Here’s a scenario for you. You’re UK-based, bonkers about cricket and want to watch the Ashes in Australia. What are the options? Will you have to sell off the family silver to see Mitchell Johnson get stuck into Alastair Cook?
Rather than tie yourself in knots, we thought we’d put our research hats on and delve deep to separate fact from fiction…
Watch Ashes Live: Sky’s the Limit?
Back in September 2012, Sky Sports announced a raft of broadcasting deals which covered six future overseas England cricket tours.
The long-term agreements with three international cricket boards ensured live Test cricket from Australia (2012-2016), South Africa (2012-2020) and India (2012-2018) ensuring Sky Sports viewers exclusive live coverage of six England overseas series as well as Test cricket featuring every Test nation.
You may or may not see this as a good thing, depending on your perspective of cricket’s ‘terrestrial vs pay-per-view’ debate but Sky shows no signs whatsoever of lessening its unrivalled stranglehold on domestic and international cricket coverage.
But that’s another debate entirely. Assuming you go the Sky route for this Ashes series then how do you go about it? Subscribing is one longer-term, more expensive option and the loose advice is to shop around remorselessly online for the best possible deals out there.
But, if like us, you’d rather not be locked into a long contract then can you cherrypick? Take the case study of Eurosport who bagged the online rights to Champions League T20 when Yorkshire were in it a few years back.
You paid a fiver for a month’s access, logged in to the Eurosport Player and were watching the Yorkies take on Trinidad and Tobago in seconds. It wasn’t stupidly expensive, you could cancel at any time and it just worked.
Clearly Sky don’t want you to do that. They’d rather you go for the bells-and-whistles ‘sports-and-movies-and four-quadrillion-channels’ option over several years but to their credit, the choice has at least widened in the last year.
It ought to be duly noted that if you sign up to a Sky Sports package then the quality of the product and comprehensive coverage deserves praise although my own take is that it’s eye-wateringly expensive.
Now TV – (£10-£15 then £9.99 a month)
Now TV is Sky’s contract-free movie and sports streaming service. The way it works is that you need a Now TV box (cost is £10-15 and it’s a Roku streaming player in all but name). When you connect up your Now TV box to your telly, you’ll get access to usual freeview TV channels but can subscribe for premium content from Sky.
it is available to anyone 18 or over in the UK with a broadband or 3G connection across a wide range of connected devices including the NOW TV Box, PC, Mac, selected Android smartphones, iOS devices, PS3, Roku, LG connected devices, YouView and Xbox (the Sky Movies live channels and Sky Sports Day Pass are not available on YouView and an Xbox 360 LIVE Gold subscription is required is required to watch NOW TV on Xbox 360).
There is a Sky Sports Day pass for £9.99 which is a great idea…until you get to the price. Who in their right mind is going to fork out £9.99 for a day’s Test cricket? At the equivalent of £309.69 a month, it’s unquestionably the decadent option.
A tip if you are just wanting one or two days of cricket is to search online for offers which package up the Now TV box with Sky Sports Daily Passes, it might save you some cash.
It ought to be acknowledged that you can get the Now TV service (and therefore Sky Sports) without needing to buy a Now TV box. If you own a PS3 or Xbox360, as just two examples, you’re good to go. But as mentioned above, for Xbox 360 generation, you’ll need a LIVE subscription.
Now here’s the sting in the tail. Sky Sports don’t do a monthly pass. Which for Ashes fans who aren’t so fussed with movies, pretty well makes the Now TV offering redundant.
Sky Go – £35 a month
Somewhat confusingly, Sky Go is a second on-demand streaming service from Sky including Sky Sports and Sky Movies, depending on your Sky TV subscription, wherever you are in the UK and Ireland with Sky Go on compatible laptop, mobile, tablet or Xbox 360.
If you don’t subscribe to Sky TV in the most common way with a satellite dish, it is possible to get Sky Go but they don’t make it easy to find. What you need to do is subscribe to Sky Sports + Sky Entertainment for £35 a month.
Yes, I know you don’t want to pay for the Entertainment part of the package but it’s tough and think of all those Sopranos re-runs you can catch on Sky Atlantic.
Yes, I know £35 a month sounds expensive if all you want is the cricket but it’s not £9.99 a day so theoretically, you’ve saved £274.69 so high fives all round, huh?
Sky Sports is the jewel in the Isleworth-based company’s crown and deservedly so but there’s a reason the prices to the customer are what they are and you end up being funnelled down a certain path and that’s because they have outbid everyone else to buy the sports rights in the first place.
