Comprehensive app streams well, but high cost may limit appeal to multi-sport fans.
THE GOOD: Streaming works well, with no buffering or dropouts.
THE BAD: Price is too high for casual fans, limited devices.
RATING: A A A A
Available to any internet user as of April 1 for $24.99 a month, Sportsnet Now delivers up live games from just about every major North American sports league, including MLB, NHL and NBA.
The notable exception is the NFL, which on Tuesday announced a surprising new broadcast deal with Twitter that of course that doesn’t include Canada.
Nevertheless, Rogers is aiming Sportsnet Now at those fans who have cut the TV cord, or who would like to. It’s particularly good timing, given the company’s ownership of the Toronto Blue Jays, the team’s hotness right now and the Sportsnet TV channels’ heavy reliance on Jays content.
As a baseball fan who cut the cord years ago, I’m pretty much the target market for this sort of service, so I was excited to give it a test drive it over the Jays opening weekend.
Sportsnet Now’s availability is pretty limited so far, being accessible only via a web browser or iOS and Android phones and tablets. It isn’t on any set-top boxes such as Apple TV or Roku, Chromecast or game consoles yet, so you have to jump through hoops to get it on your TV screen.
Rogers is targeting a June launch for proper Apple TV and Chromecast apps, with game console versions shortly thereafter, a Sportsnet executive tells me.
Luckily, the iOS app does work with Airplay, so you can stream it from your phone or tablet to an Apple TV, which is primarily how I watched. Subscribers without an Apple TV are going to have to perform other connectivity gymnastics to get the app showing on their television.
Diving into the app for the first time was a bit confusing, as the home screen is organized more like a news website than a streaming service like, say, Netflix. News items take up two thirds of the screen and a column of scores runs down the right side:
I figured that tapping on one of the games in that column would take me to watching it, but no dice. Doing so gets you either the preview or recap.
To actually watch games, you have to tap on the “watch” tab at the bottom of the screen, which sounds more obvious than it is. Given that the app’s primary purpose is to show live games, there should be multiple ways to get to that live content than just the one tab.
In any event, once you figure it out it’s pretty simple. With a few taps I had the Jays game up on my TV, and I was experiencing a joy I’d not felt in a few years. Not only was there live baseball on my television, the Jays were also winning. Both will take some getting used to.
Once I got over the novelty, I decided to stress test the app. In my experience, most streaming services not named Netflix tend to have some clunkiness to them. They either buffer sometimes, drop out completely or produce some other weird problems, like start programs over unexpectedly.
I wondered if Sportsnet Now, which streams all six of the Sportsnet TV channels, had any such flaws, so over the course of two days I flipped between streams rapidly, turned Airplay on and off and switched between devices.
Switching streams usually took a second or two, which felt a lot like the old days of flipping channels, but otherwise the app performed flawlessly. I was surprised and impressed with how smoothly it switched and reacted to my various demands.
I can’t say if that’s a product of the app itself, my internet connection, the hardware I was using or a combination of all three, but the end result was more than satisfactory. I was happy with the performance and I suspect it’s only going to improve as time goes by.
That said, the app does seem to be glitchy when it comes to log-ins – it kept asking me to sign in after stretches away from it, which was annoying.
I’m also not impressed with the bare-bones programming schedule. It could be far more interesting and colourful than it is:
As an extra bonus, Sportsnet Now also includes live radio feeds from 590 The Fan in Toronto and 960 The Fan in Calgary. Combined with the news articles on the home page and the game ticker column, the app is comprehensive in its content.
The main gripe I have with the service is the price. At $24.99, it’s at a weird place. It’s not a bad deal for people who watch multiple sports, but for a single-sport fan like myself it’s too steep.
The argument can be made that people like me can subscribe for the length of that single sport’s season and then cancel, but there’s also the counter-argument that you might as well pay for cable in that case because you get much more even though it’s more expensive. It’s a dilemma.
How the pricing shakes out – and whether Rogers perhaps carves out single-sports streaming channels in the future – remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Sportsnet Now is off to an otherwise decent start. The streaming backbone of the service is solid and works well, and the device accessibility is set to grow sooner rather than later.
The app itself could also use a few tuneups, but it’s certainly not the worst streaming service interface available in Canada.
Will I consider paying the relatively steep fee once my free trial is up? I honestly haven’t made up my mind yet, and it’s a question that every sports fan is going to have to weigh in this new streaming world order.
Rogers supplied a test account for the purposes of this review.