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How Live Sports are Moving Online

Sports Streaming Gaining Ground on Cable

It might be the last fighting chance for cable and satellite television. While streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu continue to gain momentum with TV shows and movies, live sports are still at home on traditional television. But don't expect it to last for very long. Networks and sports leagues are teaming up to shift the balance of power from broadcast to the web. It only exists in small pockets today, but if you know where to look, there's almost nothing you can't find online.

Free* Services
The word "free" carries an asterisk because the access to these services is often conditional. ESPN 3 or "Watch ESPN," as it's now called, gives viewers access to live sporting events and some recaps online via their computer or game console. The condition is it's only accessible to viewers who use certain Internet service providers like Comcast or Time Warner.

Other providers like Direct TV or Dish Network give subscribers options to view live television on their iPad or laptop, but this isn't available as a standalone service.

What You Get
Soccer (EPL, MLS, etc.), college sports, some nationally televised professional sports, subject to local blackouts.

Subscription Services
Packages such as NFL Sunday Ticket are vastly popular for the more invested sports fanatics who wants every game of the season in their living room. These used to be exclusive to cable and satellite, but are now offering online options. For example, MLB Extra Innings is the cable package that offers regular season games for all 30 teams in Major League Baseball, but MLB.tv is the online alternative that offers the same thing. The same goes for other leagues like NBA and NFL, which are also accessible through apps on game consoles and streaming boxes so the games can still be watched in the living room.

What You Get
Every regular season game, subject to local blackouts.

Special Events
The 2012 Summer Olympics set many records for athletes, but it also set a milestone by streaming more than 2,000 hours of live footage online, free to viewers. According to Business Insider, NBC paid $1.2 billion for the rights to the London games. Executive Jim Bell said complementing the television coverage with online streaming helped the overall ratings.

The Olympics is just one of several major sporting events turning to the Internet for new viewers. The NFL, which already dominates ratings on Sunday, put the Super Bowl online this year, opening up the game to millions of new viewers.

What You Get
Olympics, Super Bowl, World Cup, other championships like the World Series are available for a small fee.

While sports are rapidly expanding to the Internet, it's important to note that nothing has gone exclusively online. The sports found online is also found on TV. For now, services like Netflix and Amazon have no announcements regarding live sports, but given the recent success from other venues, it wouldn't be surprising if we saw a shift in the near future.

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Sara Bird is a computer programmer working on her PhD in robotics. She loves talking about Higgs Boson, reading New Scientist and is getting tired of her thesis but is glad it is nearly done.