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YouTube TV Finally Creates a Streaming Package for College Sports Fans

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Duke v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

As the price of cable and satellite television continues to increase, consumers are increasingly cutting the cord to traditional pay television services. Some are going strictly to over-the-air broadcast television, while others are choosing services such as Hulu or NetFlix. Both work fine if you primarily watch movies or reruns of television series. But sports?

Nope.

Needless to say, that makes those services a poor choice for the typical CornNation reader. (I feel safe in thinking that if you like reading about Nebraska athletics, you like watching the games even more.)

A couple of years ago, Dish Network rolled out SlingTV, a streaming service that provided a limited package of traditional cable networks for $20 a month. ESPN and ESPN2 are included, but not BTN. Sling has since added a second tier that adds channels like FS1 for an additional $5 a month, though BTN is still not available.

Since then, DirecTV and Sony have joined the streaming world with DirecTV Now and Playstation Vue. DirecTV Now offers a 60 channel package for $35 that includes ESPN, ESPN2 and FS1. To get BTN, ESPNU and ESPNews, you have to upgrade to a $50 package of 80 channels. PlayStation Vue offers the entire ESPN suite as well as BTN, FS1 and FS2 in a $35 a month package.

Note that I’m mentioning FS1, ESPNU and ESPNews. Several Husker football and basketball games have been shown on ESPNU and ESPNews in recent seasons, and Fox acquired the rights to about half of the package that ESPN and ABC had controlled for the last ten years. Now many of those games will shift to Fox and FS1 beginning with the upcoming 2017 football season, meaning that Big Ten fans will want FS1 available to them.

None of these packages appear to include over-the-air broadcasts, which means that you have to have an antenna and a traditional television for the games on ABC (and starting this fall, Fox). That may change with Google’s announcement of YouTube TV.

For $35, YouTube TV has announced a package of 40 broadcast and cable channels from ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. It’s a package that targets the heart of the college sports fan, as it includes BTN, ESPN and the family of ESPN2/U/News, NBCSN and even CBS Sports Network. (Remember trying to find CBS Sports Network three years ago to watch the Fresno State game?) The biggest omission in this package is the Turner family of networks (CNN, TBS and TNT), who only have rights to part of the NCAA basketball tournament.

Personally, I’m still not convinced that streaming is the best platform for sports - at least at this moment for high demand events such as the national championship game. Whenever I’ve streamed something, I’ve usually had to restart the stream at least once during the game.

That being said, I recently got a message from my cable company that my monthly bill will be over $110 a month. While I like the technology and the quality of the broadcasts, I only watch a fraction of the channels I get. Certainly if I wasn’t interested in sports, I’d have already cut the cord. And I’m not alone... 70% of cable networks have lost subscribers over the last year, and ESPN’s subscriber losses has led Wall Street investors to suggest that Disney sell off ESPN while it still can.

At a certain point, the market will force cable and satellite providers to start offering packages similar to the streaming services. Already Dish provides a $40 package with 50 non-sports channels while Comcast has experimented with $55 slimmer packages.

But will sports fans wait for the cable companies to act, or will they vote with their feet? I suspect that services such as YouTube TV are going to put even more pressure on the cable and satellite industry to evolve.