Posts for cord cutting

There Is a Way To Cut The Cord and Watch Local Sports

Kyle Scott - May 12, 2016

Yesterday I wrote about ESPN’s decline and how it contributed to Disney’s stock taking a dive after their most recent earnings report. I concluded, to the surprise of some, that major networks like ESPN aren’t as doomed as we might think they are. Sure, they’re losing advertising and subscriber fees in the short-term – from people cutting the cord and no longer unwittingly paying them each month – but the fact remains that there are very few sports fans who can exist without ESPN’s content (mostly their live broadcast coverage), and there has yet to be a reasonable solution for a simple streaming package that gives viewers, especially sports fans, most of the content they currently enjoy.

Many of you weighed in and suggested I check out PlayStation Vue, Sony’s streaming bundle which includes ESPN, local channels, and, in Philly and a few other cities, the regional sports network.

I had heard of Vue before, and was aware that it was actually pretty good, but I mostly dismissed it as a fringe, almost experimental solution for a much younger demo used to consuming content on their gaming machine. That may be the case… however, if you have a PlayStation, Vue is worth considering if you’re thinking about cutting the cord but aren’t sure how.

 

What is Vue?

Sony, impressively, cobbled together what is essentially a cable package that gets streamed over your PS4, PS3 and other devices (more on those in a second). They’ve succeeded in bringing on a wide range of networks and providers where, thus far, Apple and others have failed. Most notable – if only because they’re missing from most other streaming offerings – is the inclusion of your local broadcast affiliates and, luckily for Philly fans, CSN. Sure, you could always get a tuner for ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, but that’s yet another step in the fairly confusing process of cutting the cord. Vue includes those channels as part of your package. Having CSN, though, is what really sets it apart. For the first time, you can get a solid streaming package and watch the Phillies, Flyers and Sixers with it. Additionally, all the other channels you may want or “like having” from traditional cable are there– Disney Channel(s), ESPN, FS 1, NBC Sports, cable news outlets, MTV, Food Network, etc. Along with local broadcast affiliates, many of these are the sort of channels you might not pay for individually and would claim that you can do without, but appreciate having at certain times. For example, having CNN, MSNBC and FOX News during an election year is preferable (or maybe not…), being able to turn on local news during weather events is somehow comforting, and sometimes you just want the mindless background noise that ESPN or the Food Network provides (I don’t mean that as an insult to those networks’ stars such as John Barr and Giada… love Giada).

 

How does it work?

On the surface, it doesn’t function much differently than your Comcast or Verizon cable service. There are three packages to choose from– the middle option, at $45 per month, is probably the sweet spot, but even the base package gives you an impressive lineup.

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Everything is streamed live, and there is a familiar guide-style interface just like your cable box has. But even better, you can also explore by genre, intended audience, and more. Vue’s interface isn’t perfect, but it’s very good. Better than I expected. You can also “catch up” on many previously-aired programs. This is sort of halfway between watching live and recording on a DVR. From the guide interface and other spots, you can scroll backwards in time and watch a show that aired an hour ago or three days ago. It will start playing as if you’re watching in real-time (you can’t fast-forward). This includes Phillies games. It’s not available for every program, but is for many of them. You can also “DVR” programs by adding them to your favorite shows. This will record programs, in the cloud, for you to go back and watch just like on a DVR. The reason Vue doesn’t do this for every show, I think, might have something to do with the legal precedent that the viewer has to choose which broadcasts to “record”– meaning, they “own” the content and are free to skip around. I’m not sure on that, but it’s the only explanation I can come up with for why Vue doesn’t just, you know, record every show and provide you with full DVR functionality. Continue Reading

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Disney Got Hammered Because ESPN Continues To Decline

Kyle Scott - May 11, 2016

 

Awful Announcing, on Disney’s stock tumbling 5% after earnings:

Disney’s cable networks division (which includes the ESPN networks) saw its second-quarter revenues fall 1.86 percent to $3.96 billion, a drop of over $73 million. That’s still above Disney’s other divisions (parks, studio, consumer and interactive), but that illustrates just how important the cable networks are to the whole company and how a downturn there has the potential for a wider impact.

