In a not-unexpected step following the transfer of the WTA Tour U.S. broadcast rights from beIN Sports to Tennis Channel, the network will become the only option to watch women’s tennis in 2019.
WTA TV sent out a notice to American subscribers Friday.
The exclusive women’s tennis streaming service advised them that as of Dec. 30, fans in the U.S. will be under blackout.
Instead, they will have to subscribe to Tennis Channel Plus “as the Tennis Channel becomes the official media ‘home’ of WTA Tennis in the United States.”
Nothing changes with the WTA TV service on the rest of the planet (except China).
New season a month away
The lack of coordination between all parties is fairly noticeable.
The new season begins in exactly a month. But Tennis Channel still has no 2019 tentative WTA schedule on its website.
The original press release indicates coverage of most of the Premier-level events as well as 30 International-level tournaments – including Shenzhen and Auckland to open the season.
At the moment, there is TC Plus 1, TC Plus 2 and “The T”, which appears to run mostly pre-taped, feature-type programming. As the new era debuts, there will be three WTA tournaments the first week – plus Tennis Channel staple Hopman Cup. And any ATP Tour events they’re carrying.
And all the events are roughly in the same time zone.
With Serena Williams set to star in Perth at Hopman Cup, you have to theorize she will get the lion’s share of the broadcast time. That’s a lot of simultaneous content to handle if the network is sincere about providing the same level of WTA coverage.
But that’s their problem to work out.
Granted, all of this came up rather suddenly last month – at least publicly.
Blackout pluses and minuses
Despite some of the quality issues with WTA TV, the vast majority of singles (and many doubles) matches on all of the match courts at tournaments, all season, have been available.
On the downside, the service is not compatible with services like Apple TV or Roku. Therefore it’s not easily accessible on your bigger-screen TV.
Another plus: most of the matches are subsequently available on demand.
The cost in the U.S. has been $9.99 for a month, $74.99 for an annual subscription.
Conversely, the Tennis Channel Plus subscription currently costs $99 a year. There is no monthly option.
At that rate in 2018, you didn’t get any WTA coverage at all beyond select tournaments. (Charleston, for example, is aired along with matches from the big U.S. joint events).
So this is value added for 2019.
Notably, the TC Plus service does not guarantee you access to the main Tennis Channel broadcast. If your cable or satellite provider does not carry Tennis Channel or you don’t pay for the service tier that does carry it, you can’t watch it. And that’s true even if you pay the Tennis Channel Plus subscription.
No price increase
Given the huge volume of additional content TC Plus will be offering, you would expect a price increase to go along with it.
But a Tennis Channel spokesperson told tennis.life there were no current plans to change the subscription rate.
Regarding match coverage, “although the upcoming season’s programming schedule hasn’t been finalized, Tennis Channel plans on having WTA matches on the linear network as well as on Tennis Channel Plus,” the spokesperson said.
Adding the WTA content is a significant uptick in volume. In many cases throughout the season, there are more than half a dozen matches available simultaneously.
So we still don’t know if the entirety of the WTA TV streaming content will be available on Tennis Channel and online in 2019.
Another good question will be how many of the more sought-after women’s matches will be available on the streaming service. That’s a key issue because the broadcast channel isn’t available to everyone.
So will fans be missing out on the best matches available, if they don’t have it? And how will the men’s matches in Brisbane and Hopman Cup, for example, be prioritized with the new programming.
The original press release indicated TC Plus would stream “additional WTA matches that are not available on television,” without adding any detail.
What about Rewind?
Still to be determined, in addition to the availability of the vast majority of matches on demand, will be the availability of a Rewind feature.
All of the singles finals from 2018 currently are available on WTA TV.
Also available are various player interviews, beginning from the San Jose tournament in early August through to the end of the season.
Another issue is that while you can stream TC Plus on more than one device, you can’t do it on more than one device at the same time.
On a somewhat related note, a spokesperson for ESPN tells Tennis.Life that all the changes don’t in any way affect the rights the sports network holds, and continues to hold.
Refund not automatic
Note that WTA TV will be issuing pro-rated refunds for ongoing U.S. subscriptions.
But it won’t be automatic.
And all refund requests must be made by March 1, 2019.
The notice indicates that Tennis Channel will offer a 25 per cent discount on its TC Plus service to WTA TV subscribers.
Given TC Plus does not currently offer a monthly subscription rate, you’ll have to commit up front to the whole annual rate.