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Tackling Tech: Internet TV Services: What NFL Fans Need to Know

AT&T with DirecTV Now currently lacks NFL Sunday Ticket programming as well as NFL Network/NFL RedZone. AT&T has claimed it's talking to the NFL about adding these channels to their lineup. If they reach a deal, check to see if it's part of a bundle or a pay-extra add-on.

What about Wireless? 

This part is easy, as Verizon is the NFL's exclusive wireless provider. As such, only Verizon can live stream local Sunday games as well as primetime games (Sunday, Monday Thursday) to mobile devices. Verizon must be your wireless company to watch these games using the free NFL Mobile app.

DirecTV Now customers will not be able to watch the primetime games on their mobile devices. It seems the same holds true for Sunday Ticket, which AT&T spent tens of billions to land as part of its merger of DirecTV.

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This capability would have meant big savings for NFL fans as users of DirecTV Now are not charged for the data to stream programming from the service on AT&T wireless.

At the time of the merger, AT&T execs said they would offer NFL Sunday Ticket programming over its wireless network.

Don't forget that you can also stream NFL Network and NFL RedZone on Verizon without incurring data charges.

Connected Devices and Platforms 

Live Internet streaming services almost always start by supporting a few devices and add more going forward. Check to see if yours is on the list or buy accordingly. These enabling devices with apps include Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire and more. Also check for browser support for laptop viewing.

Features and Functionality.

Those with cable TV services are likely very used to core extra features and would be expected to get them if they leave for an Internet streaming service instead.

sling2.png

Be careful here as cable TV add-on such as digital video recorders (DVR) are the opposite of table stakes with web TV. In fact, Sling TV announced this week that it is working on a cloud-based DVR service (to keep pace with Vue) that's due sooner rather than later. DirecTV Now, launched on Tuesday, does not have DVR functions (record, pause, store, etc.)

At present, some Internet streaming service DVR functionality comes with duration limits on recorded content. Other don't support pause.

Packaging and Pricing

As you might have noticed from launches to date, Internet streaming services often three programming tiers (with the price rising as you move up) as well as separate, pay-extra add-on options. Check to see what tiers have what "NFL" channels. If they aren't listed, ask the companies.

The good news is as works-in-progress, Internet streaming services oftentimes add channels well after launch. The bad news is that landing programming is a challenge that can result in key channel(s) choosing not to join in.

Also part of the pricing discussion is the countless fees on cable TV services. There are monthly HD charges, broadcast fees, regional sports network fees, equipment (set top box and DVR) fees, franchise fees and more. Internet streaming services don't carry most any of these invoice-bloating fees.

Promos, Free Trials and Commitments

Though those that launch Internet streaming TV services all boast about the simplicity of their offerings, sorting through a pile of promotional offers, free- or cut-rate trials and focusing on items like term commitment muddies the waters.

directv_nows_channel_packages_pricing_promotions_and_add-ons._sourcedirectv_now.jpg

The first two are designed to hook you on the Internet streaming service with "freebies," and the third is designed to help them reel you in (and keep you paying). First brush aside the free stuff and find out what the commitment period is. Sometimes it's a year or two and in a fast changing industry segment, you must decide if that's for you. Terms are important because as we have seen in the cable and wireless services space is that charges apply for early termination. These can total hundreds of dollars.

With web TV, some services are available month to month without any term commitment. This seems preferable when youconsider that in just one month, AT&T and Hulu will have entered the market with new and improved services. Time flies and you may not want to be grounded.

hulu.png

Free trials can be useful in deciding if you're interested in using a service but check the fine print on these as oftentimes they commit you financially to something beyond a trial period. And if you sign up with a new service, be sure to check what happens when promos and special offers expire as things offered free typically become line items on your invoice. Your free DVR becomes a $10 monthly charge.

The Bottom Line

Again, change is a constant when it comes to the Internet TV industry, so the smartest shopper is the best-informed one. That means that when considering cutting the cable to view the NFL (and to some extent other pro sports) online you need to explore before you leap.

It's no secret that live pro sports are the last and most powerful draw for broadcast-powered, cable TV services. As a result, there's no one service that meets even most of the needs of NFL fans. There are, however, do-it-yourself combinations that get you close.

Stay tuned.

Bob Wallace is a technology journalist with over 30 years of experience explaining how new services, apps, consumer electronic devices and video sources are reshaping the world of communications as we know it. Wallace has specific expertise in explaining how and why advances in technology redefine the way sports teams interact with their partners, players and fans. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.

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Fans looking to cut cable cords or only want sports but via broadband have seen current web services evolve, AT&T launch its entry this week and are awaiting Hulu's latest entry. With change the only constant here, NFL fans need to take a much closer look at ways to follow America's game.

Some of the survival guide below might sound like Captain Obvious material, but attention to detail can make the difference between a satisfied NFL fan and a buyer's remorse hangover.

Here's a generality that applies to newer TV services. Some desired elements are available, some are promised in the future and some are discussed only in the fine print that's rarely read, let alone closely. Virtually all Internet TV services are works-in-progress. If you don't see a channel or feature you want, it's likely not there.

Here are the top areas for NFL fans to focus their time, scrutiny and magnifying glass-assisted reading on:

NFL Programming

This may seem like a no-brainer but nothing could be farther from the truth. Your checklist should include NBC, CBS, Fox and Disney ABC as they are the NFL's broadcast partners for live game casts. However, as is the case with DirecTV Now and others, you can only watch the games if your local station is owned by say, NBC. If it's an affiliate, however, it's unlikely or you have to wait well after the game is over.

