NHL Streaming Service Descends Into Blackout Hell; NHL Threatens Anyone Trying To Circumvent Blackouts

from the puck-that dept

While we have written quite a bit about major professional sports leagues marching towards expanded streaming options for viewers, and while each league is making progress in that direction, not all of the leagues are equal in how they’re going about it. The NHL has been by far the least progressive in this arena, which is somewhat strange given how much more progressive it has been on other issues of modernity. On streaming, however, there seems to be some flip-flopping, with the league banning the use of services like Periscope by journalists, but then seeking to piggyback on baseball’s fantastic MLB Advanced Media product to get better streaming to its viewers. The entire point of increased streaming options is to get the product out to as many people as possible, grow the fanbase, and ultimately rake in more money via increased viewership.

Which is what makes is supremely odd to see the NHL fail so hard recently with its streaming product and react to that failure by menacing anyone who might try to route around it. If you weren’t already aware, a recent upgrade to the league’s NHL.tv product appears to have instituted a refreshed round of blackout rules for games at the exact time when other leagues are attempting to minimize the impact of blackouts. Per Deadspin:

We’ve been getting tips all week from frustrated NHL.tv customers who installed NHL.tv’s new upgrade this week, only to see the entire service dissolve into an malfunctioning mess of blackouts. At pretty much any time when games are on, the @NHLTVSupport account’s mentions are full of hordes of complainers and angry people trying fruitlessly to be able to watch games on the platform they paid $160 for.

In addition to the surprise blackouts suddenly rearing their ugly heads, it appears that NHL.tv is having trouble working across certain devices for whatever reason. Chromebooks in particular appear to be affected, but other devices render the stream into a pixelated hell-scape. This is particularly problematic for a sport that relies so heavily on high-res viewing in order to follow the puck and the action in an arena where color differentiation is much more limited than with other sports.

But adding insult to injury is the all-caps threat clause the NHL slid into the update.

IF YOU CIRCUMVENT OR ATTEMPT TO CIRCUMVENT ANY BLACKOUT RESTRICTION OR OTHER USE RESTRICTION: YOUR SUBSCRIPTION WILL BE SUBJECT TO IMMEDIATE TERMINATION AND A CHARGE OF ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS ($100.00) FOR EARLY TERMINATION WILL BE APPLIED TO YOUR CREDIT OR DEBIT CARD; YOU MAY BE SUBJECT TO LEGAL ACTION; AND THE NHL RESERVES THE RIGHT TO REPORT SUCH MISCONDUCT TO APPROPRIATE LAW ENFORCEMENT AUTHORITIES.

Lovely. So a product that doesn’t appear to work as advertised, served up to a customer base that appears to have been ill-informed about the blackout rules subsequently put in place for the product, is now on notice that doing anything to address this beyond waiting for the NHL to get their shit together will lose their subscription, be charged a fine, and be reported to the authorities for legal action.

Not exactly the best way to win over existing and new customers, NHL, particularly given that you’re the league that can least afford to lose any fans.

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Comments on “NHL Streaming Service Descends Into Blackout Hell; NHL Threatens Anyone Trying To Circumvent Blackouts”

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57 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

'Would you like some lemon juice and salt for that paper cut?'

So basically people paid $160 for a product that doesn’t actually work, and as an extra they’re being threatened that if they try and fix it themselves and gain access to content that they paid for they’ll lose the $160, get charged another $100, be kicked off the service and potentially face legal problems.

Congrats to the NHL for doing everything in their power to make piracy of their games the better option I guess, as pirates only face the last problem if they get caught, they don’t have to pay for a broken service first.

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

Re: 'Would you like some lemon juice and salt for that paper cut?'

Yup, nothing like seeing five Sportnets channels listing “NHL Hockey” and then seeing that the game has been blacked out and replaced with the scores of that night’s hockey games. I was under the impression that the blockbuster deal Rogers signed with the NHL was supposed to eliminate blackouts. Oh well, there are other sources to watch NHL games.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Stupid Customer Tax?

So basically people paid $160 for a product that doesn’t actually work, and as an extra they’re being threatened that if they try and fix it themselves and gain access to content that they paid for they’ll lose the $160, get charged another $100, be kicked off the service and potentially face legal problems.

