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: Labor Day

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


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.

Labor Day Weekend

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FSU vs Ole Miss via Sling TV over an LTE network.

Labor Day weekend is a college football fanatics wet dream. Games start Thursday and run all the way thru Monday night. Lately, more teams have chosen to play tougher/big named opponents as opposed to the “cream puffs” they’ve scheduled in the past which means that there are very few games you want to miss. It used to mean that you held your couch down for a couple of days but now you can be mobile and still watch the games at a high quality. It can be cumbersome but it’s also cheaper.

Over The Top (OTT) providers have a lot of variables to consider. The client side device (phone, tablet, laptop, etc) and bandwidth are the two major variables. While at a Starbucks eating breakfast I was able to stream ESPN via Sling TV and get a very clear picture. I jumped between a couple of channels on Sling and didn’t see a drop off in image quality.

When I switched over to ESPN3 to watch the Oklahoma vs Houston game, the video was throttled way down and the picture was very pixelated. After a few minutes the picture improved but there still was a noticeable difference between Sling’s compression and ESPN3’s. It wasn’t bad enough to discourage you from watching the game but it could sway a user from watching the game if they are really retentive about that kind of thing.

OU vs UH on ESPN3
OU vs UH on ESPN3

Another issue for OTT providers to solve is how cumbersome it is to switch between apps and ever within the app itself. What this does do is prevent you from flipping back and forth between games, a practice some remote control specialists like myself are all to accustomed too. You in sense become forced to watch the game you select and sit through any and all ads. I doubt that the content providers thought of this because they have enough to worry about with their own application much less how easy it is to switch between video apps.

The biggest downside of course is that not all networks offer games online. Or more specifically, they do not have a lot of providers streaming the channel.

Perfect example is CBS Sports Network. An underrated channel that carries Conference USA, Army, Navy and the Mountain West games. If you are a cord cutter like myself then you are kind of out of luck when it comes to streaming this channel. They had three cable providers with the authority to stream games and unless you know someone with a cable subscription to one of those three providers than you were up the creek without a paddle. At which point you have to make the decision, ‘do I go to the sports bar and ask for them to turn on the Northern Illinois vs Wyoming game or do I just listen to the radio call?’

imageWhile being able to watch games wherever you want like on your home wifi while cooking dinner or via the Verizon LTE network while walking home from dinner. The resolution via Sling TV was pretty impressive. It didn’t waver although you might get a black screen.

Cord cutting does still involve, and probably always will, a lot of password sharing. Some OTT providers work around this with a limited number of users at a time. Others don’t seem to care. It is an issue that may never be solved because at some level it’s just un-American.

Yes you can safely and reliably watch college football while being a cord cutter. It’s cumbersome at times but much cheaper than the current alternatives. Not all the channels are available and you may have to sweet talk your family members into giving you their password so you can get other games. Overall the initial weekend of college football viewing was a success but there are still 16 weeks left in the season. Let’s see if this holds up.

DirecTV, Not For Sports Fans Anymore

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

DirecTV use to claim in it’s advertising that ‘if you’re a sports fan, you gotta get DirecTV’. That may have been the case two years ago but it isn’t now. DirecTV in fact may be the worse place for sports fans.

For a lot of people, it doesn’t get better than DirecTV if you’re a sports fan. They have NFL Sunday Ticket and that alone is worth it. NFL Sunday Ticket mind you is $330 for the ‘Max’ package.  For some, this is worth every penny. For others, that’s a pretty good chunk of change.

Watch ESPN

While DirecTV has NFL Sunday Ticket it doesn’t carry the Pac-12 Network nor does a DirecTV subscription give you access to ESPN3, FoxSportsGo or the Pac-12 Network online. In other words, if you are not sitting in front of the TV connected to your DirecTV receiver you are S.O.L. when it comes to viewing sports.

But wait, they have an app right?

Yes they do and you cannot stream any sports channels outside of your house. In fact you cannot stream any ESPN channel at all. Basically, if you’re a sports fan, the app is a glorified remote control and a pretty dumb one at that. God forbid you go into the next room and try to watch a Mountain West game on your tablet!

DirecTV app

What this comes down to, as usual, is money. DirecTV makes enough to not have to worry about digital stuff or something as ‘niche’ as the Pac-12 Network. They also make enough to not have to worry about giving their customers what they really want, the ability to truly watch what you want wherever you want. Probably all the more reason that they do not run the campaign anymore claiming’ if you’re a sports fan, you gotta get DirecTV.

 

How ESPN (and others) Screw College Football Fans on DirecTV

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

One could argue that ESPN was all about the College Football fan. No matter the game, ESPN seemed to carry it on one of its many platforms. Now, ESPN has taken a step backwards. It has let an old TV mindset takeover and in the process screw the College Football fans in the digital age.

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Last season, it was a College Football fanatics dream. If you were on DirecTV (which a lot of sports fans are because of NFL Sunday Ticket) and had an internet connection (pretty standard in 2013) you could watch multiple games at one time via DirecTV and ESPN3. On DirecTV you had your main games you flipped between, your XBOX 360 had another game or two via ESPN3 (any game on ESPN3, ESPNU and even ESPN2 was accessible), and yet another game via ESPN3 on your laptop. This year, unless you are a TV and internet customer of the cable provider (Comcast cable and Comcast internet for example) you can only get games shown exclusively on ESPN3. If you do have this, you’re in great shape. If you have DirecTV, we’ll you’re hosed.

Unable to play via XBOX 360

Why was something available last year and not this year? Probably because contracts got renegotiated at some point between last season and this season and with all of the conference realignment going on that is probably a safe bet.

But why would ESPN, the profit center for Disney, backtrack on showing games? Isn’t showing more games, and selling more advertising a great way to make money? Is ESPN really worried about people the digital world cannibalizing the TV profit? What is this, 2006?

In ESPN’s defense, they are not the only one who do this. The Big Ten Network does not allow you watch a game online if it is being broadcast of the Big Ten Network (as we’ve been told by the DirecTV customer service rep).

The bigger questions still remain why? Why treat TV and online separate when as recently as last season they we’re considered almost equal? Why must you have a TV and internet subscription to watch games on laptop, XBOX or tablet? Why isn’t an internet subscription enough? Why limit your customer base to those who have a cable TV subscription? By cutting out the DirecTV customers your losing 20 million people in the US. 

Could DirecTV help? Sure but their iPad app is…well horrible. You can only watch certain channels and only within your home. That’s like buying a car and only being allowed on certain streets.

There are answers out there. The short-term one is Slingbox. This device will make a comeback but not without a price. You’ll need another DirecTV receiver in another room. Kind of a bummer and a lot more money.

The long-term answer is for ESPN, the Big Ten Network, NBC Sports Network, and Fox Sports, to come up with a digital answer…not to say that they don’t already have one.

For example, when ESPN3 shows CFL games, there are ads during the commercial breaks of the broadcasted game. Yes it’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison but not really. Why can’t ESPN, FOX, NBC and others run different ads online as they do on air? It’s not like they aren’t doing it already.

What is really sad is how unprogressive ESPN and others have become. They are taking steps back instead of forward and giving credence that the ‘any device anytime’ line is really just lip service.

What happens now is that fans will use pirated streams to watch the games. Nobody wins there. If the folks at Fox Sports, NBC, and the Big Ten Network (partially owned by Fox by the way) were smart they would flood the digital space with live, free streaming and sell the bejesus out of it. It’s a white space that can be stolen right from under ESPN’s nose. Then again, maybe this is another reason why the digital world will never overtake TV.