No cable required: Rogers launches Sportsnet streaming service for cord cutters

TORONTO – Rogers Media is taking a big swing at the future.

The Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster and NHL rights holder announced Thursday that it’s launching a live streaming service called Sportsnet NOW, which will become available Friday.

Canadians will no longer have to subscribe to a cable or satellite package to watch all the content now available on the six Sportsnet TV channels (although there will be some regional restrictions for streaming). A Sportsnet NOW subscription will cost $24.99 per month with no contract. Sportsnet NOW will be included at no extra charge with Sportsnet cable or satellite subscriptions.

“Clearly, we want to be where the consumers are,” says Sportsnet president Scott Moore, who made the announcement Thursday morning in Toronto with Rogers Media president Rick Brace.

“You can hide your head in the sand around where consumers want to be or you can be consumer friendly and say here are a bunch of ways you can subscribe to sports.”

The move is similar to how HBO began offering its content on a streaming basis in the U.S., without a cable subscription. HBO NOW costs American subscribers US$14.99 per month.

It’s no accident Rogers is launching Sportsnet NOW in April. The Blue Jays kick off their season against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday and the NHL playoffs begin April 13. Rogers is in the second year of a 12-year, $5.2 billion deal as the exclusive carrier of national NHL games. It heads into the playoffs, however, with no Canadian teams in the playoffs for the first time since 1970.

Moore estimates one to three per cent of a typical Saturday night hockey audience is watching via a stream.

“It’s significant enough on a big platform,” he says. Rogers is targeting “millennials and niche sports fans who want to be able to watch sports anywhere anytime” with the streaming service.

Rogers Media is also touting its investment in higher-resolution 4K broadcasts.

All 81 Blue Jays regular season home games will be broadcast on Sportsnet in 4K (but not Sportsnet NOW), a MLB first. Friday’s exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium will also be offered in 4K.

Sportsnet already broadcasts NHL games in 4K. The video upgrade was a pricey one as all cameras covering games have to conform to the new technology.

CBS decided not to offer 4K coverage of this year’s Super Bowl.

“The amount of 4K sets that could receive the 4K signal isn’t at the level right now where we think it makes sense to cover the whole game in 4K,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus in January.

Moore disagrees and thinks other broadcasters will eventually follow Sportsnet’s lead.

“To be North America’s leader in 4K is something we take a lot of pride in.”