Seems to me like this is a situation where short-term greed works, despite killing any future long-term goals. At least when Hulu stopped working on my devices, they didn’t take my money and then charge me a early-termination fee for stopping my subscription. They acknowledged the fact that I had tried to work with them for six months, refunded the payments for all six months worth of testing, and allowed me to walk away. (Now that I have a Roku 4, I should have a device capable of working with their service, and should check them out again.) Other companies (Sling, Netflix, etc.) do similar. Seems to me that this contract is entirely unconscionable, and the only goal is to charge people not to deliver anything, and hope that they are too stupid to care.

Then again, the same is true with MLB.tv right now…the only reason I’d suggest anyone buy MLB.tv is if they are interested in watching the team from somewhere else, and don’t care about the few times that that team happens to play the home team. Unless that has changed recently, which I don’t believe it has, watching your home team is still unavailable. I know people who bought MLB.tv only to find out they couldn’t watch the team they wanted to.

Kaelis (profile) says:

Re: Re: Stupid Customer Tax?

MLB.tv is actually working really hard to get in-market streaming rights. All FOX RSN affiliates will have their local games streamed over MLB.tv in-market next year, and I’d imagine that other regional affiliates will follow suit soon. You still have to be a cable subscriber, but that barrier is probably going to fall soon. MLB is pretty progressive/innovative in terms of finding ways to get their product in front of fans, which is awesome.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Stupid Customer Tax?

You still have to be a cable subscriber, but that barrier is probably going to fall soon.

I still struggle to see why this is a thing…if you are a cable subscriber (other than being away from your TV,) why wouldn’t you just turn on the cable, switch to Fox, and watch the game.

I am not a cable subscriber, thus a reason to want MLB.tv. Hopefully they drop the cable subscriber requirement soon.

I am a season ticket holder of my home team, and would love to be able to watch the games not played at home (as the current blockout covers both at home games of the home team, as well as away games for the home team.)

Arthur Moore (profile) says:

FTC, FCC legality

Thing is, these leagues are by definition monopolies.
The US Government allows them to exist because in some situations having a monopoly is advantageous to many competitors. In theory, the government heavily regulates these monopolies. In practice, lobbying dollars tend to speak louder than voters.

The thing is, that breaks down when a large issue causes the population to band together. In this case, either the Federal Trade Commission, or the Federal Communication Commission could change their rules to disallow blackouts.

They have a pretty big case for deceptive trade practices if someone paid for something, and are then being threatened if they attempt to obtain what they paid for.

Looks like the NHL is about to lose quite a bit of money. Either through lost subscriptions, or from lawsuits and regulation. Heck, it will probably face all three.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t follow sports either, but I think the general idea is that it’s basically the league in question throwing a tantrum over something, usually related to ‘not enough’ people buying tickets, and refusing to allow people to watch the game via other methods.

“If you won’t watch it in person, you’re not watching it via tv” basically.

Nic says:

Re: Re:

A blackout is an outdated concept where games are not shown outside a certain geographical area. For example, if you’re a fan of say, New York, you get blacked out from watching the game if you’re in Philadelphia. Usually, it has to do with streaming rights and all that but in the internet age, it makes no sense at all to use blackouts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So… to give an analogy, you’re saying that this is a similar situation to the Premier League —the most-watched sports league in the world, if their advertising is to be believed— decided that, instead of being a globally successful, wildly popular broadcasting phenomenon, they wanted to prevent Manchester United’s games from ever being shown outside of Manchester itself?

Sounds legit.

Bruce says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Problem is they black out games that are sold out If the game is sold out what revenue could they be loosing by allowing me to watch the game. To hell with the NHL I will now watch soccer or some other sport that actually appreciates there fan base. Gary bettman NHL commissioner has made it very clear money matters screw the fans it is all about money .

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

They will blackout games if you’re too close to the city, too. I believe the NHL set it to 60 miles (I’m barely within that threshold). I assume their misguided thinking is: if you’re that close, you should go to the game rather than stream it at home.

NHL.tv is something I would pay for IF I could watch ANY team no matter where they are or who they play.

JD says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Actually you can be over 200 miles away and still be blacked out. The NHL says Madison WI. is in the home market of the Minnesota Wild so those games are blacked out. It boils down to Wild games are carried on Fox Sports-North which is available on cable in Madison so that is home market.

