Couple on sofa with TV remote

Why Is it So Hard to Add Locals to Live TV Streaming Services? We Answer Your Questions


Two of the main questions I get are why is this local not live on a live TV streaming service, and why are some locals owned by a channel streamed in some markets but not in others.

I want to try to explain why adding locals is so difficult and why one company will have some but not all of their locals streaming.

This is not something most companies like to talk about, so we are pulling this information from in-person conversations with people inside the industry who have asked not to be identified.

#1 Contracts

To get a local streaming on a live TV service, such as DIRECTV NOW, Hulu, or PlayStation Vue, the first thing that needs to happen is a deal needs to be made with each owner.

It is likely that your local ABC or NBC affiliate is owned by Disney or NBCUniversal. Most locals are owned by smaller broadcast companies who pay for the rights to the ABC name and ABC programming. That means each live TV service needs a contract with your local channel owner before they can stream them online.

According to our contacts, negotiations for contracts is the most time-consuming part of the deal.

#2 Getting Set Up

Once a deal is made with the channel owner, a new dedicated connection to that local needs to be established. This means new equipment needs to be installed at the local station.

You may be wondering why they can’t just use the feed they have for their traditional pay-TV service. I’m not sure if this is true for all live TV services that also have a traditional pay-TV option but from what we have heard the streaming side is at a different location and needs its own feed.

These are also no minor set ups. TV companies require these connections to be highly secure and tested to prevent the feed from being pirated online.

According to our sources and what we have seen it takes about two months from the signing of a contract to the stream showing up on a live TV streaming service.

#3 Final Steps

The work to stream a local does not stop once they get a feed from the local. To honor contracts and regulations, live TV services need to be careful to only offer locals in the correct markets.

For example, a local ABC owner in Grand Rapids, Michigan would be upset to find out that a live TV service was offering the Chicago ABC feed inside the market they paid for.

So live TV services have to take steps to ensure that the correct market will get the live feed. This often means carefully hand coding what areas get what locals.

#4 Going Live

Once the feed is done for one station some services such as DIRECTV NOW will put the station live as they continue to work on the next station. Other services have a history of waiting until they have a group of locals ready to go live at once. So even if a station is ready to go live, the service may wait a week or even a month or more to make it public.

So what can you do to speed up the process?

First, contact the local affiliate you want. Politely let them know you want their service on DIRECTV NOW, Hulu, fuboTV, PlayStation Vue, or other live streaming service. Next, contact the service and let them know you want your local stations.

While your actions won’t make it happen overnight, if the affiliate and service keep hearing from subscribers they will be more likely to add your local.

There you go… a quick breakdown of what needs to happen to stream a local online.

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  • Ed Stevens

    What about PBS local stations?

    I think there’s a typo – “it is likely” makes more sense if it is “it is unlikely” your locals are owned by nbc or abc…

  • Spencer Karter

    My reply. The NAB and outdated Retransmission Consent regime is the problem. Same for Nielsen’s DMA too (especially for those living in orphan counties like Pike County, PA is part of NYC TV market for example) and I wish the barriers need to be broken ASAP. I still have issues with The National Association of Broadcasters as well. NAB’s “We Are Broadcasters” is a joke. That’s just my two cents!

  • Fred Koot

    Too many people want their cut, The local affiliate, Nfl, networks, goverment. Also do we know for a fact that OTT services arent picking up the sattelite feed like traditional cable companies than transcoding and uploading the stream

    • Mike Thaler

      That’s what I wonder. Since Directv already has feeds for almost all locals for their satellite side of the operation, why not use that?

  • Taxes and fees!

  • Phuq_Me

    Ah bull$hit. Why is is that Vue, Hulu and Youtube can have at least some Nashville locals and DirecTV Now has ZERO? Can’t say it’s contracts. Obviously Hulu, Vue and Youtube didn’t have an issue with contracts.The local that said yes to youtube, Vue and Hulu is suddenly having cold feet with DirecTv Now? Where’s that friggen logic coming from?

