Beating the Game — Ditching Pay TV

If you enjoy adrenaline-filled racing, bone-crushing tackles, mind-blowing saves, and earth-shattering home runs, chances are pretty good that you have a satellite or cable subscription. This is reality: sports lovers can’t ditch their expensive television providers — not if they want to continue to enjoy the sports they love. Or can they?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way — big media doesn’t like change. Big media would prefer that consumers pay for those expensive cable or satellite subscriptions for an incredibly long time. Big media wants suck people’s wallets dry while hammering them with enough advertisements to make their heads explode. More importantly, big media, to the chagrin of most consumers, wants to keep to the status quo.

Just like an expansion team with few hopes of winning anytime soon, the new ways of consuming content are eagerly dismissed in the eyes of big media. Maybe they simply don’t care. Then again, maybe they fear these new methods of content consumption, in hopes that their ignorance will postpone the inevitable. Either way, they don’t want to give their broad consumer base even the slightest hint that there are other, better, and cheaper ways to enjoy premium video content. Still, something had to give.

Now, consumers are no longer settling for the status quo — declining subscriptions for the television industry is evidence alone. People prefer to watch content on their own terms, with the likes of video-on-demand, DVR, and Internet streaming. In fact, it is now a basic expectation. Slowly, people have been given this freedom to control what they watch and when the watch it, with much reluctance by big media.

Unfortunately, a new line has been drawn.

 

The Low Blow

Just as consumers begin to see the bright light at the end of the tunnel, big media is constantly threatening to derail it all. They intend to merge with competition, force production companies to give preference to their ways, and manipulate public opinion. This isn’t shocking nor unexpected. It’s just getting a bit old.

Big media has to find a way to keep people paying. One way they do it is with a glorified sports package. Pay a few bucks per month, get a few dozen sports channels. Pay a few more, get a few dozen more sports channels. Spend a few hundred, and most of the games from most major sports leagues become available. It’s a sports lover’s dream.

Unfortunately, people buy into it thinking this is the only way. After all, sports have always been a big selling point for these companies and the fans that need to keep up with the season’s drama. Thus, it builds up in people’s minds that, even the occasional sports viewer, they need a television subscription to get the sports action they crave. If they don’t, they could miss out.

Part of that is true. If consumers want to watch colleges battle it out for bragging rights on the gridiron or hard court, they have to pay. If they want to watch stock cars whiz around a track and occasionally bump into each other, they have to pay. If they want to watch Ronaldo or Rooney score a soccer goal from a distance, they have to pay. So yes, there is a good amount of sports content that would be given up.

But little sacrifices can add up to huge savings.

 

Knock-out Punch

Many people still don’t know this, but the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS, and MLB offer online streaming services that bring live action to the consumer via broadband (oh how wonderful the Internet is). It’s the real deal, and it is the better deal.

It’s not as expensive as some might think. At $350 per season, the NFL’s online option is the most expensive sport to keep up with, courtesy of DirecTV’s exclusive distribution rights. NFL aside, less than a hundred dollars can give a person an entire season’s worth of game content from the various sports organizations. Still, when lumping all of these sports streaming services together, the combined cost is potentially a fraction of what people might pay for a year’s worth of cable or satellite access. Pretty cool, right?

Yet it’s far from perfect. Consumers face potential blackouts for local team markets, which some people still face with pay TV. They’ll probably miss out on some of the big games throughout the year. And there might be some other quirks along the way that could prevent the hardcore sports fan from seeing that one game that they just have to see.

Sports organizations need to mature a bit more, as many still don’t realize the benefits of giving consumers what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. NCAA (college) sports are missing; the NCAA does not offer any method to watch games online for free or pay, which is a huge mistake. Auto sports are slow to cross the finish line; particularly international auto sports. Boxing and mixed martial arts are also knocked out. There are surely numerous other examples to be listed as well.

 

Unanimous Victory

The question is simple — is saving hundreds of dollars per year worth slight inconveniences? That’s up to each individual to decide. However, the fact that consumers now have the option is pretty amazing. The hope is that these choices will expand in the future with more sports organizations jumping on the bandwagon.