Damn glad that the Blackhawks aren’t available in Madison.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

No

Blackouts are an effort to force fans to buy tickets to see the game in person.

So if your a fan and resident of New York you are prevented from watching home games on TV and via streaming. Your only legal option is purchasing an expensive ticket and watch in person.

It’s a great way for the league to say Fuuuuuuuuck you Mr. Fan! I bet it works really well at building the fan base.

Rich says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

All this is another indication that many businesses and sports teams no longer need to answer to working class fans, or customers. Most of the money comes from corporations who rent luxury boxes. Even though these are filled with “fans” who arrive halfway through the first and leave halfway through the third, and who don’t really give a fuck about the team or the sport. They just got free tickets from some corporation. That’s why we chanted “Red Seats Suck” at MSG. We were talking to all those assholes down in the good seats the rest of us couldn’t afford. Now, many of us can’t justify spending for even the cheapest Ranger ticket available.
Why did the Atlanta Braves decide to move up to the burbs where the new stadium is not served by public transport? Because that’s where the rich people are who won’t go to the dirty dangerous, and “dark” city. Fuck the truck driver who wants to take his son to a game. The team owners don’t need him anymore.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Heh, you have it exactly backwards. The blackouts now happening are regional, where you can’t stream the games online when you’re IN the city in which they’re played, or the surrounding area. The theory is that those people should be watching the TV broadcast, or going to the game, and streaming would take away that revenue. As you say, it’s outdated….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Usually, it’s a step further. “Oh, you’re near the city and we’re not sold out? Well, if you want to see the game, you best get your ass down here and pay to watch in-person, because it’s blacked out on TV and online.”

The ill will generated was enough to stop the NFL from doing it, I guess it wasn’t enough to stop those wacky stick-puckers from giving it a go.

Chris says:

Re: Re:

In the case of NHL.tv it means that if the game is on regular TV and/or in your area you can’t watch it streamed. Or at least that’s what it meant. That may have been expanded recently.

For example, If you live in Washington and the Capitals are playing at home and/or the game is on regular TV in your local you won’t be able to watch the stream. Completely ridiculous. The league is just not getting how people want the content delivered.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A Blackout in sports means the Game being played wasn’t sold out at the stadium and so the game is blackout to those in the general area. This they hope will get people to pay and go see the game in person. So on Cable and Satellite and streaming, Not sure how large, get the game Blacked out. They can’t watch it. So this is where trying to use a VPN and saying you’re out of the blackout zone so you can actually watch the game comes into play and what they’re trying to stop. It’s really pretty dumb.

Anonymous Coward says:

Remember: this is the league that thought they’d be clever in trying to reduce the number of fights without having to actually ban them by making a rule saying combatants couldn’t take their helmets off prior to fighting.

This is also the same league that was outwitted by two goons who had the foresight to remove each others helmets.

This is not a league with management built to last.

magnafides says:

It was touched on in various posts, but there are several different flavors of “blackout”. Here are a few:

1) If a game is not sold out, it cannot be broadcast in its “home” area.

2) A game cannot be streamed to someone in its “home” area, mainly because of licensing arrangements between the leagues and local broadcasters.

3) A game cannot be watched on a regional station being watched outside its “home” area. For example, if you get a regional sports network (NESN or SNY, for example) as a part of your satellite package and you are outside those areas, games shown on those networks will be blacked out for you.

Bob says:

Within Canada, TV blackouts prevent viewing teams games outside of assigned regions. This is nonsensical here as fans of teams run across the country and viewership of games (and advertising revenues) would be increased by sending all games to all regions.

As it stands, games between US teams may be available when Canadian teams are blacked out – so this may be a way of transferring revenues to those franchises from rabid hockey fans up North.

Spike (profile) says:

Blackouts in NHL have little to do with ticket sales but everything to do with the local TV stations covering it. They’d rather you buy Cable TV to watch those games.

Leafs tickets sell out every single time due to all the scalpers and suits, yet local games are always blacked out due to Sportsnet or TSN covering those games. Why pay $160+/yr for that garbage.

