Wi-Fi Whispers: Is Time-Warner Cable Deal With WeFi About Mobile Sports Content?

The news that came out last week continued an interesting question: why would a cable company want to expand its free Wi-Fi services? Could it be that a big cableco sees free Wi-Fi as a way to keep its current cable customers — by making sure they can watch sports content wherever and whenever they want?

Nobody knows for sure yet, but in all the numerous news reports of the recent deal between cable giant Time-Warner Cable and Wi-Fi aggregator startup WeFi, there were a lot of details on the what but hardly any on the why.

Like other cablecos, TWC has been moving forward aggressively with a Wi-Fi hotspot deployment. By tapping WeFi’s capability to help people find free hotspots, TWC is buying rather than building, taking advantage of the idea that private networks may get built out farther and faster than even the biggest service providers could manage. But the question still lingers — why?

GigaOM’s Kevin Fitchard in the story linked above touches a bit on an idea — he quotes a WeFi exec’s idea that “cable providers want to encourage their customers to access their broadband connections and video programming outside of the home, making those services that much stickier.” But I don’t think it’s just about the sticky. I think it’s about maximizing the access to the content that is king over all other types, namely live sports content.

Sports remains the far and away No. 1 reason people watch TVs — just go find a list of the top viewed programs ever. Or check out stats from this summer’s Olympics. And a lot of that viewing is going to move to mobile screens, like tablets. So why is TWC putting Wi-Fi hotspots on the beaches of Southern California? Surprise, surprise, TWC last year paid $3 billion to snag the rights to L.A. Lakers basketball games. So now Lakers fans who are TWC subscribers can watch the games while they’re on the sand. But most importantly to TWC — they won’t cancel their cable subscriptions, meaning that TWC doesn’t have to shell out the $500 or so that is the estimated cost of finding a new subscriber.

Since it’s LA those subscribers may also be watching things like Dancing With the Stars or American Idol, but don’t kid yourself — you don’t see anyone ponying up billions in just rights fees for reality shows. And people don’t cancel cable subscriptions or buy pricey ones just to watch those shows. They do for sports, and I’m betting that cable’s big move to provide free Wi-Fi is all about making sure sports fans can watch the content they’ve already paid for — instead of, say, paying Verizon $5 extra a month to watch NFL games on your phone.

Here’s the news coverage of the TWC/WeFi deal:

Jeff Baumgartner at Light Reading
Todd Spangler at Multichannel News
Kevin Fitchard at GigaOM

And the LA Times story about sports rights, also a good read: Joe Flint and Meg James, LA Times (HT to Spangler’s Twitter feed for the link)

Watching Golf this Week: The Open Championship, aka The British Open

Are you ready for the third major of the year? It all kicks off Thursday morning at one of the stranger-named courses, Royal Lytham & St. Annes (not St. Anne’s), which its own website describes as “It is not a conventionally beautiful golf course, surrounded as it is by suburban housing and flanked by a railway line, but it has a charm all of its own.” Never you mind. This is the British Open, aka The Open Championship, and it’s all about history. With Champions at the course named Seve. Tom Lehman, Gary Player, and most recently, David Duval in 2001.

And best of all, golf when you wake up in the morning here in the U.S.! If you want to watch the Open Championship this weekend you best have a cable subscription with ESPN (and really, who doesn’t in the sports world). If you want to watch online or on your mobile device, you need a cable sub with the WatchESPN qualifying carriers: Verizon FiOS, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks or Comcast. This tourney is four days of wall to wall ESPN coverage, including ESPN radio, probably a bunch of SportsCenter from the Open broadcasts… starting at 4:30 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, to catch all of Tiger and Phil, who are going out early.

And who will win it? Odds on favorite is, of course, the man who would be back: Tiger Woods. If he plays all four days like he played the first two days at Olympic, Tiger will be tough to beat — he’s even been seen working on his infamous “stinger” shots. Lurking in the gorse is Phil Mickelson, who is way overdue overseas — and had himself a few nice sub-70 rounds at the Scottish Open last weekend as a tuneup.

What about the local lads — guys like Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, who reign atop the world standings but have zero majors between them? Of the two I like Westwood’s chances since he always seems to be in it at the end, while Donald tends to disappear. Maybe like Darren Clarke last year, this is Westwood’s time. As a dark horse I like a guy who I saw live for the first time at the U.S. Open, and marveled at the style of his swing: Former British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen. Go join the MSR group on the ESPN fantasy golf game if you want to show your own picking savvy.

In case the Open isn’t enough golf, there is also a PGA Tour event this week, the incredibly ignored True South Classic in Madison, Mississippi, as well as the fun-to-watch American Century Classic from Lake Tahoe, where celebs and athletes from other sports show off their golf prowess, or lack thereof (see Barkley, Charles). We will include TV times for those tournaments as well, below.

Our final pick? We say Tiger gets off the major schneid. Here’s where to follow the action:


(all times Eastern)
Thursday, July 19 — ESPN, 4:30 a.m. — 3 p.m.
Friday, July 20 — ESPN, 4:30 a.m. — 3 p.m.
Saturday, July 21 — ESPN, 7 a.m. — 2:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 22 — ESPN, 8 a.m. — 1 p.m.

