OT: Thoughts re: future of internet streaming

Submitted by maineandblue on August 14th, 2013 at 1:19 PM

Just curious to hear the thoughts of others on what you expect to happen with the future of streaming sports on the etherwebz. I'm asking primarily because I'm often frustrated with the quality of live streams (especially the not-quite-legal ones) and don't want to shell out for a cable package that I can't afford and wouldn't use outside of watching my sports teams. I can easily find and download episodes of the handful of shows I watch, but obviously it's not that important to watch them live. 

I'm sort of ok with my plan for watching Michigan games, as I have a friend's password for WatchESPN and for BTN (quality could sometimes be better, but usually it's fine), and many games are broadcast nationally on ABC so I can get good quality with my antenna. However, it's much harder to consistently find decent streams of my NFL team (I live out of state and their games are rarely nationally broadcast; won't mention names because you guys will make fun of me). The NFL has some new package in which you can pay a reasonable fee to watch replays of the games, but you have to wait until Sunday Night Football is over to watch the early games. I'd be ok paying for this service if I could watch the game right after it's over, but waiting that long is too much. On top of that, the NFL seems pretty gung ho about cracking down on illegal streams. 

What do people think about the future of streaming? 

Why is streaming quality usually still so lousy (esp. for the illegal streams)? Other than learning about firstrowsports (I used to use Justin.tv, which is generally inferior) and learning to use google chrome with adblock, my streaming experience has hardly improved in the last 5 years. Shouldn't technology be better and cheaper by now? Will it improve over time? Will the NFL crack down even more on illegal streams? Will the NFL offer more reasonable methods to watch games as an alternative to their Season Ticket plan?

Comments

Soulfire21

August 14th, 2013 at 1:27 PM ^

An A la carte television pricing model seems to be picking up steam, that might ease the pain of expensive cable packages. 

It would be nice if you could select (and pay for), say, only the ESPN networks and the Big Ten Network.

Callahan

August 14th, 2013 at 3:59 PM ^

It'd likely take an act of Congress to make ala carte a reality, and the big media companies don't want it. Corporations have done their best to scare Congress that the fallout would cause economic chaos, so it's not likely to happen. (This is the less cynical version).

ixcuincle

August 15th, 2013 at 7:39 AM ^

Biggest problem with A la Carte from what I've read is prices. If it did happen, ESPN would really jack up their prices. I'm not paying a hefty fee for one channel. 

I used to think it was a good idea, but then I realized that there is better stuff on cable than ESPN. I watch BTN replays now, watch a lot of NBC Sports, and even HGTV / Travel Channel. 

Monocle Smile

August 14th, 2013 at 1:27 PM ^

Wiziwig usually has a bunch of streams for all NFL games, and they come with a variety of qualities. FirstRowSports is another option.

Quality will almost always be an issue so long as the streams are run on the dime of some dude in his basement.

there_in_2005

August 14th, 2013 at 1:29 PM ^

any suggestions for streaming Michigan games this year? my cable provider only offers BTN along with some ridiculous premium package that i refuse to pay for on principle.

MaizeNBlueInDC

August 14th, 2013 at 2:30 PM ^

Where did you see that?  I just checked out the BTN2GO FAQ page and they clearly state that you have to get BTN at home in order to get BTN2GO.  I'd love to hear if there is a way to get around not having BTN at home (let alone cable) I'm all for it!  Other than using someone else's password, that is...

RioThaN

August 14th, 2013 at 1:36 PM ^

IMO all of you guys are spoiled, I live abroad and I've been seeing the games since 2007 (before that it was gamecast) and yeah the number of sites and quality of the streams have been increasing year in and year out, from the old 512 Kb/s DSL days to todays s10 mbps ( I know it's not that fast but it's worlds better). I for one am very happy with the number of streams that I can find today, I watched the whole basketball season with a number of good streams and HD ones.

I like to watch old games, al blurry and snowy I can't help but to think that we're really spoiled with the whole 1080 P and whatnot...