Minor setbacks and resistance aside, it is clear that the future of sports content belongs on the Web. Sports organizations have a golden opportunity to give consumers what they want while generating revenue. Those that have already begun the transition are way ahead of the game. Those who remain in the “safety” of big media, however, might not be so lucky when the rest of the sporting world leaves them behind.

Interestingly (or frighteningly, depending on how you view it), the Internet can further empower the actual sports organizations. It could give them complete control over content distribution, instead of relying on the ABCs, NBCs, and other media organizations of the world to distribute their content. This sounds exactly like what these billion-dollar sports organizations want. Soon they might get their wish.

Maybe consumers will get their wishes answered soon as well. Let’s just hope that the fans of these sports get treated fairly when the time comes. If so, everybody wins! If not, well, you already know who loses.

Written by James Mowery

James Mowery is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.
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Comments
  • Taylor

    I live on a University residence for most of the year, we have no choice in paying for cable or not. The residence has no wireless internet and requires a cable connection which are only available in our rooms. However we’ve got another draw back, the bandwidth cap, it’s excruciatingly low. Now the coy reader may believe that we can simply hook up a wireless router and be set. Unfortunately no, wireless devices are banned; so we have no other option, pay for cable and sit back in our common suite with the other roommates or use the internet and sit in a painfully small room and stream content.

  • http://onlyjames.com/ James Mowery

    @Taylor

    Yeah, this is a huge issue in the future, which has me worried about data caps and limits. This has been talked about numerous times on Techi before. Here is an article with me discussing the threat to the mobile industry from mobile providers: http://www.techi.com/2010/07/mobile-innovations-greatest-threat-greedy-providers/

  • Ben

    I would of ditched television years ago if I could just get all the basketball games I want to watch (NBA, NCAA, FIBA) but even if I just wanted NBA and signed up for NBA League Pass those locally and nationally televised blackout games are the best games to watch. And watching it on the internet doesn’t compare to full HD I did the trial period and really the picture quality was pretty lacking.

  • http://speedwyze.com bobbychuck

    It’s been a year since I ditched subscription TV and while not always perfect or great quality I have rarely missed a sporting event that I wanted to watch. Using online subscriptions, SOP, Veetle and Justin.tv to name a few I’ve seen just about everything I’ve wanted too.

    Of course having a Media Center PC connected to my plasma makes the experience more bearable from the couch.

    I don’t see people switching to broadband only anytime soon as there is much to be said for sitting with remote in hand and channel surfing but the writing is clearly on the wall with the new slew of products coming from Apple, Google and others.

    The ball is in the establishments court…I hope the make the right moves.

  • anonymous

    @Taylor: yes you can get digital cable, at least we could have where I went to school (univ of illinois in urbana)… just had to call up comcast or whoever was providing service to the school. Roommate and I did it for one summer and got all the premium movie channels and watched movies pretty much all the time :)

    @Everyone else :Instead of supporting the greedy corporations… support your local sports bar.. just go there and watch your game… and spend about 10bucks :) I rather that than supporting the evil corporations, plus you’ll meet fellow fans :)

  • http://avangionq.stumbleupon.com/blog/ AvangionQ

    I watch more TV on my computer than I do on my TV, to the point where watching TV on TV is a rarity … actually, I play more console video games on my TV than I watch TV on my TV, and that’s not all that time consuming either … might be time to drop the service …

  • B

    Tell that to hockey fans in the south…. where no bar even THINKS about carrying the NHL.

  • anonymous

    In terms of sports, this article fails to mention that with those sport packages online, if you live in the market of your favorite team, you won’t see them on those out of market packages. So if you live in SF and love the hometown Niners (and can’t use antenna for whatever reason), you need cable/sat or you won’t be seeing the Niners as the NFLST online only package will black out the Niners for this person.

    If you live in SF and even can have an antenna, forget about seeing the hometown SJ Sharks NHL team. They are only on cable on CSN-California. And the NHL Gamecenter will black out Sharks games.

    So yes if you love pro sports and want to cut the cord, you’d better not live in the market as the teams you love or else you can’t do it.

  • http://onlyjames.com/ James Mowery

    @anonymous

    Actually, I did mention it:

    “Consumers face potential blackouts for local team markets, which some people still face with pay TV.”