For all the talk about ESPN maybe or maybe not going over-the-top (selling subscriptions completely on their own rather than as part of a skinny bundle or streaming service), it’s another North American multi-sports network that’s taken the plunge first; Canada’s Rogers Sportsnet. Sport-specific over-the-top packages like MLB.tv, NBA League Pass, and NHL.tv have existed for a while, of course, but Rogers’ Friday launch of Sportsnet NOW (yes, it’s ALLCAPS) makes Sportsnet “the first mainstream sports TV channel in North America to be offered direct to consumers” (according to their release). Their Sportsnet Now package will be available to all Canadians (sorry, Americans) starting Friday, and will feature live streams of Sportsnet’s six channels accessible on computers, tablets, and mobile devices for a price of $24.99 CAD ($19.24 USD) per month (with a seven-day trial period for new subscribers). Here are more details:

As a long-standing industry leader in delivering premium sports content, Sportsnet is the first mainstream sports TV channel in North America to be offered direct to consumers.  Sportsnet NOW will be available on tablet, mobile and online, for a monthly subscription of $24.99 with no contract and a 7-day trial period.  Sportsnet NOW remains included for existing Sportsnet cable, IPTV, and satellite subscribers where available.

“This service is ideal for sports fans who do not have a TV subscription, but still want to watch live sports,” said Scott Moore, President, Sportsnet & NHL Properties, Rogers. “With Sportsnet NOW, Canadians can choose to watch all the live action when they want it, anytime, anywhere.  Sportsnet NOW is the fans’ all-access pass to Sportsnet content.”

With a subscription to Sportsnet NOW, customers will receive:

Live streaming of Sportsnet Ontario, East, Pacific, West, ONE, and 360 – online, on tablets, and through mobile devices

Content includes:
o   NHL*, MLB, NBA, junior hockey, soccer, tennis, Grand Slam of Curling, IndyCar, CIS, Tour de France, and much more

o   Original programming such as Tim & Sid, Sportsnet Central, Hockey Central, Gotta See It, Misplays, Plays of the Month, and Sportsnet Presents

…*Regional restrictions apply. Content availability subject to change. Visit Sportsnet.ca/NOW for full details.

This is an interesting play for Rogers, and it’s an interesting time to launch it, considering how many media analysts projected they could take a “massive hit” if no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs. The last such team in contention, Ottawa, was mathematically eliminated Wednesday, so that massive hit may be forthcoming (or not, if you believe NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s logic). A new revenue source could help pay their giant NHL contract, and their recent giant job cuts may help to cut costs, but it’s going to be harder to sell this service ahead of the playoffs with no Canadian teams available to be seen in the postseason. At least the Blue Jays are actually good now?

From a wider media perspective, the question is if other companies will follow suit. Rogers’ main Canadian competitor, TSN, has a streaming service (TSN GO), but it requires authentication through participating cable providers (and very few are participating still). They haven’t shown much interest in moving towards an over-the-top model yet, but if Rogers’ is successful, they might have to explore that area. Stateside, ESPN has a tremendous streaming platform in WatchESPN, and they’ve made some noise about over-the-top, but many wonder if they’ll actually follow through. The price point here is interesting, though; Sportsnet charging $20 U.S. a month is comparable to some of the projections people have said ESPN would need to charge for their (much more extensive) content. If Canadians bite on paying that much to stream Sportsnet, it may weaken the argument that people wouldn’t be willing to pay that much just for ESPN. You can bet that plenty of networks both north and south of the border will be watching Rogers’ experiment here intently.

[Sportsnet.ca]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing.

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