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Updated: Here Come the Streaming Paywalls: Comcast, March Madness Now Charging for Online Access

Phillip Dampier February 22, 2012 Comcast/Xfinity, Consumer News, Online Video, Video 3 Comments

The Great Wall of Pay

Now that the cable industry’s “TV Everywhere” online video platform has been established, some programmers are discovering they can become lucrative revenue streams as well as a deterrent to cable cord-cutting.

Time Warner (no relationship to Time Warner Cable) and CBS have decided giving away live sports programming for free is unacceptable and will now charge for online viewing of certain March Madness basketball games.

Since 2006, the basketball tournament has been available for free online viewing, but starting March 7, viewers will need to pay $3.99 for full access to all 67 games [and basic cable viewers will need to verify] they are current cable, satellite, or telco TV subscribers. [See clarification below.]

Online viewing of games televised on CBS will be available for free, but the new paywall will block free access to selected games shown on cable networks TNT, TBS, and TruTV in certain cases.

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes sees charging for online viewing as a substantial new revenue stream.

Monetizing online viewing is a high priority for programmers, even though much of the programming will continue to carry commercial advertising.  Last year, an estimated 2.6 million daily visitors watched March Madness online.  At $3.99 each, that would net the two companies nearly $10.4 million dollars.

The madness will now cost you $3.99

In a separate announcement, Comcast says it will launch a new Netflix-like on-demand streaming service tomorrow for its cable subscribers.

Streampix (free for triple play customers, $4.99/mo for others) will offer on-demand movies and TV series licensed from NBC-Universal, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, and Disney.

Selected content can be watched while on the go, but a substantial amount of what Streampix is expected to offer is already available through services like Hulu.

Streampix is designed to appeal to customers who currently pay $7-8 a month for Netflix or Hulu+.

The move establishes Comcast’s own “paywall” for a deeper catalog of online video content, supplementing programming it gives away at no charge to “authenticated” cable subscribers.

Comcast will not sell Streampix to non-Comcast customers.

Bloomberg reports Comcast’s Streampix service is unlikely to pose a major challenge to services like Netflix.  (4 minutes)

Clarification:  A reader suggested we better clarify the viewing options.  It gets complicated depending on what kind of video/broadband subscription you have, where you want to watch, and what kind of feed you want:

CBS-televised games: Available for free with no restrictions from CBS website.

Basic Cable games: If you want to watch outside of the home, on certain portable devices, or do not have a combined broadband/cable-TV subscription, you will need to purchase a subscription for $3.99 from the NCAA.  Free streaming is only available to authenticated cable/broadband subscribers watching from their home broadband account on devices pre-approved by your pay television provider.

Open/Full Access: If you want full, unrestricted access you need to pay for the NCAA ® March Madness ® Live™ app ($3.99).  Since this app provides the NCAA’s own video and audio feeds, you don’t need a cable subscription.

Currently there are 3 comments on this Article:

  1. Kenton Weigold says:

    What source is saying that there is a requirement of a cable subscription for the paid march madness live? this does not indicate that there is any requirement.


    this site seems to indicate that you can watch for free on CBS for the CBS games and if you are a cable subscriber you can watch for free on the turner websites by authenticating


  2. It gets complicated because different networks and the NCAA are offering their own things.

    Let’s break it down:

    1) Games televised on CBS: Available for free.
    2) Games televised on basic cable: You will need to authenticate yourself as a basic cable subscriber through your provider’s authentication portal. This is more complicated than the “Big Lead” indicates. You can’t just pick one at random. If you want to watch outside of the home, or do not have a combined video/broadband subscription, you have to choose option 3 and pay.
    3) You can buy a subscription through the NCAA which gives you the NCAA’s own video feeds and extras on Android phones, home computer, away from home viewing.

    I see the point of confusion. If you buy a subscription direct from NCAA, you can watch anywhere on any device, without a cable subscription (because you are getting the NCAA’s own feed). If you want to watch outside of your home or do not have cable-TV with bundled broadband connection, you have to pay the $3.99 because the TV Everywhere service will be blocked. You can only watch TV Everywhere from your home broadband account with cable TV package.

    I’ll clarify this in the article better.

  3. Scott says:

    All these cable provider streaming services are an immediately failure for two reasons.

    1. They all require you to be an existing cable TV subscriber.

    2. They are all too damn complicated or poorly designed and buggy in implementation.

    One of the biggest issues for me: “Comcast will not sell Streampix to non-Comcast customers.”

    If you’re not selling your streaming service as a stand-alone service, STOP CALLING IT A NETFLIX competitor.

    Existing cable TV subscribers don’t need bloody streaming service, it may be a “nice” service to have it it didn’t increase their monthly rate or didn’t nickle or dime with premium on demand programming fees.. but watch out because this is just going to turn into another income stream for them, it’s nothing to do with provider a better or easier service to combat Netflix/Hulu/Amazon.

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