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 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.

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: 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: Easier To Use and Follow Ups

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 10.19.2016

As we all know, Twitter is live streaming the NFL’s first 10 Thursday Night games. A couple of games in, you are starting to see some to of the changes that needed to be made not only for the games but for Twitter’s live strategy.

twitterads-they-started-mondayBefore the Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers game I saw more advertisements within the Twitter application further out from the game. I also received an email with a straight forward graphic reminding me about the game. These are both things that Twitter didn’t appear to be during Week 1.

 

twitterliveBy the time the Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers game rolled around the next Thursday, there was a video player inside the desktop application right next to the ‘Trends’ section.This is a big and necessary change especially for new users of the platform. Granted this is only on the desktop/laptop view and not the mobile view but it’s a start.

There are two parts of streaming NFL games that Twitter needs to nail. First show that the platform is stable enough to have the capacity that the NFL and others are going to need. They’ve done that.

The second part is to get users, new and existing, to watch and you can only do that through advertising inside and outside of Twitter.

With the combination of ads within the application running further out from the game and the email campaign, Twitter is getting the second half of this right because the stability and quality of the live stream is great.

Follow Up:

Last week I posted about the low hanging fruit that Sling TV and other OTT providers could pick. Those are the league channels like MLB Network, NBA TV and NHL Network among others. Well in a blog post on Sling TV’s website on October 19th announced that the NHL Network was now available in the sports package.

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.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Here But Not There

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 9.21.2016

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.

Here But Not There

Cord cutting is not for the faint of heart. It is something that you have to want to do. While Twitter proved that they can handle the current level of cord cutters/mobile users who will demand the ability to watch Thursday Night Football while at their daughter’s dance recital or watching on their XBOX. It is a little frustrating though to not have the ability to watch the Thursday Night game via NFL Network over Sling TV.

photo-sep-15-8-41-39-pmWhile Twitter did a great job, they really did but their deal did have  a head scratching moment. Sling TV users on Roku saw the error you see to your right. How does that happen?

You’d figure that you’d be able to watch the Thursday Night game on NFL Network just like you’d be able to on Comcast, DirecTV, Time Warner or even Dish. You’d be wrong.

The NFL and Twitter cut a pretty sweet deal that would allow Twitter to have exclusive access to any and all OTT services. Or so it seems. In Twitter’s defense, they did roll out apps on XBOX One, Amazon Fire and Apple TV in time for the game. That’s great but Roku has around 10 million users, more or less, which makes them a fairly big player and to not be able to stream the Thursday Night game is pretty significant.

All hope was not lost though. Any decent cord cutter, including myself, have an antenna to capture over the air broadcasts. The real question becomes, when Twitter stops streaming the games after week 10 of the NFL season, does that mean that I can watch the Thursday Night game on NFL Network on Sling TV again since it will be exclusive?

It’s all very confusing but this is what happens in the new frontier. Deals are cut as people try to put the new model into the an older one. It’s the equivalent of putting a round peg into a square hole. It should all be sorted out soon enough and we can all get back to streaming the games were supposed to.

Diary of a Sports Cord Cutter: Unavailable on iPhone

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard | 9.14.2016


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.

Unavailable On iPhone

Sports fans, especially Pac-12 fans, got an unexpected gift last Thursday. Sling TV announced a deal with the Pac-12 Network to get all of the Pac-12 channels which are split up into regions (Mountain, Arizona, Washington, etc). However the victory was short lived as the pop up ‘Unavailable on iPhone’ appeared during Monday Night Football.

pac12The Pac-12 deal is big for a couple reasons. First, the Pac-12 has some pretty darn big media markets including Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Seattle, Portland, Denver and Phoenix. Second, DirecTV doesn’t have the Pac-12 Network which means about 25 million people. The cost savings an opportunity to watch your Alma Mater could be enough to chip into that number for Sling TV.

Then Monday happened.

imageEvery now and then I have to travel for business. This trip just so happened to land on the season premiere of Monday Night Football. While bandwidth on the Southwest flight is good enough to get a medium to low quality stream of Sling TV (which I found out a day later by streaming the US Open Cup Final on ESPN), it was shocking to see the ‘Unavailable on iPhone’ when I got off the plane and tried to watch the Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers game on ESPN.

That’s right. I can watch via a Roku on my TV, my laptop or tablet but I cannot watch on an iPhone. That’s some 63 million Americans who, in theory, could not watch Monday Night Football on their phone.

That’s kind of shocking.

Now I did not try the WATCH ESPN app. I was so flabbergasted that I couldn’t watch on Sling TV that I totally forgot about the WATCH ESPN app. I was also going to be at my hotel in a matter of minutes and the game was at halftime.

I am sure that there is some contractual or technical reason why I couldn’t watch one of ESPN’s most popular programs on my iPhone but as a user I don’t really care about the reason. Part of the reason for cutting the cord was so I could watch anywhere I wanted to, on any device. How can I watch any TV, tablet or computer but not on the device that is with me 24/7? It’s like the content is available ‘almost anytime on almost any device.’

Sling TV is still winning as far as I am concerned. Two weeks into the college football season and I don’t feel like I am missing any of the action. Not being able to watch Monday Night Football on the device I have with me all of the time is odd but something that I am sure that will be fixed.