August 29, 2012
ESPN President John Skipper said the cable network's new eight-year, $5.6-billion deal to keep Major League Baseball won't mean it will ask pay-TV operators to pay more to carry the channel. "We're not going to our distributors to ask for an increase for our content," Skipper said on a conference call with reporters to discuss the new contract.
Skipper's words will be met with a sigh of relief from multichannel video program distributors (MVPDs). ESPN costs more than $5.00 per subscriber, per month, according to SNL Kagan, an industry consulting firm. That makes ESPN the most expensive national cable channel in the marketplace. The new contract, which takes effect in 2014 and runs through 2021, will provide ESPN with more regular season games as well as a small piece of postseason baseball coverage. ESPN will also be allowed greater use of footage of baseball that it can use to produce additional programming.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan "Bud" Selig said the agreement signaled a "very historic day for baseball" and called ESPN's financial commitment to the sport "extraordinary" and a "testament to the strength of our game." The $5.6-billion rights deal, which averages out to about $700 million per season, doubles what ESPN had been paying in its current contract. Though neither Skipper nor Selig would comment on the specifics of the pact, the commissioner did say, "We got over a 100% increase." ESPN may have heard footsteps while it was in talks with Major League Baseball. It's no secret that NBC is looking hard at baseball to beef up its own NBC Sports Network, which is trying to compete against ESPN.
NBC, which has shown through its Olympics and NFL deals that it is willing to write big checks to land sports, will have two more shots at the national pastime. Fox and Turner Broadcasting's deals with Major League Baseball are also up at the end of next season. Both are expected to fight to keep baseball. Fox currently pays $259 million a season for baseball, and Turner is paying $149 million. Given the size of ESPN's deal, it is clear that Major League Baseball will be looking for higher fees from Fox and Turner as well.
So far this season, ESPN's baseball coverage on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday nights is averaging about 1.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen. That is a slight decline from the 1.4 million viewers ESPN averaged last season. In addition to more regular season games and a wild card playoff game, ESPN also secured additional radio and digital rights as well as an expansion of its international rights to show baseball. Los Angeles Times; more in Wall Street Journal
With my time limited, I'm continuously working to chip away at the ever-growing list of programs and movies on my TiVo.
For the past week, I've been testing a device that solves a lot of my problems: TiVo Stream. The $130 box, available Sept. 6 from TiVo.com and in Best Buy soon after that, streams content from your TiVo to up to four mobile devices in your home at high-definition quality. That lets me watch prerecorded shows while doing other things, like cooking or getting ready for work. Stream also turns mobile devices into TVs of their own: You can scan the channel guide, select a show and watch it live. It also lets people wirelessly download content to their mobile devices for watching anytime, like on planes or during road trips.
TiVo Stream works with the iPad, iPhone and newer iPod touch models. A TiVo spokesman said an Android-compatible app is in the works. To use the Stream, you need one of TiVo's Premiere models. The overall cost may be prohibitive for TiVo newcomers: Getting a TiVo Premiere box can cost $150, $250 or $400, depending on the model. In addition, the monthly service fee for TiVo is $15 for a single DVR or $13 for multiple DVRs; lifetime service is offered to existing users for $400 or to new users for $500. If you have a Premiere box, Stream is just $130. Users only pay for the cost of the box; there's no added service fee. More than half of TiVo's current subscribers use the company's Premiere boxes. TiVo had 2.5 million subscribers at its last report in May, up from two million in April 2011.
Apps from cable companies, generally free to cable subscribers who log in, also provide some TV-watching options on mobile devices and work in various Wi-Fi network, not just at home. These services vary, and are generally more limited than TiVo Stream. Some only allow viewers to watch specific programming, rather than all live channels and prerecorded content like TiVo Stream. And Stream enables downloading files directly onto devices. After using TiVo Stream in my home, I'm dreading sending it back after this column publishes, as is my policy for returning products. Without calling the cable company or buying new televisions, I was suddenly able to watch TV in several rooms of my house. As I chopped vegetables in the kitchen, I watched a streaming episode of the Food Network's "Barefoot Contessa" for inspiration. I watched the ending to an old favorite movie, "My Best Friend's Wedding," from the comfort of my bed rather than from the living room. I even played live U.S. Open tennis matches in the bathroom while doing my makeup so as not to miss a minute of my favorite tennis tournament. At one point, I had a Kim Clijsters tennis match simultaneously playing on my TV, on two iPads and on an iPhone.
Live shows took about eight seconds to buffer when I first tapped a button to play them on my iPad or iPhone, then played smoothly without stuttering. Prerecorded shows played immediately when I tapped a button to play them on my iPhone or iPad. Though downloading shows and watching streamed shows on my iPad and iPhone used up a serious chunk in battery life, I was using them at home for most of the time and could plug them in for more juice. When I wanted to take a show with me on my iPad or iPhone, I tapped a button in the TiVo Stream's corresponding app to wirelessly download it. A 30-minute, standard-definition (305-megabyte) episode took 13 minutes to download to an iPhone, and a similar episode took just 14 minutes to download in "Best" definition (537 megabytes). A one-hour show took 18 minutes to download in standard definition (616 megabytes), while another one-hour episode took 28 minutes to download onto my iPad in "Best" definition (one gigabyte). "Standard" looked great on the iPad and iPhone, and for purposes other than testing, I wouldn't bother downloading "Best" in the future. To seasoned TiVo fans, the content-downloading model might sound familiar. TiVo already offers TiVoToGo, but this is a slow, wired option that uses a computer.
The TiVo Stream was a no-brainer to set up. I usually use a Wi-Fi dongle to wirelessly connect my TiVo to the Internet, but the Stream requires a wired connection. I used two Ethernet cords to plug the Stream device-a box about the size of a piece of toast and just over an inch thick-into my wireless router and the back of the TiVo. A small, white light on the box blinked for less than a minute before steadily glowing, which indicated that it was ready to use. I opened the TiVo app on my third-generation iPad, tapped a button to select my TiVo Premiere box, and entered its multimedia code, found in the TiVo settings menu. A four-step test appeared on the iPad screen and confirmed its connection to the TiVo. The whole process took less than five minutes and I repeated it with an iPhone and a first-generation iPad.
With the new TiVo Stream app, two columns clearly show what's recorded on the TiVo and what's downloaded on the device (iPad or iPhone, in my case). Watching shows was a lot like using my regular TV: I paused live programming to let it get a few minutes ahead, and then used a 30-second-skip button to fly past commercials. With a left or right swiping gesture, I could quickly fast forward or rewind. Whenever I watched a live show on my iPad or iPhone, it automatically started recording back on my TiVo Premiere box, so if you have two shows already recording, you'll be out of luck. Two Premiere models offer four tuners each, which avoids this problem. Wall Street Journal
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