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Reminder: You're Not Watching Sports Without Cable TV

ESPN has just about every game locked up, for years to come.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

You don’t have to have pay TV to watch sports on TV. Some games, like the ones the NFL plays on Sundays, are still on broadcast TV, so you could watch those with the help of an antenna.

You could also go to your friend’s house, or your parents’ house, or a bar.

But beyond that, U.S. sports fans are pretty much required to get pay TV, in large part because ESPN, the country’s most powerful cable channel, has locked up the rights to the biggest sports leagues and events — or at least a portion of them — usually for a decade or more.

A handy chart from MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson today spells this out quite clearly:

ESPN sports rights via MoffettNathanson

Those rights are very expensive, of course. Nathanson figures ESPN will pay $3.8 billion for those games this year, and $5.1 billion by 2017. And the TV networks that don’t have those rights — like Viacom — like to argue that these expenses will eventually weaken ESPN, as consumers who don’t value sports will cut the cord or won’t sign up for it in the first place.

Pay-TV operators, meanwhile, are paying ESPN $6 for every subscriber each month, whether or not they watch (or want) the channel, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That cost is expected to reach more than $8 by 2018.

It’s worth noting that while Dish’s planned Web TV service has made ESPN the cornerstone of its offering, the Web TV service that Sony is testing now doesn’t have any ESPN at all. I’m told the two companies are continuing to discuss a deal, though it’s interesting that Sony doesn’t seem to think that its audience — game-playing dudes — had to have sports on TV, at least at launch.

Watch ESPN president John Skipper explain ESPN’s digital future at Code/Media 2016

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