Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Sling vs Fubo vs Hulu

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 10.15.2017

Being a sports fan and a cord cutter has it’s advantages but it also has it’s downsides. One of those downsides is that you may have to have more than one service in order to get all of the channels required to watch the games you’d want to watch (depending on the sport and your fan level). While that sounds simple enough, switching between the two apps is not exactly quick or simple and there is still the issue of user experience and that whole buffering thing. But if you get tired of the service, dropping it and signing up for another one takes a whole five minutes.

I have been a Sling TV user for about two years now. After a slow start and the occasional reboot, I have found the service a solid investment. The only knock on Sling from my perspective is that it doesn’t have CBS Sports Network or the Big Ten Network. To that end, I subscribed to another service, Fubo TV, in late summer.

Fubo TV touts itself as the ‘sports fan’ service. Or at least that’s the feeling I get from their ad’s and imagery. Fubo was going well, they had some of the channels I was missing with Sling and more of the financial channels like CNBC and Fox Business. Their interface lacked a lot. Want to go between channels, you have to completely exit that channel, scroll for the next one, and then click on two different screens.

 

Fubo TV’s downfall for me came during two weeks earlier this year. First, I was doing everything I could to stay awake for the end of the Texas vs USC matchup and on USC’s final drive in regulation, the feed went out. Fubo TV allows the user, at least in the Denver metro area, to get the local CBS and Fox affiliate. I was laying in bed when the feed went out and dragged myself out of bed and to the couch to watch overtime on the over-the-ar signal.

The next weekend during the afternoon, the service went out all together. A tweet confirmed the outage and also confirmed my switching over to Hulu.

Hulu is one of the relatively newer OTT services. While the interface is more stylistic than Fubo TV’s, it’s confusing and you still cannot watch a channel and look for another show without completely exiting the channel. Sling TV’s interface allows you to do this and to this point, I find it far superior to Fubo TV or Hulu’s.

Hulu’s service to this point I have found stable and reliable. It is geared more towards the non-sport fan but you can at least set your own channel listing. Drawbacks include when you click on a game, if the TV listing says it’s over and it’s not, you have to go to the channel directly instead of the game itself. Another is you have to dig for the beta live TV service to watch live TV on a web browser and if you’re OTT device is an Apple TV….we’ll that’s not going to end well.

Another drawback is that when you first start Hulu, after a few moments of viewing, I regularly encounter a buffer screen.

It’s annoying and in the middle of a play, soul crushing, but nothing outside of the realm of fixability.

To go a little Bill O’Reily on you, here’s the bottom line:

Sling TV is thus far the best service as far as reliability and user experiencE are concerned. It’s drawbacks are the amount of people who can watch at one time, time shifting (backing up a play so you can see that amazing catch one more time) and the lack of the Big Ten Network, CBS Sports Network and local channels.

Fubo TV lacks in stability, user interface and the lack of ESPN channels. The first two were so bad that I went to another service.

Hulu has a slick interface that was designed by someone who clearly wants to show off their design skills. It has local channels and just about every sports channel you’d want except PAC 12 Network and NFL RedZone.

If you are going to go with one service, Hulu might be it but it’s hard to push Sling TV aside especially if user experience is important to you.

The good news is that if you want to change services, it takes about 15 minutes.

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Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Coming True

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 8.7.2017

In a post back in May I pointed out how the little guys were primed for big things when it came to over-the-top (OTT) services. I thought this might be six months off but I was wrong. Two months later The Big Sky Conference signed a deal to have all of their football and basketball games shown on Pluto TV which can be found on just about every OTT device (Roku, Amazon Fire, etc). It’s a trend that will continue and the time for your own private sports channel is finally worth doing.

While the Big Sky Conference isn’t going to bring huge numbers to Pluto TV, it is a niche group. The alumni from Eastern Washington who now lives in Austin,Texas can see their Eagles square off against Portland State. The Montana State Bobcat alum who lives in Sacramento, doesn’t have to make the trek to Bozeman to see them take on Montana in November. It may not seem all that impressive but it’s giving consumers what they want which means they will probably stick around longer which means you can sell more ads and generate more revenue.

