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World Cup Woes: Why Does’t ESPN3 Work With Your ISP?

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Countless World Cup fans are scrambling these days to find options to watch the tournament at work. Many of them end up on the website of ESPN3, which is streaming 54 of the 64 games live in HD with a bitrate of up to 1.8 Mbps.


However, a number of users won’t be able to access ESPN3’s stream at all: The website only shows its programming to customers of affiliated ISPs. Got your Internet through AT&T (s T), Comcast (s CSCMK) or Cox? Then you’re good to go. Signed up with Earthlink, or Time Warner Cable (s TWC)? Sorry, you’re out of luck (for other options, read our article Where to Watch the World Cup Online and on Your Phone).

ESPN3 VP Damon Phillips told me during a phone conversation yesterday that the site is available to about 70 percent of all broadband households. It’s struck licensing agreements with more than 60 ISPs, which pay ESPN in order to get their customers access to ESPN3’s programming.

It’s not a new model — ESPN3 used to be called ESPN360, and it has been in the business since 2005. And it’s obviously inspired by an even older business model, one that has dominated TV for decades: “We treat this like a TV network,” explained Philips. TV networks ask cable providers for licensing fees, and customers end up paying for various bundles of these licensed channels.

ESPN even renamed its online venture to ESPN3 earlier this year to make it sound more like a traditional TV network. Philips thinks that the World Cup is somewhat of a coming out party for the site, with many users stumbling across it for the first time, or at least for the first time since the name change. “This event has definitely raised awareness,” he said. ESPN3 wants to use this demand to strike more licensing agreements with ISPs, and in fact provides potential would-be users with a form that makes it possible to “Tell (your ISP) what you think” and “Demand live sports online 24/7!”

Some ISPs, however, want to have nothing of it. Dane Jasper, CEO of the Bay Area-based DSL provider, for example, thinks that ESPN3’s approach is all wrong. “I do not believe that the industry should accept a model that attempts to duplicate linear TV on the Internet,” he writes in a blog post today that he shared in advance with us. He continues:

“The Internet should not accept this model. If it were carried to its logical conclusion this model would have every site charging the ISP, who would pass on the costs to all customers, whether they want the content or not. (…) End-users should be empowered to subscribe to the pay services that they themselves choose, rather than being forced to pay for services they may not want.”

Jasper isn’t alone with his criticism. Broadband Reports noted late last year that some smaller ISPs were contemplating lawsuits, and there also some high-profile holdouts. Time Warner Cable and its Roadrunner subsidiary haven’t signed up with ESPN3, and neither has Cablevision (s CVC). For many, it might be a simple business decision. Customers are unlikely to switch if you’re the only cable ISP in a local market.

A smaller provider like could more easily lose customers to competing DSL providers like AT&T, but Jasper still calls ESPN3’s business model “ridiculous,” adding: “Content creators have an opportunity to reach customers directly, and that’s the path they should take.”

Philips, unsurprisingly, disagreed when I talked about such criticism with him. “We believe that the affiliate model has relevance online,” he told me.

Related content on GigaOm Pro: New Business Models For Pay TV Services (subscription required)

28 Responses to “World Cup Woes: Why Does’t ESPN3 Work With Your ISP?”

  1. This is a policy of Disney’s ESPN3, and not a problem with anyone’s ISP. Complain to ESPN, tell them you will boycott them, that’s what I did. I will never spend any money with Disney or ESPN companies again, until they remedy this idiotic decision. I’m so mad about it, I could spit. They shouldn’t even offer the video at all, if they’re going to play it this way. For once I agree with Jasper, ESPN’s policy/business model is ridiculous.
    ‘Net neutrality or death!
    “EFFF YOU ESPN and DISNEY, in your stupid faces!!!!!”

  2. It’s major bullshit and borders on monopolistic practices. In my area all of’s affiliate partners are WAY slower connections than my TWC internet. So I would have to switch to a lesser product that probably couldn’t even handle the bandwidth in order to watch the World Cup games. should be allowing viewers the option to subscribe for access as they do in EVERY OTHER MARKET except the US. Booooo on ESPN! Very disrespectful of the 30% of the market that has no viable way to access your content. It’s puts a very sour taste in my mouth for your company and it shows how little you value future customers. Send this douchebag CEO a message folks!

  3. Every frickin’ day I always get this error from site. (And I did send a message to customer service – no reply!)

    HTTP Status 500 – Single Sign On failed.

    type Status report

    message Single Sign On failed.

    description The server encountered an internal error (Single Sign On failed.) that prevented it from fulfilling this request.

    Apache Tomcat/6.0.18

  4. mjw149

    And ESPN’s collusion with the cable companies is exactly why the sports leagues need to do their own broadcasting online. There’s no need for ESPN anymore.

  5. Just like Javier, I watch They have done an amazing job streaming the games.

    Interestingly enough, I have had many non-Spanish-speaking friends tell me they were streaming it on as well because it’s, ‘FREE’. I didn’t know what they were referring to since I automatically assumed that ESPN was livestreaming all games to everyone, regardless of ISP.

    I agree with Javier and others when they call ESPN’s strategy an old mind-set. I could be wrong, but I don’t think people are going to change ISPs for the World Cup. I wouldn’t.

  6. Dustin

    What I don’t get is why he is complaining about the service provider paying for it and then passing it down to the customer. He claims this isnt fair when the same thing is going on with our TV channels. I pay for way to many channels I don’t want anything to do with. He needs to pick a side and stick with it. If its not fair for online content why would it be fair for tv content? As you can guess I’m all for a pick and choose cable TV choose, but we all know that will never happen.

    • onecallednick

      “As you can guess I’m all for a pick and choose cable TV choose, but we all know that will never happen.”
      The internet is our chance for that. That’s what he’s saying. If we reject this “affiliate model” of charging you for services you may not want or ever use, we’ll get the subscription model by default. And it’ll cost a LOT less. Look at what you get with Netflix for $8.99!
      Netflix is the reason I don’t have cable.
      This is a terrible business model. I hope it dies quietly and leaves the door open for true online programming, not a throwback to the bad old days of cable.

  7. I am sure ESPN3 is cashing a little more on their end. But I have to agree 100% with Dane Jasper. It is an old mind set.

    Now, I really wonder how many people switched to another ISP to watch the world cup? I am fortunate enough to speak spanish and watch in free and on any ISP. The understand that they are well supported with advertisement for that even and is probably part of the package when they sell the space. ESPN3 should charge a subscription if they wanted to score some extra cash, es does.

    Javier Perez-Karam
    tweet me @perezkaram
    blog me @
    fundrasing @