The cable networks’ downturn is far from the whole miss on the targets (another part is the decision to pull the plug on Disney Infinity and get out of publishing videogames, which will involve 300 layoffs and a $147 million charge for the quarter), but it’s a significant part. Those network problems aren’t all about ESPN (another big one is that the transition from H2 to VICELAND has been expensive), but the Worldwide Leader is a substantial part of them, especially as ESPN ad revenue declined by 13 per cent in the quarter. There is some good news on the networks front, as operating income for the division rose 12.34 per cent thanks to lower costs and higher distributor fees, but that doesn’t seem to be enough to stave off those concerned about where ESPN’s going.

I was literally just watching Jim Cramer talk about this on CNBC, and it’s clear there’s a huge gap in perception of mainstream media between Baby Boomers and Millennials (not surprisingly). Cramer, as I’m guessing many 50+ people do, sees ESPN as invaluable to sports fans. That’s partly true – for everyone – given the fact that ESPN-ABC owns the broadcast rights to so many major events. But Cramer cited SportsCenter, draft coverage and fantasy football as reasons why he needs ESPN. But there’s a whole generation of folks for whom that’s simply not the case. Many of you defer to blogs – like this one, SB Nation, Deadspin, Barstool, Awful Announcing, The Big Lead – over traditional mainstream coverage for your everyday sports fix. Live event coverage is often more entertaining and informative on Twitter or Snapchat than it is on ESPN or any TV network (this is true for politics and breaking news as well). And other than for last-minute updates or background noise, few serious fantasy sports players, especially daily fantasy players, use ESPN or other mainstream outlets as their go-to resource. I pay for a Fantasy Labs subscription, which is exponentially more valuable for daily fantasy than anything ESPN could ever produce. And there are, of course, a whole host of other (FREE) resources for that sort of thing. So the notion that ESPN and its non-live sports productions are essential is simply not true for most people. Hence, the Disney stock drop, or at least part of the reason or it.

On the other hand – and as we’ve discussed on podcasts before – cord-cutting is widely feared by the big guys, but there’s still a lack of a reasonable alternative for most people. Disney, like Comcast, is behind much of the content you consume, and just because they’re losing subscriber fees in the short-term does not necessarily mean they’re doomed in the long-term. Just from a sports perspective, ESPN still has the rights to Monday Night Football, the NBA Finals and much more, and NBC still owns the rights to Sunday Night Football, the Olympics, the Stanley Cup Finals, and much more. No one has quite figured out how to efficiently monetize those holdings with cord-cutters, but eventually someone will.

Everyone views cord-cutting as a way to save money, but that’s simply not the case if you want to keep anywhere near the amount of content you currently have. Here’s what a typical sports fan cord-cutter might subscribe to (rounding off prices):

  • Broadband (~$50)
  • Netflix (~$10)
  • Hulu (~$10)
  • HBO Now (~$15)
  • MLB.tv (~$10– $130 yr)
  • NBA League Pass (~$10– $120 yr)

That’s about $100 per month, and it doesn’t include the problem of local sports fans having to workaround cumbersome blackout rules. You typically need a VPN (another $10 per month). Suddenly, you’re spending as much or more as you were a traditional cable bill and still getting less content. The problem is compounded by the fact that you have 6-8 different subscriptions, being billed at different times of the month, all with different login requirements and passwords across a host of devices. There is a need for – get this – someone to bundle together all of those services into one bill, allowing you to get economies of scale. And what does that look like? The cable bundle that you hate.

Someone, soon, whether it’s Apple, Amazon or Comcast, will figure out a way to roll all this stuff into one or two streaming subscriptions, and all this fear about networks, like ESPN, losing subscriber fees will go away, because they will be able to just bundle their stuff in as part of a larger package that includes HBO, Netflix, news channels and regional sports.