The National Lacrosse League (NLL) is showing how to make your own network by using the right combination of platforms to reach your audience. As a recent Bloomberg article pointed out that the NLL is able to charge customers a $35 subscription to watch the league’s OTT channel but it also gives fans a game a week live on Twitter for free.

People are starting to see not just the economic benefit that moving to a straight OTT platform can provide but also the indirect revenue that it can generate.

Mountain West Championship 2016

One of the major topics of discussion that this years Mountain West Conference media days was the possible move away from traditional broadcast partners and to their own OTT channel. Why? Well one of the biggest complaints coming out of the conference the last few years has been the kick off times. Boise State currently has five games scheduled for kick off 8pm or later and three games on week nights. When you get into October and November, it’s not exactly getting any warmer in the mountains when the sun goes down and fans are starting to stay home. That means less revenue from tickets, concessions, parking, etc. Fans have been complaining about this for a few years now and by the sound of it, Commissioner Craig Thompson is listening.

Each conference and league looks at cord cutting a different way but in the end it’s all about one thing, money. Whether it’s about holding on to revenue or if it’s about generating more, each league and conference needs to come up with their own acceptance criteria of what’s best for them. The good news is that there are plenty of platforms and plenty of combinations to try to find out which one is going to suit them the best.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Carnage and Opportunity

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 5.23.2017


It’s what they call in Washington a ‘True Fact’ that cord cutting is affecting the sports world in a major way. North America’s biggest sport rights holder, ESPN, is front and center in this battle of the cord cutting and the traditional way things have been done.  Subscribers are fleeing at a rapid rate (down 12% since 2010) and ESPN along with the sports leagues are trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding or profit from the change. While the traditional powers are nervous, small leagues and up and coming sports are rejoicing.

ESPN has spent billions on sports rights between the NFL, NBA, MLB, college football and others. To give you an idea of how much they do spend a year, they spend over a billion dollars on the NFL alone and they only get one game a week! With the old cable and satellite model being blown up, the network and the leagues are looking at every option available to them which is partially why ESPN’s parent company, Disney, bought into MLB Advanced Media last summer.

The NFL, MLB, MLS, PGA and NBA are already reaching out in different ways to get their live programing to their fans. Whether it is the NFL cutting a deal with Amazon or MLB and MLS signing deals with Facebook, the sports leagues are already preparing for the day when they see a decrease in the value of their sports rights. Gone are the days of multi-billion dollar deals for the exclusive right to show a sport. In the near future the leagues and big time college conferences will have to spread the costs among several outlets.

ESPN is approaching this transition a little discombobulated. The fact is that live streaming on platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Twitter will not replace the loss of dollars from the traditional cable/satellite/TV world. However, these new platforms are a life saver to niche or relatively new entities like eSports, MMA and others.

ESports were born online and are thriving on platforms like Twitch, YouTube and even Facebook. These OTT platforms are also paying a whole lot less for the sports rights than ESPN, NBCSports and Fox Sports are paying for traditional sports like the NFL and NBA. These new platforms also provide these niche or newer sports the right demographic and a ton of exposure.

What does this mean? A lot more exposure for League or Legends, Overwatch and even the UFC if they play their cards right.

Remember, these niche and newer sports and starting from scratch in a way. An mid eight figure deal for an eSports league or new MMA organization is a windfall for them. The same can be said for a non-power five conference like the Mountain West who floated the idea earlier this year of going to straight OTT model.

The fact is that Disney, Comcast, and Fox are unlikely to retract the amount of cable outlets they have. And if they are unwilling to play these huge amounts for the rights to the NFL, NBA and others then they’ll have to fill the hours on their networks somehow. That could give newer, cheaper sports entities like Riot Games League or Legends or the UFC an opportunity to swoop in provide quality content that pull desirable demos for a reasonable price.

The winds of change are upon the sports networks and leagues. You are already seeing layoffs because of these changes and you are going to see more. But these changes are inevitable and disrupting but not the end all be all. Opportunity does exist for the traditional sports networks and leagues but the have to accept the fact their options may not be as beneficial to them as things were in the past. For the newcomers, get ready for a windfall of money and a lot more exposure. Here’s to hoping that you know how to scale.

