Web Culture

TV Channels Are Dead: Why Sling Isn’t The Future Of Sports TV

Justin Pot 12-01-2015

What’s a TV channel? Many kids under eight years old – who have always had access to Netflix The Ultimate Netflix Guide: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Netflix This guide offers everything you need to know about using Netflix. Whether you're a new subscriber or an established fan of the best streaming service out there. Read More – struggle with the concept.


Like the pager, cassette tapes and fax machines, the very notion of the TV channel is becoming obsolete. Kids don’t watch channels; they watch shows. Repeatedly.

“Television executives already share horror stories about how their children have asked them what a ‘channel’ is,” according to The Economist. And they’ve good reason to be afraid: the 24-hour-a-day, continuous stream of video How To Stream Live TV To Your XBMC Watch live, streaming TV on your XBMC media center – without a cable subscription. Here are some add-ons worth checking out. Read More interspersed with advertising – the “channel” – is what most revenue models for TV programming are built on.

But the notion of the TV channel is only intuitive to adults because it’s familiar – and kids growing up without it have little patience for it.


Bringing An Obsolete Concept To The Web

If you’re a regular user of Netflix and a DVR, it’s likely the main reason you ever interact with “channels” anymore is because they’re the only real way to watch live events on TV. And if there’s one live thing people watch a lot of, it’s sports.

TV Channels Are Dead: Why Sling Isn't The Future Of Sports TV sling tv

Which brings me to Sling TV, the most-hyped thing to come out of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. From Dish Network, this $20 a month service gives you access to live TV channels Yes, You CAN Watch TV Online Legally & For Free Everyone knows that there are lots of illegal ways to watch your favorite shows online, but there are also plenty of perfectly legal (and free) ways. Here are some of the best... Read More like CNN, TBS, Disney Channel and ESPN. From what we’ve seen, it’s a great service – the interface is much better than anything done by cable companies, and the ability to jump between devices is great.

Most of the focus, however, has been on four letters: ESPN. Numerous outlets are reporting that, finally, cord-cutters can watch sports online Where Can I Watch Live Matches Online For Free? Don't miss a moment of your favorite team, regardless of whether their games are broadcast in your area. A variety of sites around the web can serve you (legally questionable) streams of every live match... Read More .


But can they? Really?

ESPN: A Lot, But Not Everything

It all depends what sports you watch. ESPN is a national broadcaster, meaning they don’t broadcast every game from every sport all year. As a hockey fan, EPSN is completely useless to me – they barely acknowledge the sport exists. But even if you love football, baseball and basketball, access to ESPN probably only lets you watch a few of the games you care about. The biggest games of the year will all be covered, sure, but that’s about it.

This is perfect for casual fans, but not if you follow your local teams closely – most games they play in aren’t broadcast nationally on ESPN. The majority of sports events in the US are broadcast on regional cable stations, because there isn’t a national audience for most games.

TV Channels Are Dead: Why Sling Isn't The Future Of Sports TV espn sports sling web tv


ESPN is a ratings juggernaught, but it alone is hardly enough for the average sports fan. And for anyone who doesn’t watch the sports ESPN broadcasts, it’s arguably a ripoff.

According to The Consumerist, ESPN alone accounts for $6 of the average cable bill. This means that, if you don’t watch that channel, you’re paying $6 for something you don’t use.

So yeah, $20 a month for a few cable channels sounds like a good deal when compared to the $100 a month packages you can get from cable. But if you’re not a sports fan – or even a fan of the wrong sports, as I apparently am – the service costs 25 per cent more for you than it needs to.

Again, Sling seems like a really great service. But I don’t think it’s the future of television – at least, not the entire future.


Is Unbundling The Answer?

TV Channels Are Dead: Why Sling Isn't The Future Of Sports TV tv online unbundle

A common answer to this criticism of TV is unbundling, meaning companies should let people pick which channels they want and only pay for those directly. Every TV executive on earth will tell you this is unsustainable, because popular channels help pay for less popular ones (which in turn means there’s more for all of us to watch).

I’m not sure I buy that argument, but I’m also not sure there are many channels I’d willingly pay for in an unbundled world. Sure, paying for channels I don’t watch is frustrating, but so is paying for channels I’m only occasionally interested in. I love The Daily Show, but don’t really care about anything else broadcast on Comedy Central. I’d love to watch the NHL games occasionally broadcast on NBCSN, but basically everything else they air isn’t of interest to me.

I don’t want to pay for channels – I want to pay for content. It’s unlikely channels will ever be a great model for that.

