If you are a fan of the Barclay’s English Premier League living in the United States, then you’ve probably had to either track down a sports bar that prefers the beautiful game, or shell out some cash to keep up with your favorite team in the past. ESPN and Fox have shown selected games over the last few years, but the selection has been limited, especially for those like me, who follow smaller teams that live further down the table. But things have changed for the better for footy fans here in the States. NBC laid out a large sum for exclusive television rights to the EPL, and they are making a very big deal of it.
Besides the live games that will be shown on NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus), with the top games on Saturdays showing up on NBC, itself, the network is going a step further in an attempt to broaden the reach of European football here. They’ve taken a page out of ESPN’s book in showing live matches via their website. They also have their Live Extra app, which is a rebranded version of the app they used to stream Olympic coverage from London. However, while only a small number of US cable subscribers get access to ESPN’s full offerings, and a few others like myself are stuck with ESPN 3 alone, NBC has struck deals with several of the major providers, as well as the 2 major satellite services, Dish Network and DirectTV.
If you get TV service from Comcast, DirectTV, Dish Network, Versizon FIOS, COX, Charter, AT&T U-verse, Optimum, suddenLink, Mediacom, or WOW!, as well as a host of regional networks, then you will have access to live video of EVERY English Premiere League match via WiFi or Cellular data for no extra charge.
NBC was quick to point out that this coverage is more comprehensive than what is available across the pond in England, so if you are a soccer fan in the US, this is your year.
As for the stability of the app and the quality of the video, I was fairly impressed. I watched my favorite side, Southampton, take on West Brom this morning on my iPhone and iPad using both my iPhone 5′s LTE and my home WiFi. The LTE was a little fuzzy at times, and even the WiFi looked rough for a minute or so after I first started watching the match. However, once it settled in, the video was crisp and clear, and right in sync with the audio.
I had a bit more trouble when I watched a bit of the Manchester United – Swansea City match a bit later.
With the defending Premier League champs and one of the most popular sides in the world involved, this is understandable. Thankfully, the video came in clear like before and stayed that way after about two minutes of fits and starts.
This was ok for day one of BPL coverage, but NBC needs to address bandwidth requirements for the big matches if they are going to make such an attractive offer.
While the video looked great once it got going, I would like to have the option to see a bit more of it. I realize that the iPad’s 4:3 screen is going to leave some empty space above and below the video. However, I would just like to see NBC make some better use of it.
The single ad at the bottom and a DirectTV logo at the top, with a lot of wasted space in both places, isn’t as good a design as it could be. ESPN has been at this a lot longer, and in fact, just released an update that allows users to view split-screen video highlights and SportsCenter spots while still watching their live event.
Their WatchESPN app also allows users to pull up a list of other live events and a scoreboard under their event video.
As for NBC, I know they are just getting started with their live sports app, but just adding in an up-to-date scoreboard of the other matches in progress, with the ability to easily swap between them, would be nice. Also, while the Live Extra app does allow you to AirPlay matches to an Apple TV, it would be very helpful if they, like ESPN, would add the button directly to the app’s video controls.
As with any streaming video app, there is a bit of a delay to contend with. I ran into this while looking at my Twitter feed during the Saints’ match, as I saw that they were awarded a late-game penalty about a minute and a half before my video feed got to that point. It spoiled the surprise, but Rickey Lambert buried the shot and the Saints marched on to an opening win, so it didn’t bother me. However, be warned that if you follow along on Twitter, spoilers will occur. The app will run between 1 and 2 minutes behind the live TV coverage, which will itself be a few seconds behind the action across the pond, but none of this is out of the ordinary.
The one disappointment I had with Sports Live Extra is the Facebook and Twitter integration. It’s nice that NBC thought to include this, but when you hit the familiar (and soon to be outdated) Share button, you are taken out of the video feed to a separate screen to post or Tweet about the match.
Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll stick to using another device to share my thoughts during a match. Other apps, such as CBS Sports’ March Madness app handle this MUCH better, allowing you to chat or share while keeping the video front and center. I would like to see NBC address this shortcoming in a future update. It only makes sense, because the more engaged you are in the app, the longer you will stay, and the more of their advertising you are going to see.
I’ve nitpicked a few small issues, but at the end of the day, being able to watch Southampton matches live every weekend more than makes up for them. The NBC Sports Live Extra app has a few rough edges to smooth out, but it is still a very capable app, and the wider range of cable and satellite providers gives it one big advantage over WatchESPN. And while I’ve focused on the Barclay’s Premiere League coverage because today is opening day, there are several other sports offerings such as North America’s Major League Soccer, PGA Tour and USGA Golf, the National Hockey League, and Notre Dame Football.
I’m not sure how much live content will be available for some of these other sports, but there is a golf tournament and a track and field event on this afternoon, and an MLS match tonight.
Live Extra is a free download and there are no in-app purchases required, so if you are a fan of any of NBC’s sports offerings, this app is definitely worth a try. If you are a fan of any team in the Barclay’s Premier League, and you don’t already have this app, check the service provider list and go get it. You definitely won’t regret it. And Go Saints!
NBC Sports Live Extra is a free download in the iOS App Store and is available for the iPhone and iPad.