Diary of a Cord Cutter: March Madness Opens The Doors For OTT

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 3.27.2017


March Madness Live was for several years the pinnacle of giving customers what they want. Then they powers that be got greedy. Those powers being CBS and TBS Sports who will spend a combined $19.6 billion to broadcast the NCAA Tournament through 2032decided that a good user experience was just wrong. So they looked backward through the looking glass and forced people to sign in to their cable or satellite provider to watch games online. It wasn’t always like this but the move is a huge opportunity for OTT providers.

When March Madness was first streamed online, for free and without a cable or satellite subscription, it blew the doors off all of the predictions. People asked for it for years and when they finally got it, they responded in spades.

Over the last few years, i.e. since signing this massive deal, CBS and TBS Sports now allow you 3 hours of live streaming until you are forced to sign in with your cable or satellite subscription which of course more and more people do not have. You are allowed to watch the game that is on CBS broadcast channel (which they did stream for free without having to sign in unlike some other NBC does with Sunday Night Football) if you are a cord cutter but you miss out on the games on TBS, TNT and TrueTV.

This is music to the ears of OTT providers like Sling TV, PlaystationVUE and DirecTV Now. All of which offer TBS, TNT and TrueTV with prices ranging from  $25 to $35. A cord cutter could literally sign up for a month, spend $25 and watch all of the games without every having to go to the March Madness streaming website or app. Bonus, they can watch these channels anywhere they want too.

PlaystationVUE was advertising heavily on the March Madness streaming site. They even sponsored the ‘Boss Button’. So while they paid for advertising, they probably got a lot more people to sign up to their service taking people away from March Madness Live.

While these may not sound cheap options they are certainly cheaper than the typical cable and satellite subscription that CBS and TBS Sports are pushing you to.

This was an event cornered by March Madness Live and the logic must have been that since CBS and TBS Sports spent so much on the broadcasting rights that they felt compelled to push people back to a place where their margins are better. This in the end is short sighted thinking and shows that CBS and TBS Sports are not concerned about the end user in the slightest.

And it’s not like CBS and TBS Sports are not making their money on March Madness Live. They have plastered the sites with enough ad’s to make a Nascar fan dizzy and force you to watch a commercial every time you switched games. March Madness Live went from one of the best user experiences to one of the worst in matter of a few years.

It doesn’t matter now if March Madness Live changes its ways and reverts back to when all of the games where free. They have already lost and the OTT providers are coming on hard and welcoming users with open arms.  It is sad to see such a good thing shoot itself in the front due to backwards thinking but on the other hand, there are better options out there.

Change In Reverse

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 3.4.2017

There has been an unspoken movement for years at all levels of sports. The movement is how to appeal to younger fans. They are trying everything from new technology to changing the rules of the game and yet they are no closer closer to solving their dilema. But they can in one swift move, lower ticket prices.

Taking less money seems like, on the surface at least, counter intuitive, but it isn’t. It may be the only way live sporting events can help reverse the tide of fans choosing to stay home and watch the game on TV vs shlepping their way to the stadium.

When you look at the costs of going to a live sporting event, it can get out of hand pretty quickly. From the tickets to the transportation to the food and drink. And for what? A chance to see your local team get faded by a superior team and then fight the traffic to get home?

If teams lower ticket prices they will increase demand even if it is artificial. The fact is that since 2008 people have become more aware of the financial relevance in the world. Spending hard earned money on something like a Tuesday night baseball game isn’t going to cut it. Now if the ticket price was a ‘reasonable’ level then that might be enough to sway the marginal fan. Once there, they will spend the money on food, booze, and merchandise. The teams will make up the revenue on the lower ticket price very, very quickly.

Look at it  this way, its about volume and not about financial level. Sports teams and organizations have this mentality that lowering the price for admission is somehow diminishing the product somehow. It’s not and never has been.

Lowering the cost of admission does one thing, puts butts in seats and to be completely honest, it’s a safe bet that the margins on alcohol sales are a heck of a lot better than that of a seat at the game.

