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.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Zero Rating

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 11.5.2016

A week or so ago Sling TV CEO Roger Lynch did his first ever Periscope live broadcast. While he couldn’t talk about specifics (partially because A) why would you and B) Dish was entering a quite period for it’s next earning release) he did point out that Sling TV sees new users every month but a major event like the Olympics triggers bigger pops in the user base.He also mentioned that he didn’t think that going to a ‘zero rating’ was a good idea.

With the recent announcement of AT&T purchasing Time Warner and another AT&T subsidiary DirecTV launching their OTT option this month with a ‘zero rating’ it makes you wonder which path we’ll go down.

‘Zero rating’ is when the backbone provider (AT&T, Century Link, Verizon, etc) allow certain types of content without having it content against you’re bandwidth limit. Now T-Mobile already does a version of this but in their case the content provider (Netflix, MLB, MLS, etc) have to except a lower quality stream in order to keep other content moving through the pipe. In AT&T’s case, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, they say this will increase competition because anyone can pay DirecTV to have a ‘zero rating.’

So what does this mean to you and your ability to watch the Nebraska at Ohio State game on ESPN via an OTT application? Well it means that you have more options to watch the game depending on your device and application. It also means that there is a chance, however remote, that you could not have the ability to see the game.

Being a sports cord cutter for about a year now, I have come close but have not reached my data limit with my ISP. It would be nice if commercials didn’t count against the data cap but that is a technological innovation that isn’t very sexy to build. Not sure how many customers hit the 300GB limit most ISP’s are putting on their user but I would presume that it’s not a lot.

If AT&T wants to go down the road of having outfits like Netflix, MLB and others pay them so consumers won’t have their data caps maxed out then I think they are in for a rude awakening. There is nothing stopping AT&T or their subsidiary DirecTV from raising the price on the content provider and the customer in the name of meeting quarterly earnings. I would venture a guess that this is there plan.

Why is someone like Lynch against this, because it’s not a sustainable path. ‘Zero rating’ is essentially an end run around net neutrality. It would make, by default, the ISP’s the revenue winners in this future of video viewing. It puts the ball clearly in the backbone company’s court and invites a ‘pay to play’ model down the line.

Now back to that Nebraska at Ohio State game. If the backbone companies are able to initiate this ‘zero rating’ then if you are a Verizon customer, there is a chance that Disney (ESPN’s parent company) didn’t want to pay Verizon’s fee and therefore you cannot watch the game. I think that chance is slim but well within this model is a lower quality stream. In other words you are in the back of the bus viewing wise and there would not be much you could do about it.

‘Zero rating’ is not a really fair model for the user or the content providers or distributors. The backbone companies like AT&T are going to make their money because they are a necessity to modern living and they have the ability to put on caps which could also lead to revenue grow however inconsistent that may be. This is not the business model of the future. New models need to arise and they will as more consumers cut the cord, but the ‘Zero rating’ is not it.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Easy Wins

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 10.12.2016

Wednesday brings the opening of the 2016/2017 NHL season. With that comes a solid OTT package (full season for $140) and a once a week game live on Twitter. What of course is offered to cord cutters like myself is the league channel, NHL Network. Neither them nor MLB Network nor NBA TV are available in an OTT package but the NFL is. This seems like an easy win that the leagues are not taking advantage of.

NHL NetworkThe league networks have evolved over the years to include live games. NBA TV, NHL Network and MLB Network all show regular season games while MLB Network will actually broadcast a playoff game or two. If you are are cord cutter like myself you are out of luck when it comes to these. While that may not hurt all that much since the games are usually available with the OTT league package, it does make the decision for the casual instead of giving them the choice. If your the league and have your live game content available on every device/service know to man, why wouldn’t you cut a deal to get your network onto Sling TV or Playstation Vue? It seems like an easy win and a simple way to gain new fans.

 

MLB NETWORKWhen DISH Network (Sling TV’s parent company) and the NFL came to an agreement earlier this summer, it would seem that others would follow. All of the leagues are trying to stay relevant during the offseason with some original content, live draft coverage, etc, yet none of this content is available to cord cutters. On the surface it doesn’t appear to violate any existing TV contracts yet these channels and it’s niche content anyway which is right down the cord cutters avenue.