Netflix gives people access to a wide variety of content for a low price. Will that ever happen for sports? Well, every major league currently offers some kind of online subscription service right now. I personally pay for NHL Gamecenter, and it works really well with one exception: blackouts. If a game is on TV in my local area, I can’t watch it – I’m told to pay for cable to see those games.

TV Channels Are Dead: Why Sling Isn't The Future Of Sports TV nhl gamecenter blackout

Workarounds, like virtually changing your region 2 Effective Ways to Access Region-Blocked Videos Without a VPN Internet users outside of the United States are blocked from accessing the wealth of streaming video and music content available to Americans. Even Americans are deprived of international services like BBC iPlayer. Faced with this,... Read More , are a legal grey area at best.

As for the blackouts themselves: this isn’t a technical problem. It’s a legal one, and some sports are solving it. Major League Baseball is close to ending blackouts for its online service. If other sports follow, suddenly ESPN looks a lot less relevant to people who only follow one league.

Maybe eventually individual teams could offer a cheaper option, with only their games, or even single-game access for casual fans. From there, who knows? A company could buy rights to a bunch of different sports, and bundle it all for one cost. That company will look more like Netflix – with hundreds of different live games and recordings to watch – than the TV channels – offering only one thing at a time.

Sling is possibly a good deal for the casual sports fan, happy to watch whatever’s being broadcast nationally. But the Internet is all about choice, and most consumers would love to see more of it.

If leagues can get their hardcore fans to pay them for broadcasts directly, and no one is forced to pay for channels that mostly broadcast things they’re not interested in, everyone wins (except TV channels, I suppose).

Death To The Channel!

Sling seems like a great way to bring TV channels to the web – but is that really something we should be doing? I’d say no.

Kids with iPads watching Netflix don’t care what TV channels are; there’s no reason you should either. They’ll be around for a long time yet, sure, but the reason for that has more to do with inertia and intellectual property deals than “channels” themselves being a good idea.

Some people still communicate by fax No Fax Machine? No Problem -- Easily Sign And Send Faxes From Your Computer Till the day we can finally kill off this antiquated machine of the past, you might need to send a fax every once in a while but find yourself without a fax machine. Try HelloFax. Read More , claiming it’s for legal and security reasons. That’s stupid: there are much better ways to send text and images today than scanning a physical piece of paper and sending it, unencrypted, over a phone line. Someday those companies will update their process – just like sports leagues will also work out a better way to broadcast games online.

If not, leagues should start creating ads that explain not only what channel the games are on, but what a channel actually is.

Image Credits: Old TV Via Shutterstock

Related topics: Netflix, Online Video.

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  1. Darrin Silverman
    September 4, 2016 at 4:02 am

    I think the Sling blue package looks like a good deal for $25 a month with no contract. You get NBC Sports Plus FS 1 and 2 which will give you the UFC fights. As for Netflix streaming it's not very good the movies are old and you're much better off getting Hulu for $7.99 a month. I also like Amazon Prime you get a lot of movie and TV for $99 a year plus unlimited music and free 2-day shipping.

  2. michael smith
    January 16, 2015 at 6:42 am

    netflix is a channel....

    • Justin Pot
      January 16, 2015 at 2:35 pm

      It really isn't. By "channel" I mean a single signal that continuously broadcasts shows on a predetermined schedule. Netflix doesn't offer anything like that, and why should they? It's an outdated model, and they know it.

  3. Steve
    January 15, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    Great article. I have never understood the Netflix thing. All the movies and TV shows are old. I can watch anything I want on the Internet. All I pay for is for an internet connection. For the past 6 years, I haven't paid a dime for cable . I borrow my buddy's HBO to Go and all the other channels as well. Sports is a pain but really easy to find as well. I would gladly pay for an ala cart menu from my cable provider but it's not available. Cable companies will eventually wake up and notice the cord cutters might be right. They can ask the music industry how well they did trying to stick to their crappy business model.

  4. rickey
    January 15, 2015 at 4:52 am

    if you are a sports fan there is sports available online ! regional sports are available . it is just too expensive to try and get them all .

    • Justin Pot
      January 15, 2015 at 3:59 pm

      You can get regional sports channels online? Which ones?

  5. dragonmouth
    January 14, 2015 at 5:50 pm

    "As a hockey fan, EPSN is completely useless to me"
    You should try being a fan of ski jumping, cross-country skiing or rowing. Iditarod or arm wrestling is shown more than those three sports combined.

    • Justin Pot
      January 14, 2015 at 9:43 pm

      Arm Wrestling? Really?

      Is there any channel that offers your sports, dragonmount?

