File under “That’s just dumb old media guys”
Per my previous post, we have recently canceled our DirecTV service in favor of “cutting the cord” and consuming only internet delivered TV. Until yesterday I had been happy with one aspect of my configuration – my high speed internet access from Time Warner Cable. We had been using Verizon DSL for our home ISP, but were only seeing 1-2 Mbps download speeds, not enough for HD on a 42″ TV. We went through the hassle of switching over to TWC (the install went smoothly for the most part and the installers were very professional) and now I’m seeing speeds well above 10 Mbps, and am able to stream in HD to 2 TVs simultaneously.
If you are planning to cut the cord and you love sports, one of the key sources of streaming content is ESPN3. With some restrictions, most of the sporting events carried live on ESPN are available to stream to your browser either live, or for a week or so after the event. This includes a wide variety of content including NBA, MLB, college football, international soccer, etc. It is a really nice service and a very big piece of the content landscape given all of the content that ESPN licenses.
Per the ESPN3 FAQ:
How do I get access to ESPN3?
ESPN3 is available nationwide, but you must subscribe to a participating high speed internet service provider.
Time Warner Cable is listed as a participating ISP, so as part of the $40/month I am paying them I should have access to ESPN3, right? In the words of ESPN’s Lee Corso, “NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND!”
When I authenticated through TWC’s MyServices portal, I was given an error saying I needed to be a subscriber to ESPN on TWC’s cable service in order to use ESPN3.com. Which is pretty hard since I don’t have cable TV. You would be in the same predicament if you had DirecTV for TV and TWC as your ISP.
I got on the phone with ESPN tech support (this was about 9PM Pacific time and I reached a live knowledgeable person right away, BRAVO ESPN), and they confirmed that Time Warner Cable is the only ISP that has this ridiculous service limitation. Indeed, ESPN3 worked fine for me via AT&T DSL. I got on the phone with Time Warner Cable tech support (they were friendly but useless) and finally threatened to cancel my account, which meant an escalation to customer service, but to no avail.
The net conclusion: Time Warner Cable RoadRunner is a poor choice for an ISP if you are planning to consume streaming content and aren’t interested in bundled TV service. If you have another option (including DSL, cable, fiber) you should choose that one instead (provided it is on the list of ISPs that support ESPN3). Even if you aren’t a sports fan, there is little doubt that other content providers (HBO) will launch services similar to ESPN3.com, and TWC is signaling that they are willing to destroy customer value for their internet service in order to prop up their profitable cable business. This of course makes both businesses ripe for disintermediation in the medium term, but that doesn’t always dictate strategy (See my Defending Corporate Hara Kiri post).
The good news is that there is a hack (find it elsewhere, this isn’t a hack blog), so if you are like me and don’t have a choice for which high speed internet service you can use, you can still watch espn3. But if you have a choice, don’t choose Time Warner Cable.
TWC’s announcement of ESPN3.com limited support is on their blog, along with the predictable angry comments from those who have discovered this crushing limitation.