Monocle Smile

August 14th, 2013 at 1:41 PM ^

Calling people "spoiled" because shitty technology now sucks less is one of the worst things I can imagine. It condemns the entire process of improving technology and furthering our understanding on the faulty notion that asceticism is somehow essential for high character.

I will stand proudly on your lawn and urinate.

RioThaN

August 14th, 2013 at 1:50 PM ^

Ha!, not to make you mad, and if I could I'd totally watch the games in an 80" screen full HD, what I meant is that there are a lot of ways to watch the games and they're getting better every year, so we shouldn't  (at least I don't) worry too much about how neat the image is when considering that we're lucky enough to actually being able to watch the game, sorry if I made anyone mad.

Voltron Blue

August 14th, 2013 at 1:43 PM ^

...complaining about the quality of content you are illegally streaming?

That's like saying....screw you, Best Buy, next time I expect the TV I steal to be HD instead of SD!  

Seriously?

maineandblue

August 14th, 2013 at 1:56 PM ^

Haha, I see your point, but if the NFL and broadcast networks were rational and semi-reasonable I'd be glad to pay a fair price. If they try to rip me off, why can't I rip them off in turn?These guys are making a killing...it's not like stealing from a mom and pop store, or even from Best Buy (which generally has reasonable prices).

I'm just wondering why improved technology and decreased cost of said technology hasn't resulted in significantly better quality streams. Call it a purely intellectual question rather than a complaint if you'd like. 

M-Wolverine

August 14th, 2013 at 3:05 PM ^

 

Why is streaming quality usually still so lousy (esp. for the illegal streams)?

 

You are kinda answering your own question, no?

And that's the worst justification ever. What they're doing is legal. What you are isn't. That's like saying the price of milk is too high, so I'm justified in shoplifting. I don't think Foot Locker is going out of business, but you can't steal the shoes because they're way overpriced.

 

(Edit: then having a thread complaining about how crappy the shoes are made by Nike that you stole.)

maineandblue

August 14th, 2013 at 4:01 PM ^

This isn't the place for a discussion of morals or economics so I won't really go into it, but I believe in a moral hierarchy and I'm not a fan of unrestricted capitalism. Is it stealing? Sure, sort of. But I don't really feel bad about it, and I think it's much more of a victimless "crime" than stealing milk or sneakers.  I used to pay an arm and a leg for directv so I could get my 2 games a week for 4 months of the year, and I likely will again in the future when I can afford it. In the meantime, I can live with myself. 

I also jaywalk frequently, and don't feel the least bit bad about breaking that law. 

Voltron Blue

August 14th, 2013 at 2:46 PM ^

I, for one, do appreciate that revised framing of the topic much better.  To that end, I personally don't know the cost structure of what is required to deliver higher quality streams to you very well, though there is reasoned discussion below that infers there are still some hurdles.  While we all agree that the content providers are going to do this to make a profit, so there will of course be a margin in there, perhaps the costs are still sufficiently high that the subsequent consumer pricing is still high.  If content providers felt they could maximize profits by increasing volume and reducing margin, then it would no doubt be done.  So I guess the question back to you is, how do you know they're not acting "rationally"?

 

ixcuincle

August 15th, 2013 at 7:43 AM ^

The NFL has been slightly reasonable, but they are still amazingly outdated when it comes to internet technology. They still believe in that stupid monopoly model. 

I laughed when they released that Football on your Phone commercial from DTV. It's nice and all, but it's not the modernization you're looking for. What people really want is football on their computer, without being a DTV subscriber. Online streaming should be a lot more mainstream than this. And I think that the Madden 25 deal will help, but it should be like this every year. 

MichiganStephen

August 14th, 2013 at 2:15 PM ^

When it comes to legal streaming, I think that there are a few more bumps in the road before anyone who is interested in watching streaming sports can do so without jumping through hoops.  I'm not an expert, but the below isbased on personal observation.  I'm sure if I'm incorrect an anything below that someone will correct.

