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post #1 of 10 Old 11-15-2012, 08:14 AM - Thread Starter
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came across this article on The Verge. Thought it was pretty interesting point of view, especially since we have quite a few cord cutters, and others who want to, but want or need their live sports.
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Why the future of live sports is in ESPN's hands
By David Pierce on November 14, 2012 11:11 am
livesports_reports_lead_large_large.jpg
It's the most common retort to cord-cutters, the first word of caution to anyone looking to get rid of their cable subscription: live sports. You'll spend a lot of time in bars, I tell people, because without a cable subscription watching games becomes virtually impossible.

There's still a lot of truth to the statement — live sports are the least-supported thing most cable-cancellers might want — but there's a surprisingly large amount of content out there available without a cable subscription. Of course, when you add up the costs of getting the games you want, you're probably better off just getting cable again, but the idea that you can only watch sports on your television is quickly becoming antiquated.

On August 26, 2002, 30,000 fans watched the Yankees beat the Rangers online, using Major League Baseball's brand-new MLB.TV service. The innovative platform made out-of-market games accessible to expatriot fans, even allowing you to watch the game as called by your hometown announcers. There are plenty of extra features, too, which let you track stats and follow other games while you watch. MLB.TV is now ten years old, has streamed more than 25,000 games, and is now available on phones, tablets, desktop PCs, Roku, and your Xbox.

But the service isn't perfect. Because MLB teams have huge TV deals in their local markets, local games are almost always blacked out — if you live in New York, you can't watch Yankee games because YES owns the rights exclusively. Playoffs have their own restrictions, and it's often not possible to watch a game just because it's after 5PM on a Saturday. Plenty of games are available, but it's far from the seamless, "every game everywhere" experience many baseball fans hoped for. MLB.TV is also expensive, at $124.99 per season for high-bandwidth streaming of games.

FOLLOWING BASEBALL'S LEAD

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Other leagues have followed suit, bringing games, commentary, and information to multiple platforms. The NFL's Sunday Ticket package gives you access to out-of-market football games every Sunday, the NBA League Pass does the same all week for professional basketball, and the NHL GameCenter platform brings hockey to all of your devices. Even Major League Soccer has MLS Live for streaming soccer games.

For better and for worse, each league took its cues from Major League Baseball. Every service is available on at least one game console or set-top box, all have mobile apps, and they make it easy to switch between games or add new stats and features to the viewing experience. But they all black out local games, and they have so many restrictions that it's nearly impossible to figure out when you can actually watch games. The biggest barrier to entry, though, is the price. To subscribe to the NFL Sunday Ticket, MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, and NHL GameCenter, even assuming you already have the plethora of gadgets you'd need to access all the content, would cost you $632.94 a year. Don't forget: that doesn't include any local games, Thursday Night Football, All-Star Games, and a lot more.

A number of the leagues even still require you have a cable subscription, offering their package as an add-on to your existing services. That's slowly changing, though: the NFL's Sunday Ticket and RedZone channel are now available to PlayStation 3 owners whether or not they're DirecTV subscribers (though you're still buying it through DirecTV), and MLB.TV doesn't require cable either.

The restricting factor for all live sports is TV deals. Every league makes millions or billions of dollars from ESPN, TBS, NBC, and countless other networks that want a monopoly over the broadcasts of their sports. In our diffuse media world, where everything is available whenever we want it, live sports are one of only a few things that qualify as "appointment viewing." That kind of engaged, current audience is incredibly valuable to advertisers, and networks aren't keen on sharing that attention with league-provided streaming services.

As long as TV remains the biggest source of leagues' revenue in the US (and that won't change anytime soon), broadcast companies will control how and where games are broadcast. That's why it won't be the NHL, or MLB, or NFL that take the steps necessary to make live sports a true streaming reality — it'll be ESPN

ESPN HOLDS THE KEY

Watch-ESPN-App.jpg
Disney's sports giant has the money, the reach, and the relationships with leagues large and small to steer the way we consume content. To its credit, ESPN has always been praised for being forward-thinking: it was quick to embrace the internet, mobile, tablets, and even streaming. The company was including mobile streaming in its deals with leagues before mobile streaming even meant anything, and now it's paying off — 98 percent of ESPN's content is also available on its WatchESPN app, which is available on phones, tablets, and just about anything with a browser.

But you can't get WatchESPN without a cable subscription, and you probably never will. Cable companies are ESPN's biggest source of revenue (more than $5 per subscriber per month), and as long as that's the case the company's not likely to change its stance. There won't likely be a time when you can pay $5 or $10 for an ESPN app or channel, because it simply doesn't make financial sense for ESPN and Disney.