ESPN RADIO (check local channels)
Thursday, July 19 — 7 a.m. — 1 p.m.
Friday, July 20 — 7 a.m. — 1 p.m.
Saturday, July 21 — ESPN, 9 a.m. — 3 p.m.
Sunday, July 22 — ESPN, 8 a.m. — 12 p.m.

Radio broadcasts will also be available through the Open app, at TheOpen.com, and at

This is long, but worth it… what follows is the entire ESPN lineup of content from The Open:

The Open Championship on ESPN Digital Platforms
All Open Championship programming on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN3 is also available on computers, smartphones and tablets through WatchESPN and the WatchESPN app, which are accessible to fans who receive their video service from affiliated providers Bright House Networks, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon FiOS TV.

News, blogs and columns from ESPN.com national columnist Gene Wojciechowski and senior golf writers Farrell Evans and Bob Harig.
“Digital Drive,” an exclusive ESPN.com program hosted by ESPN the Magazine columnist Rick Reilly, will be produced each day.
“CoverItLive” live chat with Michael Collins throughout the championship.
“Red Light/Green Light” with Collins each day, examining pin placements on selected holes.
The ESPN Golf Cast application, which offers an easy-to-use interface with scoring, “CoverItLive,” video and social media elements.
Best Ball Majors, the latest installment of the ESPN Best Ball Challenge.
Interactive leaderboards and live scores.
Extensive video content, including highlights, analysis, clips from SportsCenter and press conferences.
Photo galleries, podcasts, live chats, SportsNation polling.
Mobile WAP site.
Spanish-language highlights and coverage on ESPNDeportes.com.

ESPN’s live multi-screen sports network will carry ESPN’s telecast of all four rounds of The Open Championship. An additional feed will have live coverage of the 1st & 18th Holes, plus player interviews from the practice range, highlights and features. Trey Wingo and Jim Kelly will share the host role, with analysts Jane Crafter and Kim Thomas and reporter Mark Donaldson. Former Open Championship winner David Duval, who is competing in the event, also will serve as an analyst while not on the course.
ESPN3 also will have a Spanish-language feed with ESPN Deportes golf announcers Francisco Aleman and former LPGA pro Silvia Bertolaccini as well as the International View from the BBC/World coverage and alternating coverage of holes 8, 9 and 10.

ESPN Mobile
Live mobile video simulcasts of ESPN’s Open Championship telecasts on Thursday-Sunday will appear on ESPN Mobile TV. The Best of The Open Championship programs for the first, third and final rounds and Thursday’s The Open Championship Today programs also will be simulcast.
News, highlights and a leaderboard will appear on the ESPN mobile Web and there will be Open Championship Insider content, news and columns, scoring alerts for top players and video shot packs for select golfers.

No Shot Tracker at the British Open, but it will be online for the True South Classic.

Get yourself close to the Claret Jug at The Open’s Facebook page.

The Open’s own Twitter feed.
Geoff Shackelford — well known golf writer. If you’re not following Geoff you are missing the online boat.
Golf Channel — official Golf Channel feed
@PGATOUR — official PGA Twitter feed
@StephanieWei — great golf writer who is a Twitter fiend. You may also catch her video reporting debut this weekend. Go Stephanie!
Doug Ferguson is the lead golf writer for AP. Good Twitter insights that often aren’t part of your wire-service lead.

Powered by video mavens at Ooyala, the Open’s App has everything you want in a handheld device app. iPad, iPhone and Android. You will still need the ESPN contract to view live video, though.

The Royal Lytham & St. Annes has its own website, and there is good stuff on the PGA site as well.

Darren Clarke.

Because the two towns of Lytham and St. Annes-on-the-Sea grew together and formed one seaside resort. And they dropped the “sea” bit. According to Wikipedia.

1. Tiger Woods, 1,952 points
2. Zach Johnson, 1,920
3. Jason Dufner, 1,849
4. Hunter Mahan, 1,654
5. Bubba Watson, 1,617

See the full standings for the FedEx Cup points list.

1. Luke Donald; 2. Rory McIlroy; 3. Lee Westwood; 4. Tiger Woods; 5. Webb Simpson.
See the official World Golf Ranking list.

Thursday, July 19 — Golf Channel, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Friday, July 20 — Golf Channel, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 21 — Golf Channel, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 22 — Golf Channel, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.

Saturday, July 21 — NBC, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.
Sunday, July 22 — NBC, 3 p.m. — 6 p.m.

MLB Network adds New Channel for Highlights: The Strike Zone

MLB Network expands its broadcasting presence, part time, with the introduction of the Strike Zone channel, which a number of its cable partners have agreed to carry in a number of markets large and small across the nation.

The channel, which will only broadcast part-time, will be available currently from DIRECTV, Dish Network, Bright House Network and Time Warner Cable and will be designed much on the model set by the NFL Network’s Red Zone, providing live look in at games and important at bats as well as providing game highlights, all in high definition.