There’s certainly a correction coming for networks like ESPN, and the larger media companies, but it’s far from disastrous. Someone just has to figure out how to create the perfect streaming bundle.

Cord Snipped: Yahoo!(!) Will Broadcast an NFL Game This Fall

Kyle Scott - June 3, 2015

GONNA BE YAHOO! Photo Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

GONNA BE YAHOO! Photo Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Stelter:

Yahoo has scored the rights to the NFL’s experimental live-stream of a football game this October.

The NFL said in a statement Wednesday that Yahoo its “exclusive partner to deliver the first-ever live stream of an NFL game to a global audience across devices and for free.”

Yahoo is paying an “eight-figure sum” — at least $10 million — for the streaming rights to the event, according to a person involved in it.

The match-up is between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 25. It’s taking place in London, at 9:30 a.m. ET, which makes it a logical choice for a live-streaming test.

Not completely shocking given the time of the game (poor LeSean, juking and jingle-footing around for Yahoo!’s 12 viewers), but it’s only a matter of time before real games wind up on YouTube and other streaming services.

Jim: Something poetic about Buffalo/Jacksonville, two crap markets, being shown on the site where your weird uncle gets all his news.

[Related: Streaming NFL games is a huge, confusing cluster F right now.]

Cord Snipped: ESPN Is Suing Verizon for Offering You More Affordable Cable Packages

Kyle Scott - April 27, 2015

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Verizon, laudably and because unlike Comcast and Time Warner it doesn’t have conflicting content interests, is offering new custom cable packages which allow you to basically create leaner bundles without all the channels you don’t watch. [You can’t go channel-by-channel, but you can bundle similar networks together at a much more granular level than you had previously been able to.] But the Worldwide Leader is suing Verizon… because ESPN and regional sports networks generate a non-insignificant portion of their revenue from cable subscribers who pay their monthly fee but don’t want their channels. From the LA Times:

Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN quickly objected to the move, saying that its programming agreement with Verizon forbids the telecommunications giant from offering ESPN as part of a specialized sports tier.

Disney also is objecting to the positioning of its ABC Family and Disney Channels.

Disney’s reaction foreshadows a potentially high-profile struggle between media companies and pay-TV distributors over so-called skinny programming packages.

Media companies want to protect their most lucrative source of revenue: cable programming fees.

Just fighting the inevitable, Disney-ABC-ESPN is. This sort of a la cart bundle is coming one way or another – through streaming or traditional cable – and though ESPN has somewhat embraced the movement, fighting it in court seems like a waste of energy that should be put into figuring out how to continue to be profitable once virtually every cable subscribe in the country isn’t forced into paying for their networks. The decision here will set a near-term precedent, but change is coming regardless.

Cord Snipped: Mark Cuban Nails It on Cord Cutting, ESPN Seeing Success with Snapchat

Kyle Scott - April 1, 2015

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Mark Cuban

Mark Cuban was on CNBC this morning discussing a whole bunch of things, including cord cutting:

“Money is always made in content by aggregating and disaggregating, and people are trying to disaggregate right now to see if there’s money there. But at some point, someone’s gonna walk in an say I’m gonna aggregate HBO Now, I’m gonna aggregate Sling, I’m gonna aggregate CBS, I’m gonna aggregate whoever else is streaming. They’re gonna come to CNBC and say, look, I’ve got this $99 package where we take the work out of you picking who to stream. And now, all of a sudden, AT&T or whoever comes back and say, well they’re selling it for $99 to get all the channels… we’ll sell you 200 channels for $89.”

I almost tore my rotator cuff cheering him on with that, because it made me feel smart. I’ve said almost the exact same thing about bundling streaming services many times.