The first thing is bandwidth.  I think WatchESPN uses 2.2Mbps (MPEG-4) for their best streams.  To put it in perspective, over-the-air HD (antenna) has a max of 19.2Mbps (MPEG-2) and satellite/cable channels use on avergae 10Mbps.  Furthermore, cable and satellite don't have to share the bandwidth the your ISP provides.  In short, if you desire cable/satellite quality for an online stream and want to watch more than one at once, then you'll need an appropriate amount of bandwidth (20-30 Mbps for two high quality games, say). Now there are always advances in compression so this may not be complete picture, but I think it gets the point across.  Also, I'm not sure how our residential infrastructure would support such a shift.

The second thing is that the content providers generally tie access to their streams to whether or not you have a subscription to their content via your content provider.  As a DirecTV customer, I'm completely shut out of the Pac 12 network and FoxSports1 because of this.  I can't even purchase the Pac 12 network seperately online.  This barrier has to be broken in order for streaming to become a primary mechanism to watch games, but how does this happen in the current model?

Finally, the devices to get the content onto your TV (which is the goal for a lot of users) do not always havethe desired content.  AppleTV has WatchESPN but not BTN2Go, for example.

That's just my perspective.  I think there isn't really a technology barrier at this point (except maybe residential broadband bandwidth), but a lot of the paradigms of the old model need to shift in order for streaming to become a better option in my opinion.

Come On Down

August 14th, 2013 at 2:16 PM ^

Count me among those who are skeptical that a la carte television will be available anytime soon. There's simply too much money at stake for cable companies, sports leagues, and production studios to willingly change the model. If it does happen I think it'll need to be a government-forced change.

LSAClassOf2000

August 14th, 2013 at 2:21 PM ^

I've read articles in various publications where CEOs and executives from the larger networks, particularly Fox, ESPN and a couple others, will continually point out that they don't object to streaming per se, but it is the streaming outside of the bundle that bothers them. Basically, they are largely against a la carte programming. I think it was the sales VP at Fox who even put himself out there a while ago as saying that he believes it will never happen. 

Some of the proposals that I have heard thrown around that supposedly would make the premium sports networks more amenable to streaming their content have centered around either creating a situation where your cable bill is basically a ticket to all their content on any medium, or something termed "addressable advertising", or targeting advertising to the individual viewer, which theoretically would make the advertising revenue a bigger deal (i.e., the viewer would be interested in the ads, in their thinking). 

Blue Mike

August 14th, 2013 at 2:41 PM ^

A la carte programming is pretty much a pipe dream, and not a particularly good one at that.  Even if you could skip the middle-man (DirecTV, etc.), you would still be forced into getting multiple channels in a package.  All of the smaller niche channels that we all think we'd drop are owned by the larger networks, and are their way of making money off the advertising rates.  Think NBC is going to let you buy NBC without USA and all of the other little channels that they own?  Same goes for CBS, FOX, all of them.

Besides, while we think we'd save money, we wouldn't.  Some estimates are that ESPN would charge $30 per home to get their channels.  But once you remove DirecTV, cable, etc from the game, you lose competition.  Buying individual channels would be akin to buying tickets to a sporting event.  ESPN/ABC owns the exclusive rights to broadcast the B1G games (other than BTN).  What is to stop them from raising the rate every year, just like every sports team does?

As much as a la carte sounds good, it isn't good for anyone.

Voltron Blue

August 14th, 2013 at 2:50 PM ^

From everything I've read, it seems that sports is actually the most-subsidized content on pay television.  In other words...everyone reading this blog that currently pays for cable/sat TV would probably desire to buy sports programming if offered a la carte....in which case, we would indeed expect it to be *more* expensive.  It's the non-sports-watching cable/sat-buying public that is subsidizing sports watchers' monthly bills.

So I disagree on one point.....a la carte might in fact be good for non-sports-watchers, but that doesn't include anyone reading this blog.

stephenrjking

August 14th, 2013 at 2:42 PM ^

Here's the problem with a la carte programming: It would get very expensive very quickly. Let's talk about ESPN, since it is both a useful example and also, as the most powerful and profitable channel on cable television, the key to the entire enterprise:

ESPN right now gets astonishing fees for a cable channel because so many people consider it a vital part of their cable package. Let's say that half of cable subscribers watch ESPN with any frequency; it would be suicide for any cable company to alienate those customers and lose them to satellite, which is a valid competitor. Total disaster.