The league channels, outside of the NFL, are not a necessity for OTT providers or for fans. They really don’t ‘move the needle’ so to speak however, it is cheap, easy content for OTT channels and nice to haves for the end user.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Competition In OTT

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 9.28.2016


Competition In OTT

When I first decided to cut the cord I really only had one option if I wanted to see any kind of sports and that was Sling TV. Over the last few months a new competitor has emerged and that is Sony’s PlayStation Vue. From the outside looking in, there are some benefits but also some drawbacks.

PlayStation VuePlayStation Vue is an application that runs on just about every OTT device except for Apple TV and of course XBOX. When I first heard of Vue, I presumed that I had to have a PS4 or something to use it but I was wrong. While not being on Apple TV hurts it’s distribution, it seems like only a matter of time before it will be available and that will expand the app’s reach.

As far as channels that are available, you pretty much get the same stuff but there are some differences. With the Sling TV Sports Extra package, you get all of the PAC-12 channels and Campus Insiders. These are not available on Vue but to that point, Vue has the Big Ten Network, Fox College Sports, and One World Sports which are not available on Sling TV. So here it really depends on what is more important to you. Are you a PAC-12 person or a Big Ten person.

The price of NFL RedZone is the game changer here. On Sling TV it is included in the Sports Extra package which is $10 a month. On Vue, it is $39.99 for the season which breaks down to about $10 a month for the NFL season. There some other stipulations with NFL RedZone on Vue too as you can see below. You have to have a certain level of package in order to get it and if you downgrade, you won’t be refunded.

Restrictions

The price for the two services is a little different too. While both applications can vary on price, if you max out the sports options, you are looking at $50 a month on Sling TV and that includes NFL RedZone. If you want a similar package on Vue, you are looking at $75 a month but that is only for the four months of the NFL regular season. So for a year, Sling would cost you around $600 a year and Vue would cost you around $580.

As a Sling TV user I can confirm that ESPN3 is available but I cannot confirm that with Vue as of right now. This could be a deal breaker if you are like me and want to watch CFL games during the summer.

It really comes down to your own personal variables. If your OTT device an XBOX or Apple TV then you are going to Sling TV but if you have an Amazon Fire or Roku you can go with Vue. The choice is yours. So far, I have chosen Sling TV.

 

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: RedZone and Radio

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 9.28.2016

I cut the cord last November. While addicted to sports, it made little sense to pay Comcast $150+ a month so I could watch various college football games and receive NFL RedZone. I began looking into other options. I found Sling TV and a plain, old fashion over the air antenna. This is the football season where I will be a full fledged ‘sports cord cutter’ and this is how it’s going.

RedZone and Radio

It was touch and go there for a few months as Dish (Sling TV’s parent company) and the NFL negotiated a truce. Once they did, NFL Network and NFL RedZone both appeared on Sling TV just in time for the start of the NFL season. While that is great, there are still some channels missing that leaves you searching for other options when it comes watching or listening to a game.

RedZoneRedZone is a great channel for the 17 weeks of the NFL regular season. No commercials and you get to see every score. The downside of course the ‘internet streaming delay’ that can vary from event to event. That means that you may hear about a score via text or social media before it actually comes across RedZone. The benefit of course is that you can be completely mobile and not miss any football.

CBS Sports Network is not available for cord cutters. The channel has very limited agreements with cable providers to give one the ability to watch the away from the traditional method of sitting in front of the TV.  This means that you are left with two options if you want to follow the game on CBS Sports Network. 1) go to a bar that may have it or 2) revert to the radio.

Last Friday Wyoming visited Eastern Michigan. I wasn’t feeling the bar route so I downloaded a radio app for my phone and listen to the game. Combine that with twitter and you had a pretty real time experience. It’s cumbersome but it can work and you can still see the big plays pretty quickly after they happen. In some cases even faster than that ‘internet streaming delay’.

