What's The Future Of Streaming Live Sports? A Q&A With Ken Fang

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One of the highlights from the October 13th announcement of the NBA’s extension of broadcasting agreements with ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports was that both groups will bring more regular-season and playoff games online thanks to the increasingly prevalent “TV Everywhere” offerings from cable operators and networks.

Prior to the announcement, Awful Announcing’s Ken Fang put together a roundup of the available services from the media partners of the four major leagues, NCAA, tennis and golf. In "Online Streaming Reaching a New Age," the longtime sports media reporter discussed how leagues and networks have either dipped their toes in the waters of online viewing or, in the case of some, are starting to swim.

Knowing that many of our readers watch games on multiple screens these days, TSFJ followed up with Fang with a few questions about what we could possibly expect with the streaming experience going forward. We wondered what’s next and how much has the viewing on these platforms changed the communal experience of sports.

TSFJ: A major development in the current NFL season has been the expansion of the NFL Sunday Ticket streaming service from DirecTV to non-subscribers. First, have there been any reports on how the service is doing for the satellite company? Second, could we see similar deals — perhaps the leagues agreeing with cable/satellite operators — to make games available to non-subscribers?

Ken Fang: We don't have numbers because DirecTV doesn't release them, but we do see something in the future that could be big. Both MLS and the NBA have signed distribution deals with ESPN to market an over-the-top service for both leagues. We don't have details of these new services as of yet, but they bypass the cable and satellite providers completely. Both will allow consumers who have cut the cord to buy games directly from the leagues through ESPN. At what cost, we're not sure as of yet, but these new services bear watching.

TSFJ: Could we see more online-only models a la WWE Network? Certainly fans are able to purchase broadband-only subscriptions of out-of-market packages from MLB, the NBA and the NHL, but they are more or less an add-on from the traditional TV packages. Could we see any of the leagues creating a wholly separate online channel in the same sense as Vince McMahon's company?

Fang: The NFL has started this with NFL Now, which allows fans to see content built around their favorite teams and provides some additional content such as Rich Eisen's new talk show as well as various press conferences and highlights. I do believe that we'll begin to see more over-the-top services and channels from the leagues which will circumvent the cable and satellite providers.

Right now, WWE Network has not been the overwhelming success that the WWE thought it would be, but perhaps that's due to price. We'll see if that number comes down or if the subscriber base climbs. However, WWE was on to something realizing that going over the heads of the cable and satellite companies was the way to go. Other sports entities are keeping a watchful eye on it because the success means that there's room for other OTT services.

TSFJ: The ability to watch sports on multiple screens — television, desktop/laptop, mobile, tablet — has at least added to the viewing experience, if not completely changed how we’ve previously watched these games in the past. A crazy thought, but could all of these additional screens actually harm the communal experience of sports consumption? Less "man caves" and meeting friends at the bar after work, more watching though the phone while attending your kid's soccer match?

Fang: Well, with conveniences come some drawbacks. iTunes for the most part killed the experience of going to the music store and looking at CDs. Smartphones have somewhat killed one-on-one conversation. Watching sports through social media does give us a communal experience, but also being able to watch sports on the phone or tablet means we're not doing something else.

I love the fact I can put a game on WatchESPN wherever I am and not miss a beat, but I also have to be careful not to succumb to watch while I'm at my nephew's birthday party. It's very tempting. I don't think the phone will kill the man cave, but it may take away from us watching a game with friends at the local sports bar or other establishment.

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