WatchESPN on your iPhone (but ReadFINEPRINT)


The future is upon us. As the content owners and cable/satellite providers maintain relevance by extending their offerings beyond the traditional television. And the most promising new service is WatchESPN. Not only does it enable streaming around the home, as seen with Time Warner and Cablevision apps, but it allows you to get live ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ESPN3 broadcasts on the go. Assuming you have an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad and subscribe to television services from providers ESPN has deals with (currently: Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS TV, Brighthouse).

However, the mobile transition is just getting going and there’s still a variety of licensing issues to be worked out – sports maybe be more complex than most. With WatchESPN, you can expect blackouts based on location, blurred MLB clips during SportsCenter, and zippy iPhone access to Monday Night Football:

How is my location determined if the event is blacked out?
If you receive a message that states, “This content is subject to blackout.” this is because the event that you requested is not available on WatchESPN in your location. Your location is determined by the cell phone tower transmitting your signal. Blackouts apply to broadcasts that have been sold regionally or locally per league, conference and local rights holder agreements. Regional and local rights holders are usually broadcast stations or regional sports networks. Blackouts are implemented to protect the primary rights holder, as defined by the professional and college sports leagues or teams in a given market.

Why am I unable to watch Monday Night Football from my mobile device, but can watch online via a PC or a tablet?
Due to rights differences, Monday Night Football is only available on and the WatchESPN application on tablets. Monday Night Football is not available on

Why are MLB clips blurred while I am watching SportsCenter?
At times, viewers may witness a temporary loss in sound or blurring of video on the WatchESPN application. The blurring/muting is required to honor the digital rights ESPN has been granted for the content which – in rare cases – differs from those rights granted for traditional television usage.


14 thoughts on “WatchESPN on your iPhone (but ReadFINEPRINT)”

  1. I’m pretty psyched about this app. And the next year or so is going to be equally exciting I think. I did have a minor issue linking my and Verizon accounts, and had to try it again this AM for the settings to stick. But I appear to be OK now. A lot of folks own Slingboxes to keep up with sports… wonder how this changes things. An app is much less complex (and cheaper) and getting placeshifting going.

  2. Since I have Comcast the app is nothing but a ESPN TV guide for me.

    As for replacing Skingboxes, those have no black outs or blurring.

  3. “I’m hopeful that a year from now, most of this will be sorted out.”

    I can understand your hope.

    But I’m not sure I think it likely that kind of stuff will not be present a year from now.

    I’m almost completely sure there won’t be an FCC mandate in place on that kind of stuff in a year. And absent that, I’m not sure I see the economic interest for the ‘stakeholders’ to make that stuff disappear…

  4. Sports programming licensing can best be described as a clusterf***.

    I’m not so sure it’ll be worked out in a year. MLB and NFL have no interest in giving up their rights to ESPN. College fans should be all set however, ESPN already owns the rights to the major conferences.

    Oh and other cable systems will eventually get this,, Buzzer Beater, and Goal Line too. It’ll just cost them, and therefore their subscribers, an arm and a leg. Hurray?

  5. Other than the fact that Comcast is missing from this list, I’m pretty psyched about it too.
    Dave, do you have any insight on whether the Comcast thing is a licensing deal (and if money is changing hands) or if this is just a technical/execution thing. I can watch ESPN3 on my laptop using my Comcast credentials so I’m hoping this is just the latter, but given how all these companies like to segment mobile vs. PC delivery wrt licensing I’m not sure I can assume that.

    And yes I do have a Slingbox, but this would be a lot simpler and could be better quality, though that remains to be seen.

    @Dave, can you comment on the experience at all, or compare it to a SlingBox at different bit rates (at least Wifi and 3G maybe?).

  6. Sounds like Verizon paid $720M back in March for exclusive NFL mobile rights (actually NFL Red Zone). So it looks like ESPN will be doing the weird blurry/blackout dance for some time to come…

    And if Verizon paid $720M for mobile phone rights for this, it certainly sets a problematic precedent…

    – Establishes a precedent that paying for cable maybe doesn’t give you the right to watch something on your phone, maybe even in your own home

    – Being exclusive to Verizon, means that as an AT&T customer I won’t be able to watch this. Is that the future?

    – ESPN claims that while they can’t show you Monday Night Football on your iPhone but CAN show it to you on your iPad, regardless of whether you’re at home or not. So what about something like a Dell 5″ Streak phone/tablet? What’s the definition of ‘phone’ exactly?

    And on and on. Makes my head spin.

  7. Glenn, no insight on the technical vs licensing aspect and why Comcast has been left out thus far. I suspect licensing, with fees, but it’s just an assumption on my part.

    I haven’t tested it much yet – a little ice hockey last night and a little Mike & Mike this AM. Over WiFi it looked pretty good. But I didn’t study pq closely yet (and didn’t see anything to display bitrate). Will get back to you on this point. Also, there’s no native iPad app yet – supposedly coming soon.

  8. “Establishes a precedent that paying for cable maybe doesn’t give you the right to watch something on your phone”

    I don’t think there is any reason to expect that right absent a promotion from your wireline provider. That ain’t within the specs of the current service you’re paying for.

    Similarly, you don’t have the right to free popcorn when you buy your cinema ticket…

  9. I refuse to play “licensing roulette” with these content providers. It is moronic that a consumer has to understand their licensing agreements to watch Sportscenter. For me, I refuse to play their stupid games. Either give me content or don’t. If you signed stupid licensing agreements letting content creators differentiate these things, it is because you decided to play these stupid games with them. Don’t be surprised when your ratings plummet….

  10. No go for me since I have U-verse :(

    I can understand blackout restrictions if they are the same ones as on cable ESPN channels, but blurring/muting of highlights seems asinine.

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