Since it’s kind of our lane around here to post about cord cutting and sports streaming and such, people email me and ask if they think they should save money and cut the cord. But it’s not going to be about saving money. Broadband providers will charge more for the more capable broadband tiers that will be needed to handle all the streaming (one reason why the Comcast-Time Warner deal getting approved would hurt competition and ergo your wallet). And that’s before someone comes in and bundles everything together and what you’re left with in 5-10 years is something that looks exactly like your current cable package, only with content that’s available online, on all your devices, and by that point probably embedded into your skin via the  Epidermis.

 

Snapchat

I’m guessing most of our readers – late 20s, early 30s – aren’t fully into the Snapchat thing, but it’s huge among basically everyone under 25, and what the company is doing with media right now is fascinating. From a Sports Business Journal piece about how ESPN is delivering highlights on Snapchat:

A Winter X Games post on Snapchat Stories logged close to 30 million views for ESPN, sources said. While Snapchat posts delete shortly after they are seen, posts on Snapchat Stories stay on the platform for at least 24 hours.

ESPN’s posts on Snapchat’s Discover platform generally are seen about 1 million times a day, sources said. In January, ESPN signed on as the exclusive sports service on Snapchat’s Discover platform, which also includes content from companies like CNN, Comedy Central, Food Network and Vice.

Snapchat, like Instagram and Vine, is built for mobile. Unlike YouTube or Facebook (and maybe a little bit, Twitter), they’re not legacy desktop platforms being converted to mobile. They’re mobile-first. There’s an entire generation of young people who not only will never watch traditional TV, but who also will never understand why we all used to “go online” by sitting at a desk and typing in a URL. Being built for mobile – and, sadly, portrait video – gives these platforms a huge leg up going forward. Next up: Periscope.

NBC Will Let You Stream the Super Bowl on Your Laptop for Free, Just Like FOX Did Last Year

Jim Adair - January 21, 2015

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Super Bowl Sunday is a day to gather around the TV with friends, food, and booze, and enjoy the spectacle. But this year, maybe you sit everyone in a slightly tighter circle as you all watch the big game online.

According to TechCrunch, NBCUniversal is allowing anyone and everyone to stream the Super Bowl and its pre-game festivities (a total of 11, totally necessary hours) for free with NBC Sports Live Extra, just like FOX did with its FOX Sports Go app last year. You can even stick around after the game to watch “The Blacklist” for some reason. But only Verizon has smart phone streaming rights, so you can’t pack all of your friends around your iPhone 6 plus.

People watching won’t have to authenticate with a subscription or login (like you do usually on NBC Sports Live Extra). And to really make cord-cutters pat themselves on the back when they give their spiel about why it’s better, NBC Sports Live Extra will carry the halftime show for the first time and the stream will “include advertisements sold exclusively for digital viewers.” [Looking at you, Squarespace.] Sweet.

More:

According to NBC execs, the plan is to use the Super Bowl event and all the eyeballs it brings to promote the industry-wide effort called “TV Everywhere,” and NBC’s own TV Everywhere offerings. NBC last month had announced its plans to further develop and expand its TV Everywhere-powered streams in 2015, which began with 24/7 live streaming of content from NBC-owned stations.

It’s a huge step towards acknowledging the cord-cutting market on one of TV’s biggest nights of the year… while at the same time promoting a service that does require cable subscriber login credentials. Anyway, I’m sure Kyle is already working on his The Super Bowl is Better on a Laptop post.

[Editor’s note: F off. It’s not better on a laptop, because no one watches anything on laptops anymore. But it might be better on a tablet. And that begs the question– why “laptop” in the headline? You do realize that NBC Sports Live Extra is also a hugely popular app and that just because you can’t watch the Super Bowl on a phone due to the NFL’s draconian agreement with Verizon doesn’t mean you can’t watch it on an iPad, right? Get your shit together. You just alienated 60% of our potential streaming audience with an overly narrow headline.]

You Can Now Get an ESPN Streaming Subscription

Kyle Scott - January 5, 2015

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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.

From Peter Kakfa of ReCode:

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.