ESPN plans wall-to-wall digital Wimbledon — for some

Enjoy Wimbledon? Away from your TV during hot matches? Psyched to hear ESPN(s dis) is streaming 800-plus hours live and on-demand, in addition to streaming ESPN2?
Me, too. If you pride yourself on not paying for cable or satellite, you will be scrambling to watch. But, if you are one of the nearly 100 million households that get ESPN, you still might be scrambling — unless your cable provider or ISP has the right deal.
To be sure, ESPN’s 2012 Wimbledon presentation is a milestone (and people who know me know how much I resist calling anything on the Internet a “milestone”). When ESPN starts its 12-year exclusive run June 25th, U.S. fans will, for the first time, will be able to watch every possible Wimbledon match in real time coast to coast. No tape delays.
NBC(s cmcsk), which held the rights for 43 years, also held us in thrall, manipulating a mix of live and tape delay to avoid preempting some of its lucrative Today Show hours and refusing to allow other rightsholders to carry the matches that didn’t fit. Particularly galling in this social media age: the practice of airing matches live in the east and tape delaying them for the west.
But NBC had one aspect in its favor: when matches were live they were broadcast and available to anyone with a signal. The current version of NBC Sports probably would spread matches across NBC and its cable networks, as it did to mixed effect for the Stanley Cup playoffs and will for the Olympics, but the major matches would be broadcast. This year’s finals will be broadcast, too — but they will be taped and aired later on ABC. All the live action is pay-for-play in one way or another.
NBC started to stretch the live streaming boundaries in 2009, streaming all of its broadcast hours plus some concurrent matches.
Now ESPN is pushing it even further. Here’s how Wimbledon 2012 will be shown on U.S. digital platforms — and who will have access:
ESPN3: More than 800 hours covering matches on all available TV courts (up to nine) will be live streamed “first ball to last ball each day” and available on demand. It includes multi-screen viewing.

  • Who can get it: The live and on-demand broadband network is available to about 73 million video and ISP subscribers whose providers have deals with ESPN. Another 21 million U.S. college students and U.S.0based military personnel have free access through campus or base networks. But paying for ESPN through cable or satellite is no guarantee; ESPN covers nearly 100 million households and a lot of those will be left out if there is no deal in place.
  • Video affiliates: Time Warner Cable(s twc), Bright House Networks, Verizon(s vz) FiOS and Comcast Xfinity TV (s cmcsk).
  • ISP affiliates: Here’s the fullĀ list. You can also check by zip code and provider and follow instructions to complain if you don’t.
  • How: Video subscribers and Verizon broadband can access through WatchESPN apps on iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android. Also ESPN on Xbox LIVE for Gold members.

WatchESPN: In addition to ESPN3, video subscribers can watch linear channels ESPN and ESPN2 live on the WatchESPN apps and at Most Wimbledon coverage is on ESPN2.
ESPN Mobile: If you don’t have WatchESPN, the mobile experience will be all about info — point-by-point coverage on mobile browsers and the ESPN ScoreCenter app (iPhone, Android, Windows) plus some video highlights. Unless you pay for ESPN MobileTV through AT&T ($10/month), Alltel, Sprint TV (free with certain data packages and devices) or Verizon ($3/day, #10/month). Then you get 105 hours of live ESPN/ESPN2.
More details here about all the coverage, including the second year of ESPN 3D, multi-screen access on DirecTV.
ESPN is working closely with the BBC, which also outlined its plans. That includes two full matches on the iPlayer every day, the BBC Sport app for connected TV, and up to six live matches streams on the BBC Sport site.
Not a cord-cutter’s Wimbledon
Intrepid fans who don’t pay for video and don’t have access to ESPN3 through ISPs will find ways to watch matches but there is no easy, legit solution other than the limited amount of mobile TV video. No other standalone subscriptions. ESPN needs to provide value for its high-end fees and does so, in part, by protecting how its programming is distributed online and across devices. Offer Wimbledon outside that ecosystem and the value starts to dissipate.
Live sports continues to be one of the top reasons people will pay for video and ESPN is doing everything it can to protect that, including airing everything it can. Tennis Everywhere, as long as someone pays.