Why Cord Cutting and Live Sports Apparently Hate Each Other

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Cord cutting has become a trend that is either reviled (by established broadcast industry types) or lauded as the wave of the future (by those who want to ditch their cable boxes for good).

There are thousands – nay, tens of thousands – of words written either in support of, or trying to predict the future of, cord cutting.

If you try and keep up, it seems like the prevailing popular opinion at the moment is that cord cutters are people who hate their cable company, or hate the idea of a cable company, so they are opting out. There is a popular image of cord cutters being people who cancel their cable bill, stick some type of antennae they bought on Amazon out of their apartment window and watch two or three local channels if their reception is good enough, then spend the rest of their time on NetFlix. The image of these viewers is that they are ‘hipster’ (said with the disdain that you might refer to someone who just walked across your clean floors with wet mud on their shoes) and that they hate sports or just care nothing for them. Broadcast executives in boardrooms are creating profiles of viewers who want to mountain bike in the morning, sip free trade coffee from their local artisan cafe in the mid day, then do their best to actively ignore any type of traditional advertising for the rest of their day.

But how accurate is that image? Traditional broadcasters are working to come up with new ways to insert advertising in a more palatable way to viewers. They introduce 6-second ads, or come up with new ways for product placement that they think will get around the more millennial consumer’s guard. All in a pursuit of trying to find out how to lure the cord cutters back to their viewing platform – and, boy, are people fleeing those platforms by the millions.

Add in another astonishing fact: despite viewership totals dropping rapidly, sports networks are paying more than ever for broadcast rights. So they are anteing up with more cash to pay for products that less and less people are watching. There is some pickup in live streaming, such as the massive numbers the World Cup is getting – but those numbers are still pumping into the existing cable model. I watch the World Cup (legally) on a live stream because I already subscribe to Fox Sports and FS1. However, do a search on Google or DuckDuckGo for World Cup live streams and you’ll see hundreds of sites who are providing those same feeds, bootlegged, for free. So you must consider: clearly fans want to watch. They also don’t want cable. This all seems to be an easy equation to me: cable television costs too much. I don’t mean it’s just expensive (it is), but also that the value isn’t there. Cable bills continue to rise several times a year and the quality doesn’t just remain flat, it’s actively getting worse.

It’s barely there for me, and I am a rabid sports fan. There’s almost nothing on today’s cable television package that is worth watching to me, and the only reason I still have cable is because of live sports (and HBO). I am fully aware I’m not alone, that this is the crux of the issue for cord cutters. They don’t see quality programming they are interested in, and if someone isn’t a sports fan, that just makes the decision to leave cable behind much easier.

Then there’s the legendarily bad customer service from cable companies, and people who don’t want to subsidize sports with their cable dollars are not only ready to leave, they are happy to leave cable.

In other words, people aren’t leaving cable television as a concept, they are leaving a bad, overpriced product being sold to them in a painful package.

I’m not sure people actually hate the concept of cable television, and I’m also not sure people are as vehemently against advertising in general in their programs (more on this later, as I’ll share some of our own numbers at NetCast Sports). My belief has been for some time that as a general rule, big businesses are reactionary to trends, and they try a lot of things to keep their businesses as-is. I often refer to McDonald’s as the number one example of a company that never changes, but believes that they do. McDonald’s is a company that constantly advertises that they are ‘changing’ their menu or their core business…but the reality is that their burgers are still the same, the fries are still the same and all they really do is change how they list the products on their reader boards. The most recent example of this is IHOP; a company that is known for breakfast, but has had burgers and other menu items for years. Facing competition and falling revenue, they’ve decided to launch a campaign to temporarily re-brand themselves as ‘IHOB’ – International House of Burgers. Ad execs and marketers lauded IHOP’s campaign, but the truth about IHOP is that other, better competitors have been growing and taking IHOP’s breakfast market share for years. IHOP hasn’t improved their product – they are just thinking that if they get enough publicity, people will come back to them instead of the better offerings their competitors are producing.