So, if you don’t want to subscribe to Sky Sports in the standard way – and assuming a Sky Sports Daily Pass through your Xbox 360 or Now TV doesn’t rock your world either, £35 a month looks to be the cheapest way via Sky Go to tap into live Ashes cricket action Down Under.
Highlights – Online
If the thrill of live sport and staying up bleary-eyed to watch England do battle isn’t for you then highlights packages come into play. To my knowledge, there is no UK terrestrial highlights TV package which is pretty amazing but presumably boils down to relative cost and projected audience.
Our media consumption is so fragmented nowadays with online cricket content scattered but watching snippets of the Ashes online (on a PC, Mac, console or mobile device) is definitely an option.
Cricket Australia have video highlights (CATV) which have shown live tour games from the Ashes (such as WA Chairman’s XI and Australia A) so worth checking in there for live cricket and highlights…although this comes with a caveat learnt from getting excited around apps.
The highlights seem to work but It’s not clear if those in the UK can watch Cricket Australia’s live video – we got the error message ‘the video you are trying to watch is currently unavailable’ which might just have been time zone-related but checking this works by staying up until 3am has limited appeal.
Both Cricket Australia (CATV) and the England & Wales Cricket Board (ecbTV.co.uk) have excellent video content, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage though it’s not a marathon seven-hour stint of Test cricket in the middle of the night, armed only with a mug of Yorkshire Tea and a pack of chocolate digestives, I admit.
The Cricket Australia App available via iTunes momentarily encouraged brief joy. It includes the Commonwealth Bank Ashes Series 2013/14, Carlton Mid ODI series 2013/14, KFC T20 International series 2013/14 and every match of the KFC T20 Big Bash League 2013/14.
The pricing is very reasonable at just $19.99 for a full season; a bargain in fact and allows you a tonne of cricket watching across devices. But…and you just knew there was going to be a ‘but’ didn’t you…
Streaming is only available to watch within Australia which is, I have to get on my soapbox here and start venting, where the jumbled and commercial world of sports broadcasting rights is at direct loggerheads with the whole point of streaming live content over the internet. Er…you’re meant to be able to access it anywhere…
All of which magnetically draws us back to Sky. They’ve paid the king’s random for cricket broadcasting, they deliver a slick and comprehensive product but you’ll have to fork out for the privilege. Or will you…
Sky announced just days before the start of the Ashes, it will make highlights of the Ashes series available, for the first time, to millions of homes through its free-to-air channel Pick. Viewers can watch agog on all of the previous day’s play from Thursday 21 November. During the Ashes series and beyond, a comprehensive one-hour highlights programme will be aired at 10pm every day following each Test, ODI and T20 match.
This is not some Ashes content cobbled together and packaged by a presenter that knows nowt when it comes to cricket but a Sky Sports highlights package. Truly excellent news. It is not streamed content either but available via freeview so no compromise on quality.
A word of warning before we wrap this up on streaming content. I might be preaching to the tech converted but bear in mind it eats up data like it’s going out of fashion so if you decide to watch streamed cricket video content live, just be sure your phone or home broadband data allowance can cope with it and isn’t capped.
So, a meander through the Ashes options for you. For ad-hoc Ashes viewing over a month or two, the free highlights via Pick TV is the free option or else, £35 a month with Sky Go might be the cheapest. I wouldn’t recommend the dubious streaming websites that litter the internet as sure as dollars to donuts, the quality will be poor and liable to drive you up the wall.
BBC News Channel – Ashes: Close of Play
Stumbled across these midway though the current Ashes series hence this article has been subsequently edited to include further reference to the BBC. First-off, they should be available to everyone, assuming you have freeview. Channel 80 is the BBC News channel, the continuous 24-hour news channel and quite by accident, Ashes: Close of Play flashed up.
Die-hard fans who thirst for in-depth analysis won’t be sated by a five-minute burst of cricket highlights but Joe Wilson’s thoughts as a presenter with actual match footage, behind-the-scenes clips and press conferences did fire you momentarily over to Oz. Simon Hughes crops up again in his analyst role and the overall impression was that if you wanted a quick summary, this was as good as any.
Of course, if live pictures aren’t essential then the world is your friendly oyster with the BBC offering round-the-clock Ashes radio coverage through their peerless Test Match Special programming.
Naturally, if anyone knows of some sneaky televisual secret that offers glorious (and legal) Ashes coverage for free then you’ve done better than I have in unearthing it and I am all ears. As always, we welcome any comments below on the issues raised in this article.