There’s been a great deal of talk today about some proposed American legislation and its impact on the Internet. I don’t really want to add to the clamour. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch this 13-minute video primer from Clay Shirky, this Khan Academy video (thanks to Andy for that) or read Wikipedia’s SOPA and PIPA list of questions and answers.
I have been thinking about piracy lately, though, because I’m considering alternatives to cable television. In truth, hockey is the only thing that binds me to Shaw Cable. I’ve been poking around for alternatives to watching or recording Canucks games on our PVR.
The only legal option is NHL GameCenter LIVE (caution, autoplaying video ahead). Back in October, I could pay $169 to watch nearly any game I want on my computer, iPad or iPhone. They reduce the price throughout the year–it’s currently $119. On the face of it, this seems like a satisfactory offer. I’d rather they amortize the pricing based on the exact day I sign up, but it could be worse.
However, the fine print is pretty hostile to the average customer:
- If you want to cancel your subscription after you sign up, you have five days to do so. After that, you forfeit the entire payment.
- You only get to watch the first two rounds of the playoffs. It’s not immediately apparent, despite some diligent searching, as to how one watches the subsequent rounds.
- Because of league agreements with broadcasters, many games are blacked out. The rules around this policy are pretty inscrutable, though I did read that no games are broadcast through GameCenter in the playoffs in Canada, because they’re televised nationally. There are endless complaints from GameCenter customers on social media and online discussion forums about this practice.
- The reviews of the NHL GameCenter mobile app are not flattering. A typical review in the iTunes store reads “Huge downgrade from the 2010 version. It crashes constantly and it’s way harder to navigate than last years version.”
The NHL seems to be about 60% of the way there to a really great service that enables you to watch all games, live or recorded, over the web.
By the way, there are no current NHL (nor NBA, NFL or MLB) games available through the iTunes store. This seems like an enormous missed opportunity.
Clearly, the NHL has not found its iTunes-esque sweet spot. How do I know this? Because there are a ton of illegal ways to watch NHL games online.
There are streaming sites, usually with multiple options for streams of both the home and away broadcasts for any game, and bittorrent sites. But my favourite example is this grey-market site based in Rotterdam, Netherlands that is a generic clone of NHL GameCenter. They essentially offer the same thing as GameCenter, except with more convenience and at a moderately-lower (a year costs US $99) price point. There are no blackouts, no playoff restrictions and the site seems to be more reliable better than the GameCenter app. In short, this shady Dutch operation out-performs the NHL’s own service.
As is so often the case, when the legal options aren’t satisfactory, illegal alternatives abound. There’s clearly a huge appetite for this kind of on-demand sports content. On my site alone, more than 17,000 people have visited this site alone looking for some variation of “how to watch NHL hockey online”. Not everybody wants the all-you-can-eat package for $169, mind you, but that’s the only legal game in town.
We’ve solved online music. We’re making good progress on television and movies. It looks to me like sports leagues, or at least the NHL, still have a very 20th century attitude towards the web. What’s holding them back?
UPDATE: Coincidentally, I was poking around on my iPad tonight, looking for hockey highlights. None of the CBC, TSN or Sportsnet apps offer video highlights, and the associated sites only offer video highlights in Flash. When I visit NHL.com looking for highlights, I get forwarded to their GameCenter offering. In short, the NHL expects me to have to pay to watch video highlights on my iPad.
Of course, somebody has routed around the bogosity, and hosts a simple site for NHL highlights that runs very smoothly on my iPad.