Mark says:

Re: Re:

That’s it. People think it is about going to games and that just is no longer the case (for the most part). When you hear about sports teams getting huge amounts of money for broadcast rights it makes sense that they would want to keep the regional sports networks happy. Who pays the regional broadcasters? The adversisers and the cable companies. They aren’t going to go for people dropping cable so they can watch the game without paying the cable companies or watching the ads. Now I do wish that these league packages would have logins for people who pay for cable. I have cable and subscribe to the nhl center ice package but am still blacked out on my phone. I know a lot of RSN’s are offering their own streaming apps, but generally they are lower quality (by far).

JD says:

NHL and Streaming

Actually the NHL was one of the first North American sport leagues to embrace the internet for streaming games. GameCenter Live has been available for many years. The problem is the NHL decided to contract MLB to redesign the service and the redesign has all the negatives of the MLB product with none of the good that was GCL.

1) the MLB Content Delivery Network (CDN) is much worse than the GCL CDN was. Just ask all the foreign viewers that are not having streaming issues that can be directly traced to a poor CDN.
2) MLB is much more agressive in enforcing blackout rules so the new NHL.TV product is also. Resulting in many US veiwers no longer able to view games that they could previously.

Jack Griffith says:

New NHL.TV a gigantic step backward

OK, so I’ve only been a hockey fan since 1962, what right do I have to complain. I am one of the ever growing hockey fans that are unwilling to by $125 per month cable and sports package to watch just hockey. I truly believe hockey fans are different than other sports fans, and the newest iteration of NHL’s service to those of us is a monumental slap in the face.

Dear NHL, I buy your licensed goods (which there are prescious little available) and I go to hockey games in my local market. I don’t know who you are trying to appeal to, but you’ve lost me.

Loose Music says:

GameCenter

I tried out Game Center this year. It was worth it while vpn’s were working, however, since they changed platforms I have only been able to watch 1 game that wasn’t blacked out. Dont bother spending your money on this piece of garbage. You wont be able to watch the game in quality 90% of the time. I always ended up watching on a free site because of the blackouts.I have cancelled my subscription.

However, after doing some research I came across a sort of hack. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks promising, and ITS FREE. You will need a bit of tech sauvy to get it up and running but it should be worth it for HD sports.

Here is the link:
https://www.reddit.com/r/NHLStreams/comments/2jq1ba/the_lazy_mans_program_for_vlc_all_oss/

Good luck, and fuck NHL Game Center

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, I’m Sabres fan in central California. Can’t watch Sharks games because I’m too
close. Yep. 200 miles from San Jose is where I live. But their games are blacked out. I
guess because of bay area cable sports network CSN. Okay. I get that. But today it’s
Buffalo vs Columbus. The only NHL game being played today. And it’s blacked out on
NHLTV. So it’s on NBCSN, right? No. They’re showing poker. And not strip poker.
Regular poker. Which became a sport at the same time as spellin bee’s, I guess. But,
anyway, 1) not in local market 2) no local tv coverage 3) no national tv coverage. And
the game is blacked out, why exactly?

Gohawksbro (profile) says:

Nhltv stinks

Worked my 12 hour shift and was excited to watch the season opener for the Blackhawks against the Blues. Since I just purchased the premium NHL tv pass $125.Just to find out it’s not available due to this blackout. I called NHL tv and the nice agent explained that due to the fact that the game is locally broadcasted it is not available for 48 hours. Not her fault, but wow :/

edstewart says:

blackouts

Most of the toronto maple games played in the us have been blacked out. It appears that if a leaf game is broadcast on NBC sports net the game gets blackout in the US???

Customers should be made aware before their purchase NHLtv of what toronto maple leaf games will be blacked out. I feel that I have paid for a services that I am not able to receive.

JT says:

The way the nhl.tv blackout policy works

Any game that is nationally televised will be blacked out in the US, with the growing trend of cord cutters this means those wishing to watch games broadcast on nhl network, nbc, nbc sportsnet, have a few options, 1 get a cable or satellite service subscription, 2 order a streaming service with fhat offers the channels in question, such as slingtv oe hulu live, or 3 wait the 24 hours. Games broadcast locally have similar options, for example, lets say you live in New York, all games, home or away, for the Rangers, Sabres, Islanders, and devils are blacked out, because if you subscribe to cable those games are available on your regional sports network, you have the same 3 options for your teams games against those opponents, except for option 3, the blackout takes 48 hours to lift rather than 24

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