The college football season is less than a week away, so it’s time once again to look at what we’re looking at. Sports on TV is almost as big of a story as the sports themselves, whether it’s a TV deal that leaves fans in the dark. or a baseball game that breaks up the BXII. Before we get to the annual service review, let’s look at the big stories in the sports media world of the last year.
After nearly a year of rumors and leaks from Indycar journalists, NBC has confirmed that they will be shutting down NBC Sports Net permanently at the end of 2021. Moreover, it’s been revealed that this move would have happened already if not for the Olympics being delayed a full year to this past summer. Some events will move to main NBC, some to USA Network, but the majority of NBCSN’s live sports content will now go behind the paywall at Peacock.
It’s hard to say what this means for sports on TV, but it can’t be good, can it? NBC’s collection of rights has always been weird (Olympics, Notre Dame football, EPL Soccer, Indycar, half of the Nascar season, some Golf and Tennis) but my overriding thought is that NBC has the #1 program on TV in Sunday Night NFL Football (that’s the #1 program in all of TV, not just sports) and really doesn’t have to care about anything else. Everything else they have rights to, including Notre Dame football, is now just something they use to drive subscriptions to their streaming service.
This would be a disaster for the NHL, except...
NHL leaves NBC, Turner making bigger sports push
Around the same time the NBCSN news was made official, the NHL announced that they had a new TV deal that splits their national TV coverage between returning to ESPN and Turner’s TNT. NHL on ESPN is tremendous news for hockey fans (and Barry Melrose) but Turner making a bigger push into live sports makes them a legit 5th top-tier sports broadcaster. Looking at their collection of rights (NBA with playoffs, NHL, the NLCS on TBS, March Madness, and AEW Wrestling) you could make a legitimate argument that Turner is now on the level or surpassing NBC and/or CBS for importance in the US sports TV landscape.
The Bally Mess
It seems like so long ago now, but the fallout from Disney deciding in 2017 that the best way to get control of the X-Men franchise was to just outright buy 20th Century Fox is just now being felt in the sports world. As part of that merger, Disney was forced to sell off the Fox Regional Sports Networks, which house a majority of the local broadcast networks for MLB, NBA, and NHL teams in America. Those networks were sold to Sinclair Broadcasting and immediately there have been problems. Since the fall of 2020, the now renamed Bally Sports networks have been removed from most of the streaming platforms and the Dish Network satellite service. Carriage fights are nothing new, but the unending nature of this fight between Sinclair and multiple parties has been surprising. The networks were unavailable for the entirety of the NBA and NHL seasons and are weeks away from missing the entire 2021 MLB season, with no indication at all that negotiations are even going to happen.
For it’s part, Bally is saying that they will unveil a new direct streaming option in its app that will allow customers to pay them directly to stream their games in-market. If it happens, it’s actually a great move for fans, no longer shackled to paying for a full TV service when all they want is to watch their team. But that’s a big if, and it’s already well behind schedule. For now, their networks are only available for streaming on the ATT Now service, a product of Sinclair’s long standing agreements with the now-former owner of DirecTV.
DirecTV’s blood letting
After just over 6 years of ownership, ATT is now selling off the DirecTV satellite service after hemorrhaging cash and customers. DirecTV has reportedly lost over $30 Billion in value and millions of customers over that short time, with 3 million people dropping the service in 2020 alone. Between this news and the ongoing troubles at Dish Network, it seems satellite TV might be on the way out entirely. I mention this here because having satellite service is still a big part of tailgate culture, and while streaming games over cellular data does work, it’s not good enough to be a complete replacement just yet. Trust me, my tailgate knows.
In the college sports world, the great mass of ESPN+ continues to grow, pulling in about 15 million subscribers and just about everything that isn’t top flight college football. While by itself the service isn’t much use to a fan of a P5 team, it seems that the day when regular old ESPN the channel gets added to ESPN+ is closer than ever, maybe within the next five years. This year, the SEC is experimenting with simulcasting SECN+ games on ESPN+, a trend that ESPN clearly wants to expand on.
Service Review - Fall 2021
As I always say in these roundups, these reviews are from the focus of a sports fan, with the priority being LSU. If you’re not a lonely bachelor or bachelorette, it’s important to talk with the other TV viewers in your household about what’s most important to them. No use in getting the Pac 12 Network if you are suddenly without Paw Patrol or The Walking Dead (that’s still a thing, right?) so be sure to check out each service’s full channel lineup. Also, I encourage you to try out multiple services before making a decision, because I’m not always right about everything. For example I still don’t like the interface on Hulu Live, but maybe you do. All of these services offer week long free trials that are easy to cancel and won’t cost you a dime.