  • Vegas Steve

    I seem to recall in the ‘old days’ when I had DirecTV satellite (talking 20 years ago), if you couldn’t receive your locals OTA, they would provide you with a national feed of that network. If locals are going to dig in their heels about providing a product freely distributed over the air, then the TV providers need to spend a few bucks to get Congress off their duffs to allow for the national feeds until they can get locals. The current system is antiquated and needs to be fixed.

    • jimmacey

      The old days were very ‘short-lived’. First Congress started forcing you to get local station permission to view the big-city transmissions… Our local Fox engineer rejected all requests out of hand! Then the Repubs followed-up (Remember Trent Lott) with a policy and law that the local station “owned” you if you were in their ‘claimed’ area of reception. The outcry at the enactment of this policy led to negotiations among the locals and Direct & Dish to get the locals carried.

      • Vegas Steve

        Well, at least I remembered it correctly! lol

  • Elmer Phudd

    The major broadcasters use an old broadcast model that has worked for them for decades and like most major media companies they are either reluctant and very slow to adapt to the way people now consume media. In the end they either adapt or die, along with the other dinosaurs.

  • craig2web

    After trying Sling TV’s free preview Sunday, can’t really see the appeal of these live TV services. There really wasn’t much of anything worth watching that I could see.

    • Mike Thaler

      How about NEWS and sports?

      • craig2web

        Never got the appeal of sports, and there’s certainly plenty of it available OTA and online for free from a number of legitimate sources. Can’t see shelling out $20-40+/month for it – that’s a significant chunk of change.

        I see the appeal of news, but again, lots available both OTA and online for free – can’t see shelling out $20+/month for it. Now if one of these live streaming services would offer a super skinny bundle of just news & weather for say $5/month, that would have broad appeal and something I would consider. Better yet, pure a la carte with most channels available for $1/month would be the ideal. Maybe someday…

    • Carl Brenda

      The appeal is to save money. Now if you are making the argument that there isn’t anything worth watching on television period, that’s could be a valid argument. Directv Now has every channel that I currently get on cable for half the price. Drawback is there are only 2 streams available at once. If that ever changes, I’m out!

      • craig2web

        Not that there isn’t anything worth watching period, my point was more why bother with live TV that will set you back at least $20-40+/month, when you can subscribe to Amazon Prime or regular Hulu or Netflix for $6-8/month? Just seems like live TV is a really bad ripoff.

        • Carl Brenda

          Because you can’t watch live programming as it airs on those services. You have to wait a specified amount of time and it could be available only for a specified amount of time. Example: I like watching the Big Bang Theory on Monday. Not available on Hulu or Amazon Prime. The services you named are more for binge watching. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t have the time to binge watch. So I like to have whatever I want to watch available when I am able to watch. There is no wrong answer. Everyone choose what works for them.

          • craig2web

            They are great for binge watching a single show, but I use mine to watch a single episode of 5-6 different shows each night. Besides my subscription, I occasionally buy favorite shows when they’re cheap to supplement my cue. I just picked up the first season of iZombie for $5, and several seasons of Modern Family for $10 a piece. And since you mentioned the show, on a lark, I checked the price on Big Bang Theory, and the first season is currently marked down to $10 in HD and only $8 in SD.

  • ElmerFuddIII

    “These are also no minor set ups. TV companies require these connections to be highly secure and tested to prevent the feed from being pirated online.”
    Really? The end stream goes live over an antenna for anyone to grab within 70 miles, but online piracy is a problem? This isn’t a bank transaction, it’s a commercial laden stream of mostly garbage.

  • NCAviator

    Luke;
    Thanks for trying to educate us on Cord Cutting. I think you only touched the surface with this article. Work your industry contacts. There is a BIG story here. What really is the underlying current. Is it the NAB, FCC, NTCT, others or all of the above?

    I recommend you get inside the streaming industry. Find sources that will go on the record or do it anonymously.

    I don’t think this is a technical issue. It is about money and control. Every inflection point and technology changes has winners and losers. There are always fights and conflict.

    Maybe we need to form an association and lobby group. The NACC (National Association of Cord Cutters)