Cutting The Cord As A Sports Fan Update Fall 2017: Drowning In Options

It’s been almost an entire year since my last post about cutting the cord and living the life of an insane sports fan. The OTT (Over The Top) video streaming market has exploded since our last discussion on the matter and with the college football season mere days away, it’s time to review the options.

As I always say in these posts, this is a look at cord-cutting from purely a sports fan’s perspective. The availability of channels that don't carry live sports is not something covered here. If you’re not a lonely bachelor like myself, you’ll obviously have needs for more than just ESPN. I would recommend everyone read my recommendations from my first post on this subject. Everyone’s TV needs are different, and that’s important when it comes to choosing one of these services.

Sling TV

  • Minimum cost for SEC Network $25
  • Cost for all sports networks possible $50

Available

  • ESPN/2/U/News (“TV Anywhere” app access aka “TVA”)
  • SEC Network (TVA)
  • FS1/2 (TVA)
  • Local Fox Sports (TVA)
  • Local NBC Sports (NO TVA)
  • NBC-SN (NO TVA)
  • beIN Sports (TVA)
  • Pac 12 Network (NO TVA)
  • NFL Redzone
  • NHL Network
  • NBA Network

Not Available

  • MLB Network
  • Longhorn Network
  • Big Ten Network
  • Fox College A/C/P
  • CBS-SN

The service that kickstarted this whole cord-cutting thing on a national level, Sling TV has evolved much over the past year and is still a great option for newcomers. Sling still splits their plans into Disney and non-Disney options, and has the premium sports networks on a additional tier. While Fox's and NBC's sports networks are on a separate base plan from the ESPNs, they do still provide a discount for getting both.

Unlike almost all the other services I'll talk about today, Sling offers almost no local broadcast networks whatsoever (local NBC and FOX are available is a small set of markets, but none of those markets are in Louisiana). This keeps their costs down, but also seems a bit out of place given what the competition is doing. Also unlike anyone else, Sling TV is currently the only OTT service on the market that offers the Pac-12 network in any way. You'll get the main P12 feed, plus all six regional P12 stations. Unfortunately, that doesn't include access to the P12 Network's TVA app. Still, if you’re a college sports fan with an insane craving for late night west coast games, $25 to get the Pac 12 Network for a few weeks is certainly not the craziest purchase I’ve ever made. Sling does not include access for NBC Sports Net's TVA app, but given all the changes coming to Premier League coverage in the 2018 season that seems like less of an issue going forward. Sling is also one of the few that offers beIN Sports, home of International soccer and CUSA football, and the NFL Redzone channel.

Sling's software runs on almost anything that connects to the internet, including being built-in to some LG and Roku TVs. In the past Sling was mired in hiccups and buggy software, but seems rock solid now (except on the Xbox One, apparently). I last tested the service a few months ago during LSU baseball's weekend in Houston and was impressed with how little issue I had with it. One issue that hasn't gone away is that ESPN networks are limited to a single active stream, which means it can only be used on one screen at a time. That includes trying to use watchespn at the same time. This would be a big problem in multi-TV households. Sling is in the process of adding a Cloud DVR option to it's service, but it looks like it's still in beta at the moment.

Due to it's ease of use, seven-day free trial, and free/discounted device offers, I think Sling it still the best service for folks to try out first. It may not be the one you stick with, but it'll give you a good idea of what cord-cutting is actually like.

Playstaion Vue

  • Minimum cost for SEC Network $45
  • Cost for all sports networks possible $65

Available

  • ESPN/2/U/News (TVA)
  • SEC Network (TVA)
  • Longhorn Network (TVA)
  • FS1/2 (TVA)
  • Fox College A/C/P (TVA)
  • Local Fox Sports (TVA)
  • Big Ten Network (TVA)
  • NBC-SN (TVA)
  • Olympic (TVA)
  • Local NBC Sports (TVA)
  • NFL Network
  • NFL Redzone
  • NBA Network
  • MLB Network

Not Available

  • Pac 12 Network
  • NHL Network
  • CBS-SN
  • beIN Sports

The other service that was around last time I did this, Playstation Vue has recently increased their prices in a way by eliminating the discounted plans that came without access to local broadcast networks. That doesn't mean that those networks are available nationwide, though, so check availability on their website for your area. For example, local stations aren’t available in the Lafayette area, but WAFB-CBS is available for users in Baton Rouge. Otherwise, PSVue is setup like more traditional cable plans, with simple tiers of service, going all the way up to $75 a month. It's one of the only services offering Longhorn Network nationwide, as well as the rare Fox College Sports networks (Atlantic/Central/Pacific).

Playstation Vue's software, which still does not require owning a Playstation in any way, and runs on most streaming platforms and devices. It's Cloud DVR functionality is the best of any of the services I've tried and I've had minimal issue with buffering or degradation when using it. However, the technical limitations of the service still give it unique problems to be aware of. While there is no problem using the TVA apps in any location, the PSVue service itself is basically useless outside of your home because it is locked to a single location and attempting to use the service in a different location could cause your account to be locked. I'll grant that it's not a situation most people would run into, after all, in the world of cable, you cant take your service to a new location without calling your provider. But if you're someone like me who watches TV at home, and also at work, at a friends house, and at a tailgate, these restrictions can be frustrating.

