Diary Of A Sports Cord Cutter: Waiting On Local

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 8.26.2018


A week or so ago, Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reported that Hulu, Verizon and YouTube TV were among the suitors for DC United’s media rights. It’s not new that OTT providers are bidding on local rights but it does raise the question which is ‘when will established media, sports teams and leagues truly open the OTT doors to local sports fans? ‘

For the uninitiated, local/regional sports rights are the true money maker for sports franchises. Not ticket sales, over priced parking, merchandise sales or the $20 you have to pay for a craft beer at AT&T Park in San Francisco. This is why the sports teams, leagues and networks are so reluctant to move to an OTT model.

 

It is, however, inevitable that local sports teams will be available in an OTT package of some kind. What I mean by that is that eventually the teams, leagues and networks will figure out what their fans have already figured out, that delivering content on any device and service and making it easy to sign up for or cancel is the way of the future.

The teams, leagues and networks will also figure out that this is situation is like any sports game, you take what the defense gives you. And that doesn’t mean that you have to like it. The sports fans just hope that this happens sooner rather than later.

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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.

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.

Fixing ESPN

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard


After pointing out the things wrong with ESPN, it is now time to point out how they can right the ship. Righting a ship that generated $10.8 billion in revenue in 2014 seems like an odd thing to say but it’s true. While this scenario does fall under the ‘disruption’ banner, there are some simple things ESPN can do to find some of the mojo again.

John Skipper is a smart guy. While there will be doubters out there after the whole ‘Bill Simmons incident’, you don’t become the head of Disney’s cash cow by being a moron. As he pointed out at the Code/Media Conference about why ESPN has been losing subscribers (which accounts for over 60% of it’s revenue), ‘cord cutting and some trading down from some larger packages to lighter packages’, which goes to show that Skipper is not turning a blind eye. He recognizes what is happening and has already begun to steer the ship into more favorable waters.

The ESPN family of networks is already on Sling TV which I have written about many times on this blog. Sling TV is cord cutting and ESPN is right there in the thick of it. ESPN needs to capitalize on OTT providers like Sling and sell it’s package outside of the satellite and cable providers (yes I do see the irony in that Sling is owned by Dish). ESPN needs their WATCH ESPN app to be stand alone and offer is on places like Amazon.com where you can get Starz and Showtime for $8.99 a month. They also need to offer is on platforms like Hulu, who is coming out with a live TV package,  XBOX, and Playstation. ESPN needs to break from the shackles of cable and stand on it’s own.

Crazy? Not if you read Clayton Christensen’s ‘The Innovator’s Dilemma.

ESPN’s situation is a cross between sustaining innovation and disruptive innovation. In the sustaining innovation model, ESPN has to figure out how to create better products that they can sell for better profits to their customers. They own rights to just about every major sport so it’s clear that they have the inventory to do this. All it takes now is the will which it sounds like they do.

They are also battling disruptive innovation but they can win here too. TV was once complicated and expensive and to a degree it still is. However the OTT providers are disrupting this model and making it affordable and in some ways simpler. Like I mentioned a moment ago, ESPN has to stop dipping it’s toes in the water and just dive in. Yes it will upset existing contracts and partners in the short term but in the long run, it will be the right decision.

adcontentThere is some of the lower hanging fruit that ESPN can pick and start to develop some wins. One of these is to improve their ads on ESPN.com. This playing of 30 second ads on their website in front of a piece of content that is only 33 seconds is just mind boggling. This is a damn ‘if/else’ statement in the code. It’s not rocket surgery. Yes you have to make money selling ads but you can also drive away your viewers away in the process. They have to find a balance and a better way to present advertisements online.

 

They also have to develop new talent. A lot of play-by-play and color commentators have walked out the door in recent months but that doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare. They still have Jon Gruden, Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Todd Blackledge, Steve Levy, Kirk Herbstreet, Rece Davis, Chris Fowler, Scott Van Pelt and Bob Ley among their talent pool. They need to add to it along with continuing to find innovative bloggers and reporters or people like Nate Silver.

