I have seen the future of TV

…and it is the ESPN app on the new Xbox 360 update that was released today.

I’ve been in the beta for the new Xbox 360 dashboard for the last month or so, and with its release today, the embargo on blogging about it has been lifted.

Since I cut the cord and got rid of cable TV last February, the one thing that has been missing is sports. I’ve been tied to whatever the four major networks want to shovel at me. And I’m a sports junkie. I’m a huge (American) football fan, cheering for both the University of Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay packers, and as soon as football season ends I dive right into college basketball. Having been a DirecTV customer for ten years I would pay hundreds of dollars for the NFL Sunday ticket and the March Madness packages. I’ve also started getting back into MLB the last few years cheering for the Minnesota Twins. And this summer I could only watch them on Sunday afternoons – the only time they were available over the air.

The ESPN app on the Xbox 360 changes all of that. It’s amazing – especially for college football. Branding the app as “ESPN3”, it’s a repackaged version of ESPN360 with more content available live and on demand. If you have ESPN as a cable subscriber, you’ll get to watch the game they pick for you at 11am (CST) on Saturday. With ESPN3 on the 360 you have access to every game ESPN has rights to – 4 or 5 games at 11, and about the same at 2:30. Using my IP, they did blackout the 2:30 p.m. game if it was on ABC but I still had access to all the other games. And the best part was, you could choose to watch it live or you could start at the beginning if you were tuning in late. On the 360, ESPN3 offers full DVR functionality – you could pause, rewind and fast forward. A number of games are also archived for a few days and you can watch them on demand after the game was over. It was fantastic watching the Badgers beat the Buckeyes a week ago on ESPN3 – without having to pay for cable TV.

Other content available includes NBA games, a number of second tier college sports, and selected ESPN content. There is no NFL content, including Monday Night Football games – not a huge surprise, considering the draconian rules the NFL has to protect their brand. The available ESPN original content is the only thing I’m disappointed with. You only get some highlights and clips from SportsCenter – I didn’t expect the whole show, but I did expect more. But where it really lets me down is ESPN shows like Rome is Burning, Around the Horn, E:60 and PTI (especially PTI!) aren’t available. They might have one or two clips from each, though with the official launch today I can’t find PTI at all. I don’t know if it’s a rights issue that they don’t show these original shows as they features clips and highlights from the sports broadcasts themselves or why they’re not available, but I had hoped for more original content. And the updates too those clips, at least during the beta, weren’t very timely.

The only catch with ESPN3 on Xbox360 is you have to have a broadband provider who has partnered with Microsoft. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing it has to be someone who offers TV service of some kind. My dashboard shows co-branding with Comcast as I have Comcast cable internet service.

As a college football fan, and general sports fan, this fixes the one major downside I had in cutting the cable. It’s an awesome experience. Live and on-demand content available at my fingertips. This is what the future will bring once the content providers figure out their new business models. If they do.

Oh, and the Netflix app in today’s update finally added the ability to search so you don’t have to use your PC to add titles to your Instant Queue. Finally!

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