Make no mistake, while all of this talk and execution of virtual reality, target digital marketing, etc is important it in the end is not going to turn the tide. Economics will turn the tide. Economics state that if demand falls then the price of the goood or service cannot sustain current levels. Let’s also not pretend that the owners of these teams and organizations are hurting for money either.

 

The Next Big Thing Started Big

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 2.14.2017

Due to my day job, I had the opportunity to spend some time at RIOT Games recently. I knew that e-sports was popular but I didn’t know how popular it was until I spent some time with the RIOT Games folks. Afterwards I began to dig into the sport a little bit more and found some interesting parallels between e-sports the UFC and some of the bigger, established sports like the NBA.

The last ‘big thing’ was the UFC and you could argue that it still is. While the UFC was turned around by the near bottomless checkbook from the Fertiitta brothers and the vision of Dana White, it couldn’t have made it without the rapid adoption of the Internet in the mid to late 90’s. From bulletin boards to chat rooms to user groups, it was this medium that helped keep mixed martial arts alive while White and the Fertitta’s fought to get back the UFC back onto pay-per-view in the early 2000’s.

Full disclosure, I was a UFC employee from 2006-2013. 

Fast forward a decade and a half or so and e-sports is the now the next big thing. While the ‘athletes’ in e-sports wouldn’t last 30 seconds in the Octagon with a UFC fighter, most UFC fighters wouldn’t do well against any of these gamers either. But the Internet and global distribution are what both have thrived on.

It was a long, hard slog for the UFC to build up its global network. They built the brand up in America first and then slowly but surely locked in TV deal after TV deal in various countries around the world while also expanding their online distribution footprint to the point where they launched UFC Fight Pass in 2014.

E-sports on the other hand started globally because it was born online. From Asia to the Americas to Europe, it has been a global sport since day one. It is a sport that is thriving on over-the-top (OTT) networks like Amazon’s Twitch and Google’s YouTube.

lol

While networked gaming goes back two decades (LAN Party in the dorm anyone?) it has flourished in recent years drawing in several big name investors and sports organizations along the way to the point where the NBA is seeing this as a new vertical for the league and it’s teams.

Recently the NBA announced a partnership with Take-Two Interactive to launch a professional e-sports league with teams managed by current NBA franchises.

While other mixed martial arts organizations existed, the UFC was the premiere player. E-sports on the other hand have several big name players from the start like RIOT Games and Activision | Blizzard to name a few. Now with addition of the NBA and major soccer clubs like Ajax and Manchester City, there are multiple behemoths battling it out in the space.

The NBA wasn’t the first to see the benefit of e-sports or sign a major deal. RIOT Games, maker of League of Legends, signed a deal with the Big10 not too long ago to broadcast games between school sponsored teams. So Rutgers may not have a chance against Ohio State on the football field, but in League of Legends, only time will tell.

The investments by the NBA, soccer clubs, and the Big10 makes a lot of sense. Live sports have been under fire for a couple of years now. While previously seen as ‘DVR proof’, the recent decline in TV ratings for the NFL and the decline in attendance at sporting events has sent the leagues, conferences and even teams scrambling to find avenues of growth. While starting an e-sports team does not in anyway correlate to increased TV ratings or more butts in seats at a Denver Nuggets or a Purdue football game, it does provide the leagues, conferences and teams a chance to not fade into irrelevancy and leverage existing advertising and marketing partners by providing them a young desired demo.

This is good news for consumers and players in the e-sports realm. There is choice, diversity and no one entity running the show. It also means that e-sports will succeed by whatever revenue standard you put up against it. Wall Street and the NBA have a tendency to not bet on things that are doomed to fail and anytime you get college kids involved, there is no telling the innovation and growth e-sports could really have.

The NBA partnership with Take-Two and the RIOT Games deal with the Big10 can be a blueprint for other leagues and conferences to follow. If these can show short term success and projected long term growth, others will quickly jump on the bandwagon.

E-sports has an opportunity to be the biggest “sport” in the world due to it’s immediate global reach and massive backers. It is doing it differently by not having a concentrated center of power, an individualized rule set for each game and it’s reach across every existing sport and continent. Drop in the explosion in OTT providers from Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Live and you have the makings of something that can, over time, do something that UFC set out to do, eclipse soccer as the world’s dominate sport.