Initially it looks like Time Warner customers will be the big winners as it will be offering the channel in these markets: Albany, Austin, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbia, Columbus, Corpus Christi, Dallas, El Paso, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Milwaukee/Green Bay, New York City, Palm Springs, Portland, Raleigh, Rochester, San Antonio, San Diego, Syracuse and Waco.

Interesting that I live in one of those markets and did not know that Time Warner was available here. Anyway then Bright House will be offering the programming in five markets. Two in Florida with Orlando and Tampa; Bakersfield, California, Indianapolis and Birmingham, Alabama.

Dish Network will include it in its ‘Multi-Sports’ package while DIRECTV will offer it as part of its ‘Sports Pack’ and its MLB Extra Innings plan.

When MLB launched its own network the thinking was that this would put pressure on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and I believe that it did, bring its level of professionalism up a notch. Now with a competing highlight show I expect that we will see a much broader assortment of highlights and game breaks from ESPN covering more teams than the few that it seems to favor.

The Big Ten Network expands to Mobile Devices with BTN2Go

Fans of Big Ten sports who are on the road can now take a piece of the conference with them, a sporting piece as the conference has expanded its Big Ten Network (BTN) presence to cover both mobile users as well as expanding its footprint on the Internet.

The BTN2Go features the live sports feed of the programming that fills BTN, it is simply made available to users of smartphones, tablets or access the site via the Internet. The BTN has done a staged rollout of the program, it debuted with the start of the football season last year as an Internet-only feature and then expanded to the iPad and iPhone quickly afterwards. A version for Android-based phones is expected within the next month or so.

The goal of the effort to provide fans of Big Ten sports access to games anywhere, at any time on any device, said Michael Calderon, BTN’s vice president of digital and interactive media. The network is currently looking at other platforms such as Windows Phone and connected devices including game consoles and expects to launch a new platform with the start of next year’s football season, Calderon said.

Users have to be subscribers of the participating cable or broadband providers, a list that includes Bright House Networks, Charter, Cox Communications, DIRECTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable and Verizon.

If you fall into that category then BTN2Go is free with no addition subscription needed and this gives you access to a huge amount of both current and past programming. First and foremost for many fans is the ability to watch live games. However games that are broadcast by BTN’s partners such as ABC and ESPN will be available the following day on-demand.

Calderon noted that a real benefit the program brings is for fans that do not live in the Big Ten area, where a game that are interested might not be broadcast, it will still be available on BTN2Go. Also when an event runs long, say the first of a basketball doubleheader, a user can still go to BTN2Go to watch the opening of the second game if that is the one they are interested in viewing.

The BTN has benefited from its founders foresight. When it was founded five years ago in ensured that it had control of all its digital rights so that the licensing issues that have the potential to stymie a program such as this do not exist.

Then there is also access to archival footage from earlier this season broadcast by both BTN and its partners. Of course there is highlight reels and coaches shows on a regular basis. The BTN also creates home grown series such as Original series such as The Journey, Big Ten Icons, Big Ten’s Best and The Big Ten’s Greatest Games that are also available for viewing.

Going forward the network is looking to add additional features to BNT2Go including possibly a social media module for Facebook and Twitter users, but for the first generation of the platform it focused on delivering a top video experience, Caldera said.

Cable Giants Push In-Home Streaming

On consecutive days, two major cable companies stepped up efforts to retain sports viewing customers who may be otherwise tempted to skip out on cable in favor of wireless data packages.

On April 1, Time Warner Cable Television added ESPN and Golf Channel to its iPad television streaming application, while dropping Viacom, Discovery and Fox channels from the mix. Meanwhile, coinciding with a big weekend in sports programming, Cablevision Systems Corp. launched its own iPad television streaming application.

The iPad application is strategic effort by the cable company to reach all viewing screens in a customer’s home, and is expected to emerge as a major test case for the distribution of sports programming to all customer devices in the home.  

Fox, Discovery and Viacom have balked at television streaming applications on the grounds they violate existing programming agreements. For example, Time Warner does not pay a second fee to content providers for the right to deliver programming to customers via the iPad application.  

Time Warner does not see television streaming as double dipping.

On the often hilarious and irreverent Time Warner Cable corporate blog, Time Warner director of digital communications Jeff Simmermon ridiculed content providers who are unwilling to allow television streaming via Wi-Fi. They are programmers kicking against “currents of change with feeble karate,” he said.

Sports programming figures at the center of the streaming television controversy. In fact, customer comments on the Time Warner blog are overwhelmingly centered on sports programming with people lobbying for channels that will give them access to their favorite sports and teams on mobile devices.

One day after the Time Warner’s programming change, Cablevision Systems Corp. launched its iPad television streaming application. Called iO TV, Cablevision’s entry offers 280 live channels, as well as video on demand. Launch of the Cablevision application coincided with the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four Championship series of three games, and the opening weekend of Major League Baseball.

In a press release, Cablevision said, “this app provides another screen for you to use in your home and allows you to move around your home while watching all of your favorite shows.”