The owned and operated stations for ABC, NBC and Fox (CBS not on board DirecTV Now) each cover less than 40% of their respective broadcast networks. If you are served by a non-owned and operated station, you can wait hours or days later to see the game, become a regular at a sports pub or go with a low-cost, highly effective option.

The option is buying a TV- or roof-top HD antenna. There are time-tested, cheap, and represents a one-time charge. These popular devices allow fans to receive over-the-air signals from broadcast stations. Many NFL fans use them now and the devices can be used in conjunction with an Internet streaming service that's lacking the league's broadcast partners.

Also look for the league-owned NFL Network which airs regular season games on Thursday Nights. Sling and Vue recently added NFLN to their lineups thanks to deals with the league.  

Do you need NFL Sunday Ticket, an out-of-market game package that currently can be accessed by buying DirecTV provided via satellite or no-dish online only for many?  If you want these games live but don't want the package and pricing, there's NFL RedZone channel which covers scoring area action for all Sunday games.

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AT&T with DirecTV Now currently lacks NFL Sunday Ticket programming as well as NFL Network/NFL RedZone. AT&T has claimed it's talking to the NFL about adding these channels to their lineup. If they reach a deal, check to see if it's part of a bundle or a pay-extra add-on.

What about Wireless? 

This part is easy, as Verizon is the NFL's exclusive wireless provider. As such, only Verizon can live stream local Sunday games as well as primetime games (Sunday, Monday Thursday) to mobile devices. Verizon must be your wireless company to watch these games using the free NFL Mobile app.

DirecTV Now customers will not be able to watch the primetime games on their mobile devices. It seems the same holds true for Sunday Ticket, which AT&T spent tens of billions to land as part of its merger of DirecTV.

verizon_is_the_nfls_exclusive_mobile_game_streaming_provider.png

This capability would have meant big savings for NFL fans as users of DirecTV Now are not charged for the data to stream programming from the service on AT&T wireless.

At the time of the merger, AT&T execs said they would offer NFL Sunday Ticket programming over its wireless network.

Don't forget that you can also stream NFL Network and NFL RedZone on Verizon without incurring data charges.

Connected Devices and Platforms 

Live Internet streaming services almost always start by supporting a few devices and add more going forward. Check to see if yours is on the list or buy accordingly. These enabling devices with apps include Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire and more. Also check for browser support for laptop viewing.

Features and Functionality.

Those with cable TV services are likely very used to core extra features and would be expected to get them if they leave for an Internet streaming service instead.

sling2.png

Be careful here as cable TV add-on such as digital video recorders (DVR) are the opposite of table stakes with web TV. In fact, Sling TV announced this week that it is working on a cloud-based DVR service (to keep pace with Vue) that's due sooner rather than later. DirecTV Now, launched on Tuesday, does not have DVR functions (record, pause, store, etc.)

At present, some Internet streaming service DVR functionality comes with duration limits on recorded content. Other don't support pause.

Packaging and Pricing

As you might have noticed from launches to date, Internet streaming services often three programming tiers (with the price rising as you move up) as well as separate, pay-extra add-on options. Check to see what tiers have what "NFL" channels. If they aren't listed, ask the companies.

The good news is as works-in-progress, Internet streaming services oftentimes add channels well after launch. The bad news is that landing programming is a challenge that can result in key channel(s) choosing not to join in.

Also part of the pricing discussion is the countless fees on cable TV services. There are monthly HD charges, broadcast fees, regional sports network fees, equipment (set top box and DVR) fees, franchise fees and more. Internet streaming services don't carry most any of these invoice-bloating fees.

Promos, Free Trials and Commitments

Though those that launch Internet streaming TV services all boast about the simplicity of their offerings, sorting through a pile of promotional offers, free- or cut-rate trials and focusing on items like term commitment muddies the waters.

directv_nows_channel_packages_pricing_promotions_and_add-ons._sourcedirectv_now.jpg

The first two are designed to hook you on the Internet streaming service with "freebies," and the third is designed to help them reel you in (and keep you paying). First brush aside the free stuff and find out what the commitment period is. Sometimes it's a year or two and in a fast changing industry segment, you must decide if that's for you. Terms are important because as we have seen in the cable and wireless services space is that charges apply for early termination. These can total hundreds of dollars.

With web TV, some services are available month to month without any term commitment. This seems preferable when youconsider that in just one month, AT&T and Hulu will have entered the market with new and improved services. Time flies and you may not want to be grounded.

hulu.png

Free trials can be useful in deciding if you're interested in using a service but check the fine print on these as oftentimes they commit you financially to something beyond a trial period. And if you sign up with a new service, be sure to check what happens when promos and special offers expire as things offered free typically become line items on your invoice. Your free DVR becomes a $10 monthly charge.

The Bottom Line

Again, change is a constant when it comes to the Internet TV industry, so the smartest shopper is the best-informed one. That means that when considering cutting the cable to view the NFL (and to some extent other pro sports) online you need to explore before you leap.

It's no secret that live pro sports are the last and most powerful draw for broadcast-powered, cable TV services. As a result, there's no one service that meets even most of the needs of NFL fans. There are, however, do-it-yourself combinations that get you close.

Stay tuned.

Bob Wallace is a technology journalist with over 30 years of experience explaining how new services, apps, consumer electronic devices and video sources are reshaping the world of communications as we know it. Wallace has specific expertise in explaining how and why advances in technology redefine the way sports teams interact with their partners, players and fans. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.

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