ESPN might be the pied piper for a different kind of strategy, though. Rather than cutting cable and paying only for what you want (the "a la carte" model), you'd pay one price and get everything, everywhere. Yes, you need cable to get WatchESPN, but once you've logged in you're effectively untethered from your TV. Your cable bill buys you access to all the things you want to watch, wherever you want to watch them, on whatever device you choose. And because it's the company setting the restrictions for the leagues, ESPN's platform doesn't have weird local blackouts, or odd weekend restrictions — you just watch ESPN as you always have.

ESPN and its competitors are in near-total control of how we watch live sports going forward — and that might actually be a good thing for fans. It does mean cable’s not going away — there’s virtually no incentive for ESPN to decouple itself from the industry that pays it so handsomely, even for the subscribers who don’t care about sports — but it also means your cable subscription may soon offer sports beyond your TV. Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon and the like haven't made much headway with their TV everywhere packages, but rich networks are already beginning to buy broadcast deals from leagues that give them the right to stream sports to anyone who wants to watch, on any device, at any time. You might always have to pay extra to watch out-of-market games, but if you just want to watch the Giants game while standing in line at the DMV you might soon be in luck.

Unfortunately, though, you’re still going to have to pay Time Warner or Comcast for the privilege.

Although you can't say the article is right, you can't say it's wrong. I agree ESPN holds a lot of influence over streaming of sports.

The article did error about how you get WatchESPN. It's correct you cannot get it directly from ESPN. What it requires is you internet service provider to pay for it, which then gives it access to it's customers. The cable subscription part of ESPN is for access to ESPN, ESPN2, EPSNU, not EPSN3. This means just live sporting events, and thus no Sports Center or other original programming from ESPN.

It's true these online sports packages cost money. But if your team(s) play out of market, and you wanted to watch all their games, you're going to buy them anyway. For example, for me to have EPSN through Comcast, the cheapest TV package would cost me $821.88. And that package doesn't include all sports channels such as EPSNU, EPSNews or Speed (I like watching motocycle road racing). Plus, I end up with over a hundred channels of stuff I don't watch.

The local sports team can be problematic as the article states because of the local TV contracts and blackouts. Without getting into legality of it, but these can be circumvented using VPN services. This adds to the cost to be a cable cutter, yet keep all the sports. Plus, one will want to get the international packages, which are not all sold in the USA dollar, which means extra fees from your credit card for current exchange rates.

The nice thing, all these sports packages now include mobile platforms, so you can watch sports on the go. There are ways to watch anywhere, even for local games. Some leagues, such as the NFL, will even include the NFL Network (depending on location). Others include additional content such as the NFL and the NFL Combine, MotoGP with practice and qualifying runs.

The bad part, it helps to have some tech savvy since one is going to need a computer. It's not always going to have nicest or easiest user interface, especially when trying to work around black outs. A bit more savvy if trying to do the same on mobile platforms.

Personally, I probably spend a good chunk less now then when I had regular cable service because of the extra packages I wanted for sports, and boxes. Plus, now I'm paying for what I want to watch only and I get access to it pretty much everywhere I want. And if I compare what I spend now to the cable package above, it's about the same, so I see it a convince fee, to give it a name, to have that a la carte.

On a side note, I don't know many soccer fans that just watch one league, especially just MLS, which is pretty cheap online. I think Fox Soccer 2Go is a really good value considering how many leagues and games it gives access to for the $180. I haven't used it myself, but on paper looks to be better than other sports packages.
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post #2 of 10 Old 11-15-2012, 08:31 AM
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It wasn't that long ago (last year) when you could get sold out Laker games (all of them) in HD with an antenna and tuner. Now TWCSportsnet chimes in a buys up that contract and you need a Cable Subscription to watch these games. IFAIK, there is no unline streaming of this content right now but the point is that it used to be FREE and now you have to have a cable subscription to get it and they did not remove any commmercial breaks.. those are still all there.
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post #3 of 10 Old 11-15-2012, 09:04 AM
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Very good post, but like you noted for the time being this is only really relevant to those who live away from the teams they support.

Heres a round of up of what a cord cutter in Pittsburgh (like myself - cancelled cable tv last week) could see:

Pittsburgh Steelers - the primary broadcaster of every game will be NBC, CBS, or Fox. The local CBS affiliate will air the NFL Network game(s) and the local ABC affiliate will air the ESPN/MNF games

Pittsburgh Pirates - nothing but the rare national broadcasts on Fox

Pittsburgh Penguins - a handful of nationally televised games on NBC and occasionally games on the local CW affiliate when there is a contractual scheduling conflict.

