Earlier this year I discussed how to cut the cord on cable and not miss a thing. In our family we no longer have cable; we watch everything on Netflix, iTunes, the occasional bittorrent and TV websites. But this is a lot easier if you're not a serious sports fan. My wife is a serious Blue Jays fan but has always been happy to listen to the radio coverage and that experience is quite wonderful — or at least was until the seventh inning in the fifth game of the series against the Texas Rangers, when we couldn't understand what was happening. It turns out that the people actually watching the game, including the umpires, couldn't understand what was happening either (you can watch this explanation here) but my wife asked me if there was some way she could watch the rest of the series on our big, not-so-smart TV. This turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought it would be.
That's because sports are the last big stronghold for cable TV. According to Cade Metz in Wired:
Today, the big difference between cable TV and internet TV is live programming. “Sports is one of those last things that makes people still want to watch TV in a linear fashion,” says a Microsoft managing director. “Live events — sports and others, but mainly sports — are certainly an impediment to cord cutting,” says Stephen Beck, the founder of a consulting firm called cg42, which has closely studied the move to internet television over the last few years. “But this problem will ultimately be solved.”
It certainly hasn't been yet. I started with Major League Baseball's website, where I had bought a subscription to let us listen to ballgames over the Internet from our cabin this summer. They sold an online subscription to watch post-season games for $9.99, but you had to register with your cable subscriber as well, which I could not do, and it would only show the games that were outside the "blackout" area, where you might watch the game on cable.
I then consulted with friends who told me of many European livestreaming sites where you could watch feeds of the games — that is, if you could find them among all the soccer matches. I tried a few of them and they were horrible, covered with ads and clickbait and taking over my browser, and when you finally worked your way through all the ad crap, you got dreadful quality.
Then I went back to good old Major League Baseball, MLB.com, and dug around to find that if you're outside of Canada and the United States, you can indeed buy a subscription to watch the post-game series. They determine your location by your IP address. It's not cheap at $24.95, but that's still a lot less than a month of cable or a couple of drinks at the local bar, if we can actually get in and hear the coverage.
Add another $9.95 for a month of VPN or Virtual Private Network so that MLB thinks that I'm in Brazil and voila, we are watching the Blue Jays get killed in Kansas City. I do not think I'm breaking any laws or stealing anything from MLB, because I am paying serious bucks for my subscription. I suppose the cable company in Toronto is losing a few cents, but the crazy thing here in Toronto is that it also owns the Internet service provider, the stadium (hello, Rogers Centre) and the Blue Jays ball team, so you really could say that the company has all the bases covered, both literally and figuratively.
I suspect that by the next World Series, I won't have this trouble; things are changing so rapidly. We watched the last Olympics on my phone, an experiment by the other big Internet supplier in Canada. The Academy Awards, my wife's only other reason for wanting a TV, were streamed this year. As Wired notes, "The heat will only increase as the sport leagues start negotiating directly with Internet-only services — without going through the cable and satellite providers."
But for now, I still have to jump through a few hoops — and hope that the MLB people don't read MNN.