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OTT Video Adventures Part 5: Cutting the Cable Cord on Pay TV Sports and News

While my dear sweet wife Kirsten seems to be hedging on giving up on our Pay TV service from Comcast, I am doing one last reflection on over-the-top (OTT) video content before we jump into evaluating our hardware options. My focus for this week is a pretty big one and one of the key areas of concern in switching to an Internet-based TV watching experience. How do I get my live news and sports?

Fortunately, on first pass, I have less reason for concern than I had originally feared. Let’s start with news.

News:

It has sort of creeped up on me, but I no longer watch TV-based national news. Once a dedicated 6 PM news watcher (ABC and Peter Jennings—one of the last true and fair news anchors, God rest his soul), I can’t remember the last time I watched network news. It was probably once a few months ago just to see Katie Couric in action, since Kirsten and I used to be big Today show fans (a lot less so with kids now who need to make the bus on time). We still occasionally watch 11 o’clock local news though. But even this is a habit we don’t really enjoy since it keeps us up late and is almost always filled with sad stories of murders and corrupt politicians—not exactly a good jump start to our dream programming. Also, both of us have become adept Internet news sites scanners, getting the headlines from cnn.com, foxnews.com, bbc.com for the international perspective, and boston.com for local news and sports stories. They have enough of their content available as video on demand clips to give us an even better experience than the superficial sound-bites and sensationalism you get on network news. And when there is an important live event such as a speech by the President or a big police investigation, that content is usually streamed live. Plus, getting our news online is just BETTER, since we can decide what stories to click on or Google to dig deeper.

Sports are an entirely different matter, and one that will probably vary widely with your geography and viewing habits. Here is my breakdown in order of priority:

Boston College Football and Basketball:

I am mostly in good shape for college sports since many of the games for Boston College are carried by local TV stations—in high definition no less via my over-the-air (OTA) antenna.

For those not picked up by a local channel, there is the OTT alternative. I am still trying to figure out if I will be able to get this consistently, but I was able to watch the BC-Kent State football game in its entirety on ESPN360.com last weekend. Since this game was not even broadcast on regular TV, I was thrilled to be able to catch the game. It was broadcast live but I watched the replay after a day of fun with the family. The Move networks-based player and experience was awesome. I was able to do my own replays much like a DVR. Yes, there were commercials being played but this did not bother me since I used this time to do the post-game analysis I would do after any game. I analyzed the box score, got the game recap from ESPN, and checked out a few blogs and fan forums for their opinions. A recent study showed that a large percentage of sports fans are already surfing the web while they watch their games, whether it be real-time statistics or checking their fantasy football tally. So I guess I am part of that trend.

ESPN360.com is a broadband network for live sports programming. It leverages a lot of the same content from the ESPN TV channels but also provides unique content only available online (like lesser sports or regional games). According to ESPN, “each year ESPN360.com delivers thousands of live games and events like College Football and Basketball, NBA, MLB, UEFA Champions League Soccer, The Masters and US Open Golf, all 4 Grand Slam tennis tournaments, and more. Plus you get a fully interactive experience with real time in-game stats and scoreboards and live chat.”

It is a little tricky figuring out what if anything you might get, since ESPN360 is offered in partnership with local broadband Internet providers such as Verizon FiOS and Comcast and also subject to some local black-out rules. I still need to determine how to make sure I maintain access for upcoming college football and basketball games, since I never did log in. Perhaps my Comcast Internet connection was automatically detected. The service is really geared to live streaming or recent replays (within 24 hours or up to a week in some cases), not for watching games from yesteryear. It is free on most university campuses and military bases. It can also be accessed remotely, provided that you sign into your account and your home service provider has a partnership with ESPN360.

New England Patriots Pro Football:

Again, I will be in decent shape here via my OTA antenna, since most Patriots games are on CBS in HD. The two Monday night games are on ESPN, so I will look there on those dates. Then of course, I am always looking for excuses to watch the game with friends at the local bar or at a friend’s house (can you say: “escape from bed-time duty”?)

Boston Red Sox Baseball:

Watching my beloved Sox may prove to be a bit trickier. There are only a few games broadcast on network TV which I might get OTA, like Fox’s game of the week. But I still haven’t found a reliable answer to watch the Red Sox online. NESN, the network owned by the Red Sox, only carries game clips. MLB.tv has all the games, but they are subject to blackout in your home television market (so my brother Tom in Sacramento can watch the Sox online but not me). I went to several other networks sites and all had the local blackout limit. Strangely, I did find tonight’s Red Sox-Angels game being streamed live on ESPN360, so I will have to tune in to see if I can really watch it. Ideally, I would like to watch the Red Sox using MLB.tv’s Gameday Premium, which is a $20 per year subscription service that gives you access to the game along with exclusive statistics such as batter vs. pitcher scouting reports, pitch speed, location, etc. There is some discussion about whether Major League Baseball will open up local market games to some form of online video subscription service, but the timing and details are still murky. “Maybe next year?” (funny, we Boston fans used to say that EVERY year, until our recent emergence into sports glory).

Conclusion

So I guess two out of three is not that bad, since I am also holding out hope that an OTT option for the Red Sox may someday emerge. The question is, do I care that much about the Red Sox to stop from cutting the cord on my $95/month cable bill? Easy to answer from November to April, but how about now heading into an exciting play-off run? Hmmm… my friends and neighbors might be seeing more of me this Fall. I’ll bring the beer.

Brian Mahony is CEO and Principal Analyst of Trender Research. For research or consulting projects, contact him at bmahony@trenderresearch.com.

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