U.S. Fans Get Free Live Streaming Of Wimbledon Via NBC

Forget the international date line. I crossed the international tennis line when I flew to the UK this weekend, leaving behind a place where I could follow most of Wimbledon live online at no charge on NBC, which even will stream the finals live, and ESPN (NYSE: DIS) for one where the Grand Slam event time shares between the BBC (free online for UK users), and an online pay service.

This gets a little tricky: the first week of Wimbledon was streamed live by ESPN on its broadband channel ESPN360, available only to subscribers of certain cable operators, ISPs and to those with .mil or .edu domains. I didn’t have to pay because my cable operator Charter (NSDQ: CHTR) already pays ESPN; I couldn’t pay because ESPN360 is not available as a subscription service in the U.S. ESPN got broader online video rights this year after MediaZone halted its Wimbledon subscription service; ESPN360 will show live matches much of this week but is shut out of the championships.

Meanwhile, NBC (NYSE: GE) also got expanded rights and, with the All England Lawn Tennis Tennis Club, is producing Live at Wimbledon powered by Microsoft’s Silverlight. The network calls it “the first time that coverage of The Championships, Wimbledon will be widely available in the U.S. via free, live online streaming.” NBC’s coverage includes:

— Live streaming of the 38-plus hours NBC Sports plans to broadcast during the tournament, starting this past Saturday and really kicking into gear Monday when the Round of 16 starts. Until then, NBC offered on-demand video after the matches.

— Live streaming of up to four concurrent matches.

— On demand replays of the “best matches,” alternate camera angles from semifinals on, highlights, archives and more.

— As was the case with NBC Sports in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and for CBS (NYSE: CBS) Sports with March Madness this year, Silverlight will provide HD-quality video. The bells and whistles include DVR-like controls like pausing live action.

What about the UK?: Here in the UK and in numerous other places, Wimbledon Live is a pay play but much of The Championship is also live streamed on the BBC. Via Wimbledon Live, fans can pay either $9.99 for 24 hours or $19.99 for “All Access,” which covers up to six courts live everyday. BBC is all Wimbledon all the time with its simulcasts online as long as you have a TV license; fans without a license; also users can watch two to four live matches a day on BBC iPlayer.

ESPN360 is a subscription service here but doesn’t include Wimbledon — and my promised remote access didn’t follow me across the pond. (Memo to Jeff Bewkes and Brian Roberts: start warning people now if they aren’t really going to be able to access TV Everywhere from everywhere.) I still haven’t solved my Slingbox problem but I can watch some of it via GoToMyPC and wifi. Better yet, I’ll be at Wimbledon live Monday — my first visit after logging hundreds of hours watching the broadcasts and streams over the years.