Further Reading

SF Chronicle

Venture Beat

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Low Hanging Fruit

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.18.2017

It’s a bold new OTT world and some are failing to adjust. While they can blame it on whatever they want (contracts, technological restrictions, etc) in the end it’s a fear of the new. It’s a choice to be resistant to change and a longing for the way things were vs what they can be. That’s why ESPN, NBC and others are stumbling into the OTT/ on demand  world and can’t seem to recognize the easy wins staring them in the face.

30 for 30 error

The prime example being ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. While you can view this content on various OTT channels like Netflix and Amazon you may still have to pay for it. So first you have to pay some to get ESPN and if you are unavailable to watch it or don’t have a DVR then you have to pay to watch the rerun.

If you can actually find the 30 for 30 you are looking for on ESPN’s poorly designed page, you have to put up a bad video player and God forbid you have to pause the video and go to the bathroom. Then you have to pretty much start over. It’s shocking how some solid story telling can be give such a poor platform but a multi billion dollar organization.

YouTube has a better player and user experience. ESPN could leverage a solid 70-30 split and give fans access to some fantastic stories and not have to pay for the infrastructure costs but that would appear to be too easy.

NBC is an over the air broadcaster. Yes they have NBCSports which you can only access via a pay service (cable, OTT, etc) but why does a user have to authenticate their cable subscription to watch a sporting event online that is free over the air?

Why would you have to do that? Well there are several common cases. First, you’re not home and you would like to watch the game or event. Second, you can’t get the local NBC affiliate’s signal due to where you live.Your internet connection is not subject to line of sight limitations, so why do you have to sign up and pay to watch something online that is available for free over the air?

How bout the NFL Network and their inability to provide their series Timeline and A Football Life until after the current ‘season’ ends?

TimelineIt’s almost comical that the NFL Network wait’s to post things online. These should be online right after the initial airing. Fine give it 48 hours, the point is that these are great stories that you can charge money for. Being the capitalist organization that the NFL is, wouldn’t it make sense to make their original content available as many places as possible, on demand as quickly as possible?

These are all examples of low hanging fruit that provides nothing but wins for content providers. The difficult part isn’t doing them, it’s changing the mindset. Execs are being taken kicking and screaming into this OTT/on demand world. They at times seem paralyzed by what to do because they saw their cross town colleagues get chopped down to size and then forced, with no leverage, into the arms of Steve Jobs.  If only video consumers could be so lucky.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Hulu Enters the Fray

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 1.5.2017

Hulu finally announced that they are entering the live streaming fray to compete against DirecTV Now, Sling TV and PlayStation Vue. This has been rumored about for several months but was finally announced this week at CES. Will this be a viable option for sports cord cutters? On the surface the answer appears to be yes.

Hulu announced that the price for the package will ‘under $40’. Translation: $39.99 (Really guys? You think this still works on people?) Second, and this is what has the press buzzing, Hulu got CBS to sign on. This means that you can watch NFL on CBS games (apparently only the game in your local market but they weren’t clear on that) and the elusive CBS Sports Network with this package.

To go along with the CBS Sports Network, you will also get all of the ESPN and Fox Sports channels. In essence you are getting as many channels sports wise than what Sling TV can offer. Although Hulu made no mention of the league networks (NFL, NBA, NHL, etc) or of the collegiate channels (Pac 12, BigTen, Campus Insiders) much less NFL RedZone.

While the selection and price point seem too good to be true, in my experience it usually is.

Hulu Pricing ModelLet’s not forget that Hulu was the online provider that brought us the most ridiculous pricing model known to the Internet. How? By convincing you to pay them to allow you to watch commercials. Also because Hulu is run by studios (Comcast, Disney, Time Warner, 21st Century Fox) which means that they see things through the TV lens. However, they are not dumb and they saw the backlash on DirecTV Now’s rollout and packages that did nothing but move the cable and satellite bundling to a new domain.