    • dragonmouth
      January 15, 2015 at 11:51 am

      I mentioned Arm Wrestling just as an example of an offbeat sport.

      NBCSN every once in a while shows one of the sports I like. They do show bicycle racing in the spring and summer. NBCSN does not show the same sports every year. It's as if they have been signing a series of annual contracts with the various sports federations. For a couple of years they showed World Cup ski jumping events and XC skiing events. Haven't shown them for two or three years now. For couple of seasons NBCSN showed Men's World Volleyball League games, then they stopped. For one or two winters they showed Wordl Cup speed-skating, then they stopped. For the past 3-4 years they have been showing some of the more famous bicycle races, although the individual shows have been getting shorter.

      In the US one can watch sports 24/7/365, if one does not mind watching just the Big Four of baseball, basketball, football and hockey. Other sports are hit and miss, mostly miss.

    • Jamie
      April 2, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      Dragonmouth, it sounds like you're a fan of Cross Country Skiing (as I am) I just discovered that there is a $10/month service called Dishworld. It is from Dish Network but doesn't require a satellite dish. They have Universal Sports Network as part of the $10 monthly fee. I'll be signing up for this sometime this fall so I can start watching the FIS Nordic World Cup when it begins in November. This channel carries both Alpine and Nordic world cups and I believe they have ski jumping as well in addition to other olympic events at different times of the year.

  6. Moyz
    January 13, 2015 at 10:03 am

    I would love for a Netflix type service for Sport to be available, however one drawback is the "use by date", for Films and Progammes this isn't an issue, but for Sports you really need to watch it live

    • Justin Pot
      January 13, 2015 at 5:20 pm

      This is why I'm excited to see MLB contemplate their online streaming service with no blackouts. It's live, and gives you the option to watch every game by paying the league directly. Here's hoping it happens, and other leagues follow.

  7. PhilV
    January 13, 2015 at 12:23 am

    There are LOTS of ways to watch live sports on The Internet! I have found a number of streaming services on The Web. I'm originally from Syracuse, NY and a rabid Orange basketball fan. I (almost) never miss a game because I can usually find it streming from somewhere. Often, the A/V isn't the best, but it's better than getting the results from Sports Center after the fact.nJust type "live sports stream" into yoursearch bar and you should have a bunch of choices.

    • Justin Pot
      January 13, 2015 at 12:28 am

      I tried to leave the legally questionable things out of the article, but they're out there – and shockingly easy to find.

    • tim
      January 13, 2015 at 5:28 am

      Plus you really have to be careful where/how you watch them. Malware is a potential issue if you don't know what you are doing.

    • Justin Pot
      January 13, 2015 at 5:18 pm

      Yeah, the piracy approach is really hard to recommend.

    • Leah
      January 13, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      I think it's easier to find college games on the internet than it is the professional ones.

    • mcsey
      January 13, 2015 at 10:48 pm

      Stream that stuff for somewhere like What You See Is What You Get dot... Nope it was easy to recommend that

    • Justin Pot
      January 14, 2015 at 4:11 pm

      Easy to recommend in a forum like this, sure, but to someone who's confused by computers? It's a pretty hard sell, unless you're willing to do cleanup after they download a corrupted MPlayer that they "need" in order to watch the stream...

  8. Roger Caldwell
    January 12, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    Kids? Beh. *I* can hardly watch a "live" show anymore!

    • Justin Pot
      January 12, 2015 at 10:59 pm

      Yeah me too. I pretty much only ever do it if I'm staying in a hotel and the WiFi isn't fast enough for streaming – or if I'm watching sports.

    • Justin Pot
      January 13, 2015 at 7:42 pm

      I think the NFL spends a little more on enforcement...

  9. likefunbutnot
    January 12, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    The right answer is probably to monetize sportsing with subscription-based content access. If you're a big enough fan of the Piggers or Toronto Argonauts and whatever sportsing they do, you'll probably be perfectly happy to pay whatever ridiculous price the team sets for access to view its games. If that means $300 for access to 15 games plus all the ad breaks you can stand, so be it.

    At the end of the days, there's still going to be some minority of people who won't pay, won't get internet access and won't update their content viewing equipment to support any access method other than television. TV channels and the hegemony of televised sports probably won't completely die every baby boomer and old-ass CRT has bitten the dust.

    • Justin Pot
      January 13, 2015 at 5:17 pm

      If watching the Piggers is your only reason for cable, $300 is downright affordable by comparison. $100 a month ads up quickly. But you're right, some people won't change for a long time – as I said in the article, some people still insist on using fax. Change won't be instant, but it will happen.