Pitt basketball - some games on ESPN 3, some on local broadcast stations such as the ABC affiliate (or its digital substation)

Pitt football - some games on ESPN 3, some on the ABC affiliate (or it's digital substation), the Notre Dame game on NBC

Even for out of market fans, like you noted, there are national tv contracts in play. I know a few Penguins fans who subscribed to NHL Game Center Live (the NHL's online streaming offered on Google TV, Roku, etc). Even after paying "full price" for it, they will miss over a third of the games - over 30 of them last season were shown on NBC, NBC Sports Network (versus), or the NHL Network and all were blacked out online. NHL Network will often air desirable games nationally outside of the local market, so the Penguins were still on their local station in Pittsburgh, but fans in Toledo or Sacramento could watch on the NHL Network.

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post #4 of 10 Old 11-15-2012, 05:45 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sammy2 View Post

It wasn't that long ago (last year) when you could get sold out Laker games (all of them) in HD with an antenna and tuner. Now TWCSportsnet chimes in a buys up that contract and you need a Cable Subscription to watch these games. IFAIK, there is no unline streaming of this content right now but the point is that it used to be FREE and now you have to have a cable subscription to get it and they did not remove any commercial breaks.. those are still all there.

Well, being an out of market, third generation fan, it's not much better since they get a lot of national games. Last year, I got a see a few games when they were on NBC or ESPN (via Sprint Mobile TV).

As a sports fan, this is where using a VPN is so nice. I'm able to give "the sprots man" the finger. The PC is not very difficult to get around the blackouts. The mobile platform is getting more tricky because the sports are getting wise to the traditional methods. But it's another cost, which runs anywhere from $8 to $15 a month. I'm on the lower end since I buy annual subscriptions because I watch sports all year round.

As some one who lives in the Bay Area, it's really bad for local teams. You can watch most SF Gaints games since the local NBC affiliate carries them. Oakland As, none (which is the one I follow). SF 49ers all of them; the team has some arrangement where seats are bought to meet the blackout lifts. Oakland Raiders, most games, but no arrangements to lift blackouts. SJ Sharks, they're on NBCSports or Comcast. Occasionally on NBC. College teams, not many since the Pac 12 has it's own network. You can get the occasional SJ State game. Warriors is usually on TNT or NBA TV. They get a rare NBC or ESPN.

As for commercials, they're always there. Cable always has commercials unless it's premium channel. You're paying access, not the programming. A nice thing about internal sports packages, most don't have commercials. They still have commercials, but because of the contracts, they can't show them. So you get screen there's a break. It's odd at first, but I've grown to enjoy it.
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post #5 of 10 Old 11-15-2012, 07:41 PM
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It's frustrating that a few companies are single handedly keeping the leverage in cable providers' hands. I understand the business aspect, but it also stifles innovation IMO.
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post #6 of 10 Old 11-16-2012, 06:35 AM
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Originally Posted by pofe333 View Post

It's frustrating that a few companies are single handedly keeping the leverage in cable providers' hands. I understand the business aspect, but it also stifles innovation IMO.

The local teams have their tv deals too. I think it would be great if individual sports teams sold streaming subscriptions directly to fans the same way the sell season tickets.

About a year or two ago the Penguins signed a really long term deal with a former Fox Sports Net affiliate now called Root Sports (the same network that carries the Pirates locally). I doubt it has any language in it allowing fans to subscribe directly to streaming games.

I think the teams (and even networks) would welcome streaming subscriptions directly to fans ala carte, but only if it was incremental/in addition to the subscriptions they currently get from tradition cable companies. That's why they allow the out of market stuff.

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Originally Posted by lovekeiiy View Post

As a sports fan, this is where using a VPN is so nice. I'm able to give "the sprots man" the finger. The PC is not very difficult to get around the blackouts. The mobile platform is getting more tricky because the sports are getting wise to the traditional methods. But it's another cost, which runs anywhere from $8 to $15 a month. I'm on the lower end since I buy annual subscriptions because I watch sports all year round.

I know the NHL has pretty strong language in their TOS about not doing this. They will fine you if caught and allegedly report you. Not sure what, exactly, they'd be reporting you for, but it was harsh enough to get me to give up trying that and subscribe to cable a while back.

As a funny NHL/cord cutter aside:

Like I mentioned I just cancelled my Comcast tv subscription. When I called to cancel the rep asked me why and I said it was simple:
1) I subscribed to it to watch NHL hockey. I am not getting what I paid for because,
2) Your company, who owns the Philadelphia Flyers, and 29 others are locking the players out, cancelling games and risking forfeiture of the season.
3) By cancelling I eliminate something I'm not using and voicing my displeasure at the lockout.

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post #7 of 10 Old 11-16-2012, 10:10 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pittsoccer33 View Post

]...
Like I mentioned I just cancelled my Comcast tv subscription. When I called to cancel the rep asked me why and I said it was simple:
1) I subscribed to it to watch NHL hockey. I am not getting what I paid for because,
2) Your company, who owns the Philadelphia Flyers, and 29 others are locking the players out, cancelling games and risking forfeiture of the season.
3) By cancelling I eliminate something I'm not using and voicing my displeasure at the lockout.