So, we're pretending that half of your average cable subscribers watch ESPN. That gives them tremendous power to drive fees--but it also means that, were cable to devolve to an a la carte model, they would have to charge AT LEAST double the amount to make the same amount of money. And there would probably be some people who would simply say, "I don't like ESPN enough to pay that much for it," and they would lose them too--and the rates would have to be even higher.

We're looking at $25 or more just for ESPN in this scenario. And then you have to add in all the other channels. Fox Sports is in the process of renegotiating its rights fees for the new Fox Sports 1 & 2 channels, closing in on a dollar per subscriber. Given their low audience, to break even they would have to charge a minimum of $5 for a "Fox Sports" package that does not include your local Fox Sports Detroit station.

Then you have your local Sports Networks (which can charge a fairly big chunk due to their local popularity) and stations like NBC Sports and such. 

The numbers add up in a hurry. I was all for a la carte programming and web subscriptions until I actually looked at what the numbers would be. 

Now, none of this will happen unless ESPN says it does, because ESPN is the engine that drives the train. But they say they don't want to do that and I think I believe them. And I'm okay with that.

French West Indian

August 14th, 2013 at 3:45 PM ^

I'm, admittedly, ill-informed on what's going on with television these days but wouldn't the idea of an "a la carte model" be to pay for the actualy content you watch rather than a full channel?

I agree that something like $25/month for espn (and whatever other channels you like) would get expensive quickly.  As a fan, I would be more interested in a model where I'm just paying for the 3 or 4 Michigan games that espn features each month.  At say, $2-4 per game that would be pretty reasonable.

French West Indian

August 14th, 2013 at 5:50 PM ^

70€ works out to 5,83€ per game based on a 12 game football season.  Figure that I'm already comfortable paying 2-3€ per downloaded tv show (on itunes, for example) and then add in a "premium" for live event coverage and those numbers are definitely in the ballpark.

Also, 10€ for single day coverage implies that one would have access to more than one game during the day, right?  A better idea might be to charge a bit more for the 1st game and then try to entice you into staying on the sofa and buying a 2nd (and 3rd and so on...) game for just a little bit more.

stephenrjking

August 14th, 2013 at 4:14 PM ^

I like the idea of specific content packages, but I don't think that will ever happen. Even if you were to break up channels into a la carte offerings, channels themselves use the sports they purchase rights to to drive viewership. That's a key cog in Fox Sports 1's strategy to build a viewer base, by drawing eyes through events and keeping them through side programming. 

I don't think there's any way that channels will voluntarily release their content in that manner. There's just no way for them to make up for the loss of subscribers.

French West Indian

August 14th, 2013 at 6:17 PM ^

Certainly today's channels (e.g., ESPN) will fight to the death but is a college football game between Michigan and Ohio State really ESPN's content?  Does it belong to the two schools?  Or is it content of the Big Ten?

If computer & internet technology keep evolving such that content producers are closer to their consumers, why wouldn't a middle-man, such as a network like ESPN, eventually be cut out?

I know that it's not an exact parallel, but I keep thinking of iTunes and the way that you can pick & choose most songs without being locked into buying a full album.  It might not be Apple specifically but it seems like eventually someone will find a way to disrupt the traditional model in the same way that Apple has with music (and even a lot of non-live television) content.

As I said, networks will fight it but my gut says that eventually paying only for the specific content that we use will be where we end up.

Jon06

August 14th, 2013 at 4:06 PM ^

Our household would be willing to pay for something like 15 channels, if we could pick and choose. We currently don't pay anything for TV (unless you count $8/month for Netflix).

I'm not sure how you decided ESPN would charge more than 5 times as much as it currently does.

Update: there are already some a la carte offerings, e.g. the Hallmark Channel is $3/month through a Roku box. I wouldn't expect the change to be led by sports channels, but independently owned special interest networks have all the reason in the world to pursue a la carte possibilities. That special interest tail will wag the sports channel dog in due time, and there'll be nothing Disney can do about it.

