We, as sports fans, are inching ever closer – yet are still so far away – from cutting the cord.
Today ESPN announced a $20 per month streaming option through Dish’s new Sling TV offering. Subscribers will be able to stream ESPN and a few other networks (Food Network, CNN, Travel Channel, TNT, TBS, Disney) over the web without a cable subscription. This is huge, and it is ESPN’s first truly cable-subscription-free offering. They’ll be joined by HBO as a major network offering up its content directly to cord-cutters. We don’t know the price of HBO Go’s streaming option yet, but, as you can see, ESPN’s will cost you.
But it’s very unlikely that you’re going to sign up for Sling TV because you want to stream Wolf Blitzer or “Chopped” to your iPad. If you get it, it’s because you want to see stuff like the College Football Championship, which is going to air next week on exclusively on ESPN.
Put it another way: If ESPN wasn’t in this package, do you think Dish would be trying to sell it?
So to review: This is the year that you’ll be able to get HBO on the Web, without paying for any other cable channels, and ESPN on the Web, with just a handful of other channels. Throw in a Netflix subscription and you’re probably looking at a $50 a month video package (you’ll still need to pay for broadband on top of that) that might please a lot of people. That is — people who want to watch cable-TV programming but don’t want to sign up for traditional cable-TV bundles.
This is what I’ve been saying all along— cutting the cord, as a sports fan, and getting a comparable amount of content as you were getting before, will never be about money. There’s too much at stake for cable providers and the networks.
First off, broadband providers (often the cable companies themselves) will and are beginning to charge more for strictly broadband packages. [Verizon was charging $59 for 50/50, non-half-assed broadband speeds when I checked last May. Today? $65.] So that’s one way of recouping the lost revenue.
Then there are the carriage fees. ESPN currently gets roughly $6 per month from cable subscribers, so moving to an a la carte option like this means they need to charge more since many people who don’t want ESPN are currently stuck paying for it. Hence this Dish option costing $20 (I imagine ESPN gets a large cut of that figure).
And then there are all the catches. Having multiple subscriptions to a wide range of services available on a slew of different devices begins to get confusing and not worth it. That will be the case until there’s a uniform way to purchase, with one bill – a sort of Orbitz for content (looking at you, Apple) – and that begins to look and feel a lot like… a bundle. And indeed, this ESPN offering, which we heard about last year, has some restrictions which probably won’t make the BIG FONT on marketing materials: Kakfa mentions that Sling TV doesn’t include over-the-air channels like ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX (you’ll need a digital tuner for that)… it can’t be watched by more than one person at a time… it’s not currently available on Apple TV… and so on. Lots of details here and even more at The Verge.
This is certainly a step in the right direction, but, really, it sounds like an option that, in three years, we’ll be laughing about in the same way we laugh about Google Glass today.