Update: Verizon FIOS customers now seem to have access to the ACC Network Extra channel.
The ACC Network debuted recently and, as Pitt fans can attest to, it has left some fans in the dark. Now, the amount of people affected is smaller than it was as most broadcasters have agreed to carry the network. Comcast is the largest holdout to date and I expect that, at some point, they’ll get on board.
But what is being less discussed is a major flaw with the network and its broadcasting partners with regards to online content.
Previously, most of Pitt’s games not carried on television were available through the WatchESPN (ESPN3) website. That website operated as a pseudo ACC Network of sorts and with the actual ACC Network channel now, it runs under the ACC Network Extra name.
ACC Network Extra is basically supposed to be an extension of the television channel. Obviously, the television channel can only broadcast one game at a time so many other ACC contests are covered online through ACC Network Extra.
Watching games online has really helped expand the exposure of Olympic sports. Sports like volleyball, wrestling, soccer, baseball, softball, and others, were typically not able to be seen (or, at best, were shown in very limited capacities) before. But with WatchESPN, fans could watch most of those contests.
I should know. For the past several years, I’ve taken in as many of those sports as I can and have watched nearly every wrestling match, volleyball match, and many of the other games when possible. And for a school like Pitt where volleyball and wrestling are probably legitimately the school’s best programs, being able to do that has been great.
Pitt volleyball tipped off its season this past weekend and, on Friday, I looked forward to being able to watch the second match of a doubleheader that night. But when I tried to watch the event online, I was greeted with a padlock symbol and the link didn’t work. I reached out to the Pitt volleyball account via Twitter and did not receive a response, despite the fact that the account was posting live updates. That led me to believe something was up. And it was.
See, despite the exciting launch of the ACC Network, schools, the network, and providers failed to make one very important explanation. For most people, the ability to watch contests online would disappear.
Some further digging on my end revealed that the ACC Network television channel and ACC Network Extra are really two separate ‘things.’ I say ‘things’ because I’m not sure of a better way to say it. When broadcasting entities like Verizon and others made a deal to carry the television channel, they apparently needed a separate (or combined, I guess) deal to give its users the right to view online content. Thus, the online content is not available to everyone. In fact, a very large amount of people are without access.
According to a tweet that Verizon sent to someone asking about the online content/streaming, only users of Youtube TV, Hulu, Charter/Spectrum TV, DIRECTV, and Playstation Vue have access. Now, if you’re like one of the many people abandoning traditional cable, I have good news for you. You probably have one of these packages! But if you have Comcast or Verizon, or even Dish, (those three would make up a majority, I expect), you’re out of luck.
So, here’s the thing. Two things, actually.
First, the ACC’s Olympic sports programs have basically been thrown under the bus here. Whereas anyone could watch their games in the past, only a select few have access to them now. Pitt volleyball, for example, has been able to build up a lot of momentum the past few seasons and by airing the matches online, fans have actually been able to follow the team. You take that away and you lose most casual followers. Some diehards may actually attend matches but a lot of fans will simply stop caring.
Second, if you think this is limited to Olympic sports, think again. Many of Pitt’s early-season men’s basketball games have typically only been seen online. I am not sure how many will make it to the ACC Network television channel but I’m guessing that certainly not all of them will. If access remains cut off to most, I expect there will be a lot of surprised folks when they try to access the games online as they have in the past.
Essentially, under this deal fans without the online access were actually far better off without the network. Sure, the network will carry some Pitt games that you’ll be able to watch on TV that you couldn’t before. But would you rather watch a handful of all of the school’s wrestling, volleyball, baseball, softball, and soccer games/matches on TV or just about all of those games online? The answer’s pretty obvious.
Now, I have heard reports of some people without one of the carriers mentioned earlier that have said they inexplicably have access. That leads to believe a workaround or some kinks in the system exist. And, as stated, you could always purchase one of those services in addition to your cable package. But this is a really big problem in my book. Hopefully the carriers of the network’s television channel will ultimately offer the online access as well.
Until then, this is just a raw deal for a large portion of the fanbase.