ESPN is taking some hits but they are not denying it. They do not have their heads buried in the sand. Changes to OTT, developing talent, and creating new products takes time. The first step in identifying the problem is recognizing you have one. Skipper recognizes it and is taking steps to right the ship.

A Breakthrough For Streaming Live Sports?

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

The fact is that sports have been live streamed online for a long time now. So is DISH Network recent announcement that it will live streaming ESPN and ESPN2 via Sling TV for $20 really that big of a deal? Yes and no.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Currently there are a few legal ways to live stream ESPN platforms. All of them come down to having your subscription authenticated at some point and if you are a DirecTV subscriber you are SOL until later this year. 

With Sling TV you won’t need to have a cable or satellite subscription. Your experience won’t be the same either but at least you can spend a mere $20 a month vs $100 plus for a bunch of cable channels you’ll never watch.

F1 RACE IN BAHRAIN
Live streaming of the F1 race in Bahrain on NBCSPORTS.COM

NO!!!!!!

The fact of the matter is that the cable or satellite companies are going to get their money somehow. That ‘somehow’ is going to be with the data-usage fees. The country’s biggest cable provider, Comcast, currently gives you 300 GB a month with a $10 charge for every 50 GB over that. Seems like a lot until you add in the multiple devices per user and services like Netflix and Xbox One. Add Sling TV to the mix and you’ll be over the limit after the first weekend of College Football.

Live streaming has also been hindered by the experience itself. Bandwidth is not unlimited. If your neighbor is streaming a movie, your kids streaming music or playing online video games then your basketball games streaming quality will go in the toilet. With a cable or satellite subscription, everyone can watch without a signal downgrade. It also isn’t as reliable as your traditional connection. Just ask those trying to stream the Rose Bowl on the Watch ESPN app. 

While $20 is cheaper than $100, when you add that to the Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and future HBO App subscription, your spending close if not more a year.

Conclusion

The fact is that this is a long time coming. While a lot people were hacking their way towards this solution for years it will be nice to get it without the hassle. This application for only $20 a month is a good first step but it’s not the solution. Others will follow and  this service, along with it’s consequences, will make people more aware of issues like net neutrality. Eventually we’ll see more applications like Sling TV but it may be a ways off.

Cord Cutting an Expensive Option for Sports Fans

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

You’ve probably heard the slow, consistant drum beat of the cord cutters. Those who watch video without the use of a cable or satellite provider. They use over the air TV, and online services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. What’s rarely talked about though is what would it cost for a true sports fan to cut the cord?

Each league and sports network offers live streaming of sports in one way or another however it is usually for a significant price or you have to have a cable or satellite subscription which defeats the purpose of cord cutting. Below is a breakdown of what each league charges for their online package:

The Cost Of Viewing Sports Online

At this stage, there it is not an economically viable solution for a fan of sports to cut their cable or satellite subscription. Let’s look at DirecTV by comparison. The Sports monthly package is $12.99 and with the Choice XTRA Classic plan, 1 HD Receiver with DVR and you’re looking at about $110 a month. The NFL Sunday Ticket plan and other sports packages (NHL Center ICE, MLD Direct Kick, etc) are all extra. But a lot of times you do not need those.

For example, if you live in Las Vegas with the above DirecTV package you get the following teams with no extra cost:

MLB: SF Giants, LA Dodgers, LA Angels, SD Padres, Oakland A’s

NHL: Anaheim Ducks & LA Kings

NBA: LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Golden St Warriors

While it isn’t economically viable for a sports fan to cut the cord the cord cutters themselves really do have a distinct advantage, mobility. The fact is that sports fans can only watch whatever is on their TV via a Slingbox. Non sports cord cutters can use any one of the aforementioned services no matter what device they are on (phone, tablet, or  laptop).

Will there ever be a point where sports fans can cut the cord and do so economically? Probably not. If you take into consideration the continual increase in player salaries and the increase in TV rights fees it is highly doubtful that we’ll see a price decrease from any sports league or online service from a network without a cable or satellite validation.

Reference:

MLB.TV, NHL GameCenter, NBA League Pass, NFL Sunday Ticket, MLS Live