I like it. Pretty funny.

Here are the TOS sections for the NHL and MLB regarding blackout circumvention. Very similar in language. The NFL and NBA weren't so explicit. Just a few things to imply, but mainly if it's not in the TOS as allowable, it's prohibited. But most of it focused in unauthorized use of the logos or redistribution of copyright material. On a side note, they all said they governing law is New York.

NHL
Quote:
Blackout restrictions apply to Services which allow you to watch video of live games, or highlights, such as NHL GameCenter Live or NHL GameCenter Premium respectively. Blackout restrictions are designed to protect the television rightsholders of the games.
Quote:
IF YOU CIRCUMVENT OR ATTEMPT TO CIRCUMVENT ANY BLACKOUT RESTRICTION OR OTHER USE RESTRICTION: YOUR SUBSCRIPTION WILL BE SUBJECT TO IMMEDIATE TERMINATION AND A CHARGE OF ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($100.00) FOR EARLY TERMINATION WILL BE APPLIED TO YOUR CREDIT CARD; YOU MAY BE SUBJECT TO LEGAL ACTION; AND NHL ICE RESERVES THE RIGHT TO REPORT SUCH MISCONDUCT TO APPROPRIATE LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITIES

MLB
Quote:
IF YOU CIRCUMVENT, OR ATTEMPT TO CIRCUMVENT, ANY BLACKOUT RESTRICTION OR OTHER USE RESTRICTION: YOUR SUBSCRIPTION WILL BE SUBJECT TO IMMEDIATE TERMINATION AND A CHARGE OF ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($100.00) FOR EARLY TERMINATION; YOU MAY BE SUBJECT TO LEGAL ACTION; AND MLBAM RESERVES THE RIGHT TO REPORT SUCH MISCONDUCT TO APPROPRIATE LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITIES.

Basically, were still at the same point of where does using, say a VPN, to use services not available because of blackouts, to watch at home, a private residence, not a public commercial venue. There may be a criminal law it falls under, but I'm just not aware of it. Then again, I'm not a district attorney (or any attorney). My assumption, they'll cancel my subscription, charge me some fee, and tell me I'm a bad boy.. Maybe try to sue me if I keep doing it and getting caught.

I'm not going to say I'll never get caught. I have been doing this for over two years for the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. I use my USA credit card to pay for it too. I've written them to get out of autorenewals. One time, I sent two emails to one league get out of it for two different services, which one was available in the USA, the other not, using the same email address. Only one time I lied about my location because I paid for something I didn't need to, and had to come up with excuse to get a refund.

Yes, it can be construed as possibly immoral or wrong. But since I'm still paying for the service to watch, I don't feel bad. I'm not redistributing the material. The argument in harm could be to the local TV provider(s) and possible putting in jeopardy the TV contracts, but may need do to more class action to show significant harm.

Overall, I just don't worry about it. It's kind of hard to find the needle in the very large hay stack mountain.
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post #8 of 10 Old 11-16-2012, 10:52 PM
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Boxing used to be on TV every weekend. I remember watching Cassius Clay knock out Sonny Liston on live TV and started a sports phenomenon that was Muhammad Ali. Then boxing went to pay-per-view. Nobody cares about boxing anymore. I've been a cord cutter for a very long time for my own reasons and I see the other major sports going down the same road as boxing. I first lost interest in the NBA when all the teams went to all cable except for a single national game weekly. I rarely watch baseball anymore for the same reason. Pro football is still relatively plentiful to watch free and I enjoy Nascar races when they are on, but with the loss of the college bowl games last winter, I no longer follow college football. Look at the crowds at major sporting events. See many young kids? I don't. All these sports are dying but nobody will admit it. The media networks are simply extracting as much money as they can before it all crashes unless something is done to make them more accessible. ESPN can't see the forest for the trees.
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post #9 of 10 Old 11-17-2012, 06:18 AM
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Hate ESPN, love Sports.

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post #10 of 10 Old 11-17-2012, 07:45 AM - Thread Starter
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there will be sports, and do well. Pay-per-view is hard sell unless there is something to build up to it. I think that's why wrestling seems to do well. Boxing doesn't have it, unless you watch Spanish TV.

Being on a cable network isn't any kind of death nail or hindrance unless not all the TV service providers don't offer the channel, such as the NFL Network. The reason being, I think most people have standard cable. My guess is probably pretty even with the OTA and limited basic cable people.

I think where sports has issues is there are so many one can follow. Under normal years, right now, we would see NFL, NBA, NHL, and Soccer/football all competing for our attention. That's not including all college sports or other small sports leagues.
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