It is kind of funny how new technology can lead towards using old technology. While reverting to the radio is an old school thing to do, so is using an over the air antenna which is something else that I do. It’s a lot like how Netflix exploited the USPS to get dvd’s out when they originally started.

RedZone on Sling TV is the real deal but being a cord cutter means that sometimes you have to go old school. You have to take advantage of over the air television and the radio. While it’s not ideal, neither is not having all of the sports channels available online.

Twitter Does The NFL & It Didn’t Suck

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 9.16.2016

twiterThe biggest name in North American sports, the National Football League, has officially embraced over the top streaming and the experience didn’t suck. Thursday nights game between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets was the first NFL game ever streamed over Twitter. While there is some room for improvement, Twitter pulled it off.

The NFL has dipped it’s toe into the live streaming world for a couple of years now. Their streaming only game from London last year between the Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars was a success but the numbers were not the most accurate thanks to Yahoo autoplaying the game on the homepage. While experts like BAM’s Bob Bowman say that it’s a dicey proposition to go all in and make OTT the only place to see a Thursday Night game, Twitter doesn’t have to worry about that. CBS or the NFL will be broadcasting the games so Twitter only needs to worry about the cord cutter and mobile folks. As Sports Business Journal’s Eric Fisher pointed out, that is a solid number of people but nothing that should put too much stress on Twitter’s system.

Twitter was ready for this amount of users because they did a dry run the opening weekend of college football. The Weber State vs Utah State football game was a low profile way to test their infrastructure. It worked beautifully and they were able to replicated that with a significant increase in users. That should make CEO Jack Dorsey sleep well at night.

twiter2Thursdays game was a solid, stable, and had good quality stream. Finding the game was another issue.

If you were on a phone, there was no clear advertising to find the game. The best way was to search #TNF, #NYJvsBUF, @NFL, one of the teams or go to Moments. On a laptop, you were able to see a LIVE graphic in the trending section. That helped but you’d have to figure that the users were split between computers/OTT devices and mobile devices. For any new users, it would have been hard to find.

Twitter was the dark horse to win the streaming rights for Thursday Night Football. There was a lot of curiosity to see if they could pull it off and they did with flying colors. While things went well, they have to work on alerting people. It’s a challenge all OTT providers face but one that has to be solved soon.

Further Reading:

ReCode

Digital Consolidation

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


BAMIt’s been a busy couple of days in the digital sports world. First MLBAM (BAM) buy a part of Silver Chalice Ventures (SCV) who owns SportsLabs, ACC Digital Network and Campus Insiders just to name few. Then Fox Sports and SI decide to team up for an editorial/ad deal. Essentially, they will merge their traffic to sell. What does all this mean to you? Not much but it’s certainly interesting.

CampusInsidersThe SCV and BAM deal should, in the future, bring more confidence to the pessimistic folks who feel that live streaming isn’t stable enough. It also gives new BAM investors Disney another reason to possibly purchase all of BAM down the line.

The Fox/SI deal presents some interesting ideas. Two of the old media establishments partnering together in the new world. Funny because two of the better know personalities from these two organizations had a feud a few years ago.  

Consolidation is nothing new in business much less in media. It will interesting to see how this effects coverage, analysis and fans ability to see games on something other than their cable or satellite provider. Time will tell.

NFL To Sling TV

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


SLING TVSling TV just did a mic drop today for cord cutting sports fans. They added NFL Network and NFL RedZone to their list of channels. Let that sink in for a moment. NFL RedZone is now available for an extra $5 a month and you can truly watch it anywhere on any device. Sling TV just hip-checked AT&T/DirecTV into the boards right in time for football season.

A few months ago the NFL Network was off of DISH (Sling TV’s parent company). Like many DISH negotiations, this one ended up being fought in public. The two sides settled and you can bet that part of that settlement was getting the NFL Network and NFL RedZone onto Sling TV.

NFL is not new to the OTT game. They have NFL Now (which I honestly can’t tell you what it’s supposed to be) on various devices but no NFL RedZone and no NFL Network. RedZone is really the key here. That is 17 weeks of live game footage without commercials during the season without having to spend a car payment for NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV.