And on a personal note, after nearly a year, I still cannot reliably sign up for the service. Their technical support staff is friendly enough, but have been unable to help me in any way.

My own frustrations aside, PSVue might be a better, if more expensive, option for folks who want to cord cut. Just be aware of it's limitations.

DirecTV Now

  • Minimum cost for SEC Network $50
  • Cost for all sports networks possible $60

Available

  • ESPN/2/U/News (TVA)
  • SEC Network (TVA)
  • Longhorn Network (TVA) *see notes*
  • FS1/2 (TVA)
  • Big Ten Network
  • Local Fox Sports (TVA)
  • NBC-SN (TVA)
  • Olympic (TVA)
  • Local NBC Sports (TVA)
  • MLB Network
  • NHL Network
  • NBA Network
  • CBS-SN (coming soon)

Not Available

  • NFL Network
  • Fox College A/C/P
  • Pac 12 Network
  • NFL Redzone
  • beIN Sports

ATT's new entry into the OTT market, DirecTV Now launched a few months ago and is largely over the growing pains that all of these services seem to go through. Of the services available today, it’s the one that most mirrors traditional cable TV, which I guess is no surprise given who it’s owned by. It has a traditional program guide and you can easily channel surf just like regular TV, though the stations being in alphabetical order does take some getting used to.

After some initial struggles, I found the service to be rock solid throughout the spring and summer sports season. I have seen multiple reports of issues for some people though, particularly during the Game Of Thrones premier a few weeks ago. Your millage may vary. After using it for a few months, I find that DTVN's app streams as well or better than even ESPN's own app on the same connection. Also, it switches between stations much faster than other OTT services and even faster than some cable boxes I've used. DTVN's other big selling point is that if you use it on your phone or tablet via mobile data and you're on AT&T cell phone service, it doesn't count against your data bill. If you're someone like me who needs access out at a tailgate, this is potentially huge.

The service does have a few weird quirks. After carrying the Longhorn Network nationwide at launch, it is now only available to users in Texas markets. However, I can still access LHN through the watchespn app. Whether that's on purpose or just a bug, no one can say. Also, DTVN can't seem to figure out that in Louisiana we should be getting Fox Sports New Orleans for Pelicans games instead of Fox Sports Oklahoma. I've actually called support multiple times about this, but they seem unable to do anything about it. Luckily, Fox's own FSGo app knows that LA customers should get FS Nola, so you can still access it that way. Probably most confusing of all, Root Sports, aka AT&T Sports Net, (the regional sports stations that are wholly owned by AT&T, who also now owns DirecTV), is not carried on DTVN in any fashion. So Astros fans are still out of luck here.

While putting this article together, DTVN has added KADN-FOX for the Lafayette area and has announced they will be carrying CBS Sports Network within a few days.

Hulu Live TV

  • Minimum cost for SEC Network $40
  • Cost for all sports networks possible $40

Available

  • ESPN/2/U/News (TVA)
  • SEC Network (TVA)
  • Big Ten Network (TVA)
  • FS1/2 (TVA)
  • Local Fox Sports (TVA)
  • Local NBC Sports (TVA)
  • NBC-SN (TVA)
  • Olympic (TVA)
  • CBS-SN

Not Available

  • beIN Sports
  • Pac 12 Network
  • NFL Redzone
  • NHL Network
  • NBA Network
  • MLB Network
  • Longhorn Network
  • Fox College A/C/P

Another new player in the market, Hulu Live TV is an interesting option, especially if you're already paying for Hulu's commercial free on-demand service. Though the live TV service uses a separate app, paying for Hulu Live TV includes access to Hulu's limited commercial tier of their on-demand service. If you're a long time hulu customer, that takes a nice chunk out of the price of this service.

In limited testing, I found that the live streaming channels themselves worked fine, but the interface was clunky and confusing. I'll give them credit for trying something different, but the interface that focuses on shows rather than channels is a big hindrance for a sports fan who just wants to put ESPN on. The could-based DVR functions as advertised with 50 hours of space and can be upgraded in capacity for a price.

Hulu is also interesting in that it has no service tiers. That $40 price gets you everything they offer, which is only about 60 channels, with some heavy hitters like AMC not available. As I said at the top, this review is strictly focused on the sports aspect of these services, but I know that's going to be a deal breaker for some of you.

