out—but his new plan for CNN has them turning into a far less TV-centric platform.

This is again not all that surprising.

Thompson is, after all, the man who saved the New York Times by moving the company into podcasts and videos and twee cooking stories that overuse the word “cozy” by a factor of 10.

But I digress.

Why it matters

The success of CNN is in many ways key to the success of WBD, and, by extension, Max. 

The ability to access a mini-MVPD’s worth of content, from Entertainment (HBO, HGTV, TNT) to sports (Bleacher Report) to news (CNN) is the key to Max’s future.

A revived CNN, which actually starts making money and becomes something that appeals to an audience that is not well past retirement age is going to be a big boon to WBD and its bottom line.

It’s also a chance to reinvent the way Americans view TV news, in all senses of the word “view” which will benefit the industry at large, and quite possibly the country, which is in need of a way to get news that isn’t courtesy of an easily trolled social media site.

There’s a lot that still needs to be figured out, but Thompson seems to be on the right track, realizing that it is 2024, not 1994, and looking at CNN as a business, not a TV network. 

Some things to look out for are what happens to the digital product, how does CNN Max differ from CNN on cable, and are there any spinoffs of niche services like travel or shopping. (CNN, for example, has its own version of the NYT’s Wirecutter called “CNN Underscored” which focuses more on deals than ratings, but who doesn’t love a good shopping app?)

What you need to do about it

If you’re Thompson, keep on keeping on. Everything you are saying so far seems to make sense, even in regards to CNN’s massively flagging ratings. (He told the WSJ that “There are some viewers out there who simply don’t want to hear the other side, don’t want to hear it, and feel much more comfortable in an environment where typically they’re hearing people whose opinions are very close to their own.")

That, and you seem to have gotten rid of those Outbrain ads at the bottom of every article on the website, so kudos on removing that credibility-killer.

If you’re one of the other national news networks, watch and learn—cable news is a dying business because cable is a dying business, meaning it is time to figure out what your next steps will be.

Alan Wolk is co-founder and lead analyst at the consulting firm TV[R]EV. He is the author of the best-selling industry primer, Over The Top: How The Internet Is (Slowly But Surely) Changing The Television Industry. Wolk frequently speaks about changes in the television industry, both at conferences and to anyone who’ll listen.

Week in Review is an opinion column. It does not necessarily represent the opinions of StreamTV Insider.