Contrast that with Dominos, which found itself with sluggish sales and made a bold choice: admit their pizza was no longer high enough quality to compete in the marketplace, then – drum roll, please – actually improved their product quality. This led to a turnaround that pushed Dominos back into relevance.

Let’s consider what it would have looked like if Dominos had done the same thing that cable television providers have been doing: instead of admitting their product wasn’t competitive, they could have simply changed the color of the boxes they deliver in. Instead of offering a better product at the same price as their previous product, they could up the cost with no changes. Instead of adding new, improved menu items, they could have scaled back the ingredients available so that their pizzas had less toppings, but cost the same or more. All of these things sound like terrible ideas, because they are – and yet this is effectively what cable companies and broadcasters are doing right now.

When I started NetCast Sports, it was born out of the idea of what I wanted – a la cart sports programming. We offer viewers the option of a cheap monthly subscription or single-event viewing. Don’t want to subscribe? We’ve got an option for that. Don’t want advertising in your monthly subscription? We’ve got an option for that. Want to watch for a week, then cancel, then subscribe again six months later? We’ve got all of those options, too. And you don’t have to pick up the phone.

I’m aware that the big networks are buying up rights to major sports such as the NBA and NFL. It’s because they are attempting to retain control of events that keep people subscribed to their cable packages and drive viewers. However, as I mentioned earlier, right now is the networks trying to bail out the Titanic with a small bucket. The trend isn’t in their favor. We are more active in smaller markets where we feel we can bring in interested viewers. Those aren’t massive multi-million dollar deals, but they aren’t losing multi-million dollar deals, either.

Some notes about our subscribers: while this may change, it may surprise people to know that the vast majority of our viewers do not opt for the ‘ad-free’ subscription. They take the option for traditional game broadcasts, ads and all. Sure, we have less ads than television, but the current trend for us today is that most of our NCSN subscribers are fine with ad supported broadcasts.

Here’s my opinion, at least as it stands today: sports fans and cord cutters are not at odds. The problem that sports fans run into is that the sports they want to watch are not available to them in an easy-to-access format, or there are rights deals that have become so entangled that they can’t get access to the games or events they want. What sports fans want, for example, is to be able to watch their favorite college football team or Euroleague basketball team without having to subscribe to cable AND make sure their cable provider has secured the digital streaming rights AND make sure there’s no blackout rules preventing them from watching. There are dozens of VPN services that exist primarily just to help people watch the sports content they want. That’s not only tedious, it’s hostile to the consumer. It’s no wonder there are hundreds of sites offering illegal sports streams – because they are easier to use.

Let that sink in for a moment: it’s easier to search on Google for an illegal sports stream and watch that stream than it is to pay and watch the event legally. That is completely absurd. What other viable businesses are there where it’s easier to steal the product and use it than just buy it? I’m not talking about ‘not wanting to pay for it’, we’re talking about a product that even when people want to pay for it, it’s too complicated or comes with too many strings attached. That. Is. Not. Sustainable.

I’m not sure when YouTube went off the rails with their algorithm, but as of right now, you can bring up YouTube in a browser and find live, illegal, 24 hour a day feeds of shows like The Simpsons, or Family Guy, and when the NBA playoffs are going on, those are on there as well. YouTube actively works to prevent illegal IP content on their site, and it’s still easier to get than subscribing legally. This is clearly a problem.

Our goal at NetCast Sports Network isn’t to reproduce the cable model – and we don’t think charging people $50/mo for a single channel is realistic, either. We are focused on live sports streaming that is truly a la cart. We’ll continue to add ways to access the content – and we’ll continue to add content that isn’t only live games as well – but the concept is that cable packages are going to be a thing of the past, and viewers need options for the future if that’s going to happen.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this – hit us up on Twitter @NetCastSports or tweet at me @m_shockley and give me your thoughts on where the business is going.

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