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Sports Fans May Not Get What They Want With Verizon's New Video Service

The upcoming "over the top" service will have some college sports, but not the biggest games. And for everything else ...

Jeff Schultes /
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.

Verizon has announced more programming for the video service it will roll out this year for its wireless customers. And in the process, the telco may be sending an unintended message to many sports fans: We’re not going to have the stuff you really want.

That’s not how Verizon sees it, of course. The company’s press release says it acquired programming “focused on college sports and more,” which it thinks will appeal to “younger consumers.”

But unless Verizon has other sports deals it has yet to announce, it looks like it’s not going to carry the most high-profile college games, or any professional football, basketball, baseball or hockey games.

Instead, it has deals with services that specialize in highlight clips, like Sports Illustrated’s 120 Sports, and IMG’s Campus Insiders. And it has deals with CBS and ESPN to show a subset of the games those networks carry on their digital outlets — and not their most valuable games, which appear on traditional TV.

Verizon says it will have “dozens” of games from CBS Sports; a CBS rep says those games will come from College Sports Live, its pay service that shows lower-profile college games. Verizon also says it will show “select live college football and college basketball games” from ESPN; a person familiar with the company says those games will come from ESPN 3, the digital network ESPN offers to pay TV subscribers with access to its linear TV channels.

In other words: If you want to watch Ohio State take on Michigan next fall, or just about any pro sport live, you’re going to need another TV service. Which makes sense, since the TV services that have the rights to those games have paid an enormous amount of money for them.

Then again, Sony’s Vue and Dish’s Sling TV — the two big “over the top” Web TV services that have debuted this year — have made sure to spell out that their offerings include some of the highest-profile sports programming.

For many people the chief feature of Sling is that it carries ESPN; Vue has Fox Sports as well as Turner, which offers lots of professional baseball and basketball.

It’s possible that none of this will matter to Verizon’s customers. Depending on the service’s pricing and other features — so far, it has said it will show some stuff from DreamWorks Animation’s Web arm; it also says it has a deal with Viacom but hasn’t spelled out what that means — they may be fine with a smattering of sports. And there’s a contingent of video watchers who don’t want to watch any sports at all.

But people who want to watch a lot of games — and the most popular games — may need to find other outlets to augment this one.

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