Sling TV OptionsSling TV will continue to add channels but bagging the NFL is a game changer for the cord cutting sports fan. It’s an economical choice and one that they can take everywhere. This should force AT&T to make NFL Sunday Ticket a stand alone service (they already do in some place). Make no mistake, this is a game changer in the OTT-land of sports.

The Digital Middle Ground

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


BallmerConsensus is that Steve Ballmer overpaid for the Los Angeles Clippers back in 2014. Considering that he is worth around $27 billion, spending $2 billion for an NBA franchise in the second largest TV market in the United States seems like a deal for someone in his position. Part of the reason that the NBA was more than happy to allow the former Microsoft CEO into the league was the fresh ideas he would bring. One of those is Ballmer’s push for the Clippers to have their own OTT channel which could open the floodgates for other teams, leagues and conferences.

Back in April the Sports Business Journal (SBJ) did an article about how Ballmer was cutting out the digital rights from the next regional TV package for the Clippers so they could start an Over The Top (OTT) channel where a user would authenticate with their regional TV subscription. This would not be a replacement of the live games but an addition to it.

Ballmer, like his time at Microsoft, is thinking logically but not necessarily radically. He is not refusing to see what is coming but he is unwilling to kill the cash cow and innovate into the next thing. Truth be told, the NBA may not be allowing him to go too far either.

Sound familiar? It should if you’ve read or listen to Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen and dove into his theory of disruptive innovation.

The fact is that sports rights are at their limit when it comes to rising costs and passing on those costs to the consumer. With the wage gap in the United States becoming such a major talking point this political season, it is becoming harder and harder for people to justify the monthly costs of a cable or satellite subscription to watch random games. The price may not be too high for just their local team though.

MLB.tv is doing something similar right now but it is designed for people outside of the TV foot print of the club. In other words, if you live in Seattle and don’t want to pay for cable then good luck trying to watch Mariners games online somewhere.

REMOTESeveral years ago when sports leagues begun creating their own TV channels like the NHL Network and the NFL Network, many people believed that it was only a matter of time before the league’s brought all of their games in house and cut out the traditional partners like NBC, CBS, FOX and ESPN. Well that hasn’t happened because of the billions that can be made by bidding out the rights to these partners. It appears now though that we are at a place where a league or conference can keep their digital rights and sell to a TV partner because that, in the end,is a win-win. It lowers the cost for the traditional TV partner but gives the league, team, or conference an avenue to grow revenue with their most valuable assets.

It’s one step back and possibly three steps forward type of scenario.

The Clippers are not going to walk away from a regional sports deal that pays them upwards of $50 million a year. Even Ballmer isn’t that crazy. However, retaining the digital rights can give him a lot more flexibility even if the Clippers are not going to be live streaming the actual games with their OTT channel. It’s a logical yet still a trailblazing move. Kind of wonder why the Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn’t do this already.

 

The Twitter Streaming Plan

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


PAC 12By the looks of it Twitter is trying to become the ultimate mobile live streaming sports platform. They surprised everybody by getting the rights to stream the NFL’s Thursday night games this fall. Now they have grabbed the rights to the PAC-12.

It’s not all wine and roses however. The deal is apparently mainly focused on Olympic sports like swimming, volleyball, baseball, etc. The football and basketball games are apparently off limits with their current deals.

TWITTERIt is still a nice step to see and one of only a couple of deals that Twitter is working on. They recently signed on CBSN and Bloomberg but Tuner, MLS and MLB could be right around the corner.

It would be a major coup for Twitter to bag multiple sports league and be a huge benefit to the cord cutters like myself. While Twitter doesn’t give you the ’10-ft experience’, providing live game content on the computer or mobile device might just be good enough. It also really helps them corner the market on the younger sports demo.

Time will tell how this all shakes out and if Twitter even has the infrastructure to support such moves. The speed at which they are moving is a great sign that they may have this figured out. It would be even better if the PAC-12 just went ahead and streamed all of their content but at this point let’s take what we can get.