Cord Cutting Guide - Fall 2021
|Service||YouTube TV||SlingTV||Hulu Live||ATT Now||FuboTV|
|Service||YouTube TV||SlingTV||Hulu Live||ATT Now||FuboTV|
|Minimum SEC Net Cost||$65||$46||$65||$85||$65|
|Maximum Sports Cost||$80||$77||$75||$95||$95|
|4 Locals||X||Fox and NBC in select major markets||X||X||Fox, NBC, CBS|
|Longhorn||O||X||O||X (Regionally only)||O|
|Fox Soccer Plus||X||O||O||O||X|
|Included DVR||Unlimited (9 month storage)||50 Hours||50 Hours||20 Hours||250 Hours|
|Base Simultaneous Users||3||1 (Upgradable)||2 (Upgradable)||3||3 (Upgradable)|
X = Yes, O = No
Minimum SEC Net Cost - What it says on the tin. This is the minimum amount of money per month required to gain access to the SEC Network, a requirement for anyone reading about cord-cutting on an LSU website. Be aware that, in some cases, this minimum cost will not include access to very basic channels like Fox Sports or NBC Sports
Maximum Sports Cost - If you have cash to burn, you’re probably better off just going with a traditional provider, but you can still be a baller in cyberspace if you want to. This amount is what it would cost to receive every US-based linear TV sports channel that each service offers. This does NOT include even further optional sports extras that some services offer, such as NBA League Pass or Fubo’s wide array of foreign language soccer channels
4 Locals - Except where noted, this indicates if a service offers the local affiliates of the Big 4 Broadcasters (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX). Be aware that this still may not mean all four are available in your specific local area. Carriage disputes may also affect availability. Each service offers the ability to check local station availability on their website before purchasing service.
Included DVR - The standard video recording function available with the base account for the service. Some services allow you to purchase additional hours for a cost not listed here.
Simultaneous Users - How many different devices can be logged on and watching live television at the same time from one purchased account. Some of these services allow you to purchase additional simultaneous streams for a cost not listed here.
Still the gold standard in cable-replacement streaming. Strong software, easy to navigate program guide, and the hands down best DVR in all of television, and I include regular cable in that. They’ve increased prices like everyone on our list, but are at the $65 sweet spot. Pac-12 Network remains a curious omission for a San Francisco Bay-area based company. The lack of the Bally networks (and ATTSW for my Astros) could be a deal breaker if they don’t have what you need to follow your team.
An important note: due to a contract dispute, the Youtube TV app is more difficult to add to a Roku device at the moment. There are work-arounds, but it’s an odd situation.
Dish Network’s streaming platform, Sling continues it’s pitch of being the low-cost leader and the one with the most options. While most of the streaming services I review offer just one or two main packages, Sling has about a dozen different options. They won’t really save you much money to get the same channels as the other services, but if you’re just looking for the cheapest way to get ESPN, this is it. Like most on the list, they don’t have the Bally nets. While it’s not something that will be useful much longer, Sling is still the only way to get Longhorn Network nationwide on a streaming platform and it’s one of 2 options that offer all four of the P5 conference networks (SECN, ACCN, B1G Net, and P12 Net). Many recent user reviews have been praising their improved software and much steadier streaming, something that was an issue early on with Sling
Hulu + Live is kind of a blah middle of the road streaming service, with one good trick. It has many of the networks you’d expect, and is missing Bally like nearly everyone else. The interface is also sometimes confusing to use, and the DVR isn’t great in either features or hours.
But then there’s Hulu’s party trick: a $73 bundle that includes Disney+ and ESPN+. It’s about $10 a month in savings, and these are services that a lot of people have or want.
Formerly DirecTV Now, then ATT TV Now, and soon to have another name change thanks to it’s sell off with DirecTV, this service has always been a bad joke. If you asked an entrenched telecom executive to come up with a streaming TV platform, I doubt they could do worse on purpose. It’s both the most expensive service on the market and too cheap to include anything more than the smallest DVR on the market. Its software is buggy and poorly reviewed. It’s the only service that doesn’t include NFL Network or Redzone at any price (because they want you to pay hundreds for Sunday Ticket) Yes, it’s the only service that still carries the Bally networks, but at this price you’re probably better off with regular cable.
The little independent that could, Fubo’s “sports first” mission statement keeps making it a strong option for the sports fan, especially the college sports fan. Fubo is
still the ONLY service (Correction, Sling carries all 4 as well) that carries all four of the P5 conference networks (SECN, ACCN, B1G Net, and P12 Net). The base DVR is the most expansive available behind Youtube’s unlimited service. This is also one of the few services that offers the ATT Sports networks, which is huge for me as an Astros fan. The service originally started out as a way to watch international soccer in the US and they still offer an expansive list of additional foreign language channels if you’re a soccer die-hard. Fubo also offers a 4 feed multi-view option on Apple TVs that I used to great effect during the olympics and should be excellent during a college football Saturday.
But like all of these options, it’s not perfect. In my area, Fubo only offers the National ABC feed, not my local ABC station. They are missing the Bally nets like everyone else, but they’re also missing the Turner Networks (TNT, TBS) That means Fubo is missing a huge chunk of the NBA, NHL, the NLCS, and March Madness. If you’re a fan of any of those, it’s a deal-breaker.
I’ve been doing these reviews for six years now and while the streaming is better than ever, there still is no perfect option for the sports fan that I can recommend with no reservation. Hulu and Sling are great if your budget is tight. YouTube and Fubo are in a tight battle that depends on the channels you want and which technology (unlimited DVR vs 4 screen multi view) you prefer. I think, in the end, YouTube TV might be the best option, but the decision is tougher than ever, and Fubo would be my recommendation if you don’t mind missing the Turner networks.
But hey, decide for yourself. Use these services’ free trial options to see what works best for you.
Just don’t use AT&T.