For cycling fans, it’s that time again. Time to make sure your cable package includes Comcast’s Versus network — nee OLN — for the Tour de France. Or, just sign up and cancel in three weeks when the tour is over.
With good reason: Versus’ coverage of the Tour de France is good enough to draw even casual fans of the sport. (Question: is there a better play-by-play man in any sport than Phil Liggett?)
Versus just signed a 5-year, $27.5 million deal to retain the Tour through 2013 — drug problems and lack of known stars notwithstanding — because even without Lance it’s been a great subscriber draw for them. Because Versus spent its early years broadcasting the Tour fighting for subscribers, the network had a strong reason to at least try to keep video off the Web. Otherwise, why subscribe at all?
But! It appears Versus has had a partial change of heart and is at least saying on its Web site it will carry parts of the first two stages live on the Web, prior to the beginning of each day’s TV broadcast. You can catch Stage 1 live from 6:30-8:30 a.m. today, and Stage 2 from 7:00-8:30 a.m. ET on Sunday.
Now that Versus is distributed in 73 million U.S. homes (out of 90-odd million cable households), the network is on basic tiers in most areas, meaning it’s less dependent on Tour fans making an affirmative decision to subscribe. Putting at least part of the Tour on the Web is, then, a low-risk promotional strategy. (And if you care what happens at the end of the stage, you’ll need to watch the rest on TV, anyway.)
We’ll see how long Versus sticks with it. Like Euro 2008 and March Madness, much of the 21-day Tour takes place during work hours (US coverage starts at 8:30 a.m ET), which means heavy online demand from fans at work who have robust broadband but no access to TVs. (Another good reason to offer the whole Tour on the Web, even if for a fee.) Where to find the Tour on the Web after Versus cuts off? We have some ideas:
cyclingfans.com (live feed from Eurosport)
steephill.tv (a compendium of cycling video links … thanks Timmo, Sidney!)
Eurosport (live audio only)
ITV (requires Microsoft Silverlight)
Myp2p.eu (Mac users install Sopcast or Flip4Mac)
Channelsurfing.net (streams work on a Mac)
Veetle.com (requires Sopcast)
www.justin.tv (expect pirated streams to show up here, but expect them also to be quickly removed)
Zattoo (outside the U.S.)
velonews.com (no video but liveblog and interactive map)
Official international streaming information
Have a better idea? Leave it in comments.
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