NBC's new sports streaming service makes fans pay more for games they were already getting

Premier league sadDan Mullan/GettyThings are going to get a little more complicated for footy fans in America.

NBC is shaking up how it delivers Premier League matches, and it’s not all for the better.

The Comcast-owned network, which owns the exclusive rights to the English soccer league in the US, announced on Tuesday a new streaming service called “Premier League Pass.”

NBC says this will stream the 130 live Premier League matches that are not aired across the company’s family of networks over the internet, without the need for a cable subscription. It will include match replays and a suite of additional Premier League-related content as well. The company says each of the 20 Premier League clubs will have “at least three” matches streamed exclusively through the new service.

The service will be available for a payment of $US50 per season. It will be part of the company’s existing NBC Sports Gold platform, which is available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, and the web.

In many ways, this looks like a good deal. NBC has had the rights to the Premier League since 2013, and in that time it has required soccer fans to have a cable subscription to be able to watch their favourite clubs. For a service that gives you 130 games over the course of nine months, $US50 feels reasonable.

As people continue to ditch traditional cable packages, it makes sense to not only offer an option to cord-cutters and “cord-nevers” — younger people who don’t buy cable in the first place — but also to more aggressively monetise those who may have been freeloading games off of other people’s cable subscriptions.

And NBC itself has hinted at this sort of shake-up in the past. “No matter what technologies get invented between now and over the next seven years, we paid for the right to try to monetise this product against whatever form of viewership consumers are using,” NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus said in a conference call about the rights extension the company signed with the Premier League in 2015.

But for consumers, the problem isn’t NBC experimenting with new products, it’s losing access to games they used to be able to see.

Up to now, if you had a cable package that included NBC Sports Network — NBC’s main outlet for Premier League games — you could watch any Premier League game that wasn’t aired on TV through NBC’s Live Extra app. If you followed a specific team, you were assured that your one monthly payment would get you access to all of its matches in some form.

What NBC is doing with Premier League Pass, then, is splitting that setup into two. Crucially, the 250 games that NBC says it will air over its TV networks
won’t be available live through Premier League Pass, which, again, will air the other 130 games that won’t be available on TV.

So if I wanted to follow, say, Everton this year, I’d have to subscribe to either cable or a live TV service like Sling TV to watch the handful of its matches NBC puts on TV, and pay the $US50 for Premier League Pass to watch its non-marquee matches. Having the flexibility to go completely cord-free is great, but you’ll now have to make multiple payments for a fragmented solution.

Again, this kind of service isn’t unprecedented — things like NBA League Pass and MLB At Bat have long been popular. But since there are no “local markets” in the US with a league based in England, every non-casual Premier League fan will likely have to subscribe to Premier League Pass, and a pay-TV package, to follow their club.

And the move seems to further the notion that streaming TV services like Sling and DirecTV Now aren’t “killing” the cable paradigm so much as migrating it to the internet: You might pay a little less, but you still have to buy a bundle of potentially unwanted channels to get everything you want. As it is now, Premier League Pass opens the door for cord-cutters, but doesn’t look like the all-in-one streaming solution soccer fans might want.

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