Hulu has a chance here but details are too vague to see if this is going to be a true option for the sports cord cutter. Basically no one in the cord cutting universe offers all of the ESPN, Fox Sports, NBCSN, League and Conference networks and CBS Sports Network for under $50 a month. That is a hard thing to do and we’ll have to wait and see if Hulu can do it.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Hypotheticals

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 12.8.2016

Recently people began jumping onto the ‘Disney should spin of ESPN’ bandwagon. While I don’t like to deal in hypotheticals, this idea does raise the question about the split we are seeing in content viewing and how that could be a huge benefit to the cord cutting sports fan.

If you examine the media landscape, you have a central divide opening up. On one side you have those who are sports fans and on the other those who aren’t. Yes you have casual fans on both sides but it is becoming apparent that the casual fan is leaning more and more to one side or the other. With the media landscape becoming more and more fragmented and people are being forced to choose with their wallet more so than ever before.

When you look at the rise of OTT services from Netflix to Sling TV, it’s clear that people are choosing more inexpensive choices. If they spend the money on Netflix and a very small cable package, that might be enough for them as opposed to spending on Netflix plus the massive cable bundle just so they can watch the one or two games on the Big Ten Network.

The reasons can be whittled down to two things: 1)people have less money to spend and 2) people just got feed up.

What this means for media is that the days of a central repository for sports, like an ESPN or an FS1, may be less important as the leagues realize that the days of billion dollar sports rights are over. What this also means is that the technology will drive the distribution.

RedZone
RedZone on Sling TV

What if the NFL didn’t take ESPN’s $1.9 billion a year for Monday Night Football? What if they took $500 million and just gave ESPN a playoff game, in game highlights? The NFL could develop their own delivery model with say Amazon and see individual packages directly to the consumer. Keeping all of the ad revenue for themselves, cut down on commercial time and probably deliver a better product. Overall revenue will go down but margins should improve for the league and fans would be happier because there would be more interactivity and less commercials which means more action on the field.

twitterliveThe NFL could help make up the difference by selling rights for a lower cost to Facebook and Twitter. Add in selling through apps like Dish’s Sling TV, Apple, Roku, Sony Playstation, XBOX, etc and the league would make up the difference in the giant contracts and probably improve their margins.

Leagues and conferences are going to have to be like the rest of us, hustlers. Yes you can hope for the big payday but odds are that you will have to work two jobs or more to get where you want to be. The fact is that there is a real possibility that the old economic model will be turned on it’s head and leagues, conference and big level broadcasters are going to have to figure out how the new one works for them. In the end this should be good news for the sports fan and in particularly the cord cutting sports fans as they have more options, lower cost and at the end of the day, a better product to watch.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: DirecTV Now

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 12.1.2016

AT&T purchased DirecTV. Now DirecTV has rolled out the OTT candidate, DirecTV Now. For the sports cord cutter, this ain’t it. In fact it couldn’t be farther from ‘it’. It’s overpriced, less options and nothing more than a current cable package without the cable box rental.

DirecTV NowOn November 30th, DirecTV (aka AT&T) officially rolled out DirecTV Now. It wasn’t until that day that you could really get a good look at what was offered and for what price. In fact I couldn’t find the price tiers and channels on their web site. I had to go to CNET!

Unlike Sling TV, DirecTV Now offers various sports channels with various packages. While Sling TV has a single sports package, DirecTV Now’s is all over the map. For example, Big Ten Network and ESPN, two different tiers. Want FS2 as well as FS1? Same tier? Negative Ghost Rider. Pac-12 Network? NFL Network? Not available. NFL RedZone? Your kidding right?

How is it that DirecTV, home of NFL Sunday Ticket can’t offer that service in their OTT service? How is it that this wasn’t the first thing they secured rights too?

This is really disappointing from a sports cord cutters perspective. Like I said, this is a current cable package sold without a cable box. In other words, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

If you are a sports fan and a cord cutter the DirecTV service is not the way to go. The pricing (after the first year) is no better than Sling TV or Playstaton Vue and you don’t get as much bang for your buck.  Not to mention the fact that their website blows. Sports cord cutters are still left with one solid option, Sling TV.