Youtube TV

  • Minimum cost for SEC Network $35
  • Cost for all sports networks possible $40

Available

  • ESPN/2/U/News (TVA)
  • SEC Network (TVA)
  • Big Ten Network (TVA)
  • FS1/2 (TVA)
  • Local Fox Sports (TVA)
  • Local NBC Sports (TVA)
  • NBC-SN (TVA)
  • Olympic
  • CBS-SN

Not Available

  • beIN Sports
  • Pac 12 Network
  • NFL Redzone
  • NHL Network
  • NBA Network
  • MLB Network
  • Longhorn Network
  • Fox College A/C/P

The newest player in the market, Youtube TV also marks the first OTT service that isn't owned by a cable/sat service (Sling, DirecTV NOW) or by a TV studio (Sony's Playstation Vue, Hulu) Unlike the other services mentioned in this review, Youtube is following the old Playstation Vue rollout model, in which the service is only available in markets where they have deals to carry the local broadcast networks. As such, you should not expect this service to be available in Louisiana any time soon.

While reviews of the service I have seen complement the live picture quality, it seems to have a few issues that these startup streaming services all have at the beginning with buffering streams and sometimes buggy software. Youtube's biggest issue however is that it's focused on being used on tablets and mobile apps, which means it has zero presence on TV set-top boxes. Youtube recommends people use a chromecast or other phone-to-TV solution for putting live video on the big screen, but that's not an experience anyone is going to want to have on a regular basis. Points in Youtube TV's favor for having an unlimited cloud DVR built in to the service though.

FuboTV

  • Minimum cost for SEC Network N/A

Available

  • Big Ten Network (TVA)
  • FS1/2 (TVA)
  • Local Fox Sports (TVA)
  • Local NBC Sports (TVA)
  • NBA Network
  • NBC-SN (TVA)
  • Olympic (TVA)
  • beIN Sports (TVA)

Not Available

  • ESPN/2/U/News
  • SEC Network
  • CBS-SN
  • Pac 12 Network
  • NFL Redzone
  • NHL Network
  • MLB Network
  • Longhorn Network
  • Fox College A/C/P

I'm including FuboTV in this roundup because while it is not something I would recommend now, I think it may become a viable option down the road. Fubo started a few years ago as a streaming service single-mindedly focused on soccer, and specifically soccer that wasn't readily available on US TV. Along with being one of the early homes of beIN sports, Fubo is also one of the only legal places in the US to pay for feeds of Italian and South American soccer.

But a few months ago, Fubo took a big step towards being a bigger player in the OTT market. They signed deals with Fox and NBC and now offer those stations in a $35 a month plan. Of course, you've probably noticed that Fubo does not carry ESPN networks, which makes the service DOA for fans of an SEC team or college sports in general. Fubo is also the only service I've talked about in this post that doesn't carry local stations in any market. They do have a robust DVR function and their streaming apps work very well on multiple platforms.

For now, Fubo is an odd curiosity. Can a sports streaming service function in America without ESPN, the largest sports rights-holder in the world? If they could get ESPN stations (and maybe the Pac 12 network), it might be the ideal service for sports fans. But what would that do to the cost?

Southern Fibernet TV Now

A quick note here about one of the options I mentioned the last time I talked about cord cutting. Southern Fibernet's online TV service was apparently only supposed to be available to their local customers in Atlanta and nation wide access was shutdown quickly last fall when the error was discovered. If you're in the local Atlanta area, this service might still be an option for you.


So, what would I recommend? Youtube TV's unavailability in the LSU area makes it a non-starter. Hulu seems too finicky at the moment. Sling is clearly the cheapest option, but once you start adding packs on it can get pricey fast. PS Vue seems like the most robust option and it's DVR function is great, but the price could be too high. DTVN lags behind the other services in features, and if you're not an AT&T customer, some of it's value isn't applicable.

At the end of the day, I personally would like to use PS Vue, but thanks to my constant technical problems with it, I'm actually using DirecTV Now. (I signed up for DTVN when the service launched a few months ago, so I got a promotional rate on their $50 plan for $35.) The good news is, all of these services offer free trials. The best way to figure out which one is best for you is just to try them for yourself.

(My bill from Feb. 2016)

It's been more than a year since I cut Cox Cable out of my life. Yes, I've missed the three LSU baseball games they carry exclusively on CST, but the more than $600 I've saved from my bill the past year has eased the pain considerably. In that time I've even gotten my parents to cut the cord and they're enjoying it so far. I'm still not certain it's right for everybody, and with more and more ISPs instituting data caps, maybe things will get worse before they get better. But the idea of paying a local cable monopoly $80 a month for service that doesn't even include ESPNU seems like ancient history to me.

Have you tried cord-cutting? What has your experience been? Is there a service out there that I've missed? Have further questions? I'll be monitoring the comments closely on this post, so ask away.

(As I always have to do on this post, discussion of illegal methods of streaming sports, "Kodi plugins", "unlocked boxes" etc. will not be tolerated here. Yes, piracy exists and is pretty easy. Go talk about it somewhere else. Consider this the only warning you will get before an account ban. Do not test me.)


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Source : https://www.andthevalleyshook.com/2017/8/11/16026316/cord-cutting-sports-fan-packages-playstation-vue-directv-now-sling

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