TenThousandThings

August 14th, 2013 at 3:40 PM ^

For the NFL, once the DirecTV deal ends, I think you'll see something like MLB.tv, which appears to be a huge success. As long as you don't live in the home area of your favorite team, you'll be golden.

stephenrjking

August 14th, 2013 at 4:10 PM ^

The future of NFL Sunday Ticket will be interesting to watch. Local blackouts are normal for both Sunday Ticket and MLB.tv and are not going to change, with good reason; that said, I could see some company like Apple, Roku, or even Netflix (!) bidding on Sunday Ticket. Or Google, for that matter; all of these companies would use Sunday Ticket to drive sales of either their devices or subscriptions, giving them "must-have" content in the same way DirecTV used it to drive its subscriber base.

For that same reason, DirecTV will pay through the nose to keep it.

ixcuincle

August 15th, 2013 at 7:48 AM ^

I noticed a few weeks ago on Twitter that the DTV monopoly is close to ending. It's just a rumor, but if it actually does happen, and more networks are allowed to carry Sunday Ticket, that can only be good for the industry and for fans. More competition is better, not less. 

The amazing thing to me is how MLB.TV is widely available, as is NBA package and NHL Game Center. NFL is the most restrictive of them all re: online streaming. To me, it's not about "making money", it's about being outdated in 2013. And then they wonder why everyone is going to unofficial streams, because they can't watch your stream online, because you've restricted it to DTV users only! 

BlueDragon

August 14th, 2013 at 8:12 PM ^

I think the streams I watch have improved somewhat in recent years, or I am becoming more efficient at finding good ones. It's a do-it-yourself project at best and an ordeal at worst. Cable does not fit in my budget, but 30+ Mbps internet is ideal for 3-4 computers. I just don't always full-screen my videos and frequently it's easier to tell what's happening at the smaller resolution. Not using any bandwith for music or torrenting helps too - instead, try playing some of the gigabytes stored on the hard drive. It's good music!

Some sports work with GameTracker. Baseball is actually better for me because they model the pitch in relation to the batting box and it's easy to multitask with several browser windows. Hockey is OK if there's a radio feed also. Basketball, football, and soccer I usually have to watch or listen to on the radio.

ChopBlock

August 14th, 2013 at 7:56 PM ^

Illegal streaming isn't stealing; it's copyright infringement. There's a difference.

I really just think it's a matter of time before a la carte programming becomes the norm, and for a reason nobody has yet mentioned: the illegal streams. It is certainly true that DirecTV and others are going to fight tooth and nail and pay top dollar to keep their oligopoly, but as more and more of the sports consumer base grows up in the technology era, fewer people will pay for those TV packages, opting instead to watch illegal streams. That's especially true because the most technologically proficient individuals will always be the ones with the least disposible income (younger people). 

In economic terms, there will be less demand for TV packages as more and more people find a competitive product (bootleg streams) to be a viable alternative. If the offering is more palatable (i.e. cheaper, with less crap on it that you don't watch), demand will increase.

maineandblue

August 14th, 2013 at 9:02 PM ^

Exactly, that's what I'm hoping for. Even better would be if we could find a way to cut out the middle man entirely, much like the Louis ck (pay me 5 bucks) or even radiohead (pay what you can and think is fair). when you have a solid product and solid fan base, I really believe most people would prefer to pay a fair amount directly rather than pirate.

ixcuincle

August 15th, 2013 at 7:49 AM ^

The good: The streams are getting better in quality

The bad: These good quality streams are largely available through cable providers only. You see with a lot of the sports networks that they're starting to develop apps that will stream the game online in great quality. Take for instance Fox Sports, who is going to release a new online app which is going to directly compete with WatchESPN. NBC Sports has also developed their own app which will allow you to watch nearly all Premier League games. 

If you don't have cable, you're stuck with the poor quality First Row feeds. I like First Row, but when you maximize that on a 1080p monitor, it looks so blocky. Someone told me to try sopcast, but I have bad experiences with P2P streaming. I can't even connect most of the time. 

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I have heard of XBMC but it appears to be Linux, and I'm a Windows 8 man. :|