How to Watch the World Cup Online Without Cable? Step 1: Learn Spanish.

Slate's soccer blog.
June 10 2014 12:31 PM

How to Watch the World Cup Online

World Cup 2014 live online coverage
Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo, we all want to watch you, but some of us don't have cable.

Photo by Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

The 2014 World Cup kicks off at 4 p.m. eastern on Thursday with Brazil playing Croatia. Short of playing hooky from work and heading to your local pub, how can you catch the game online? And what are your online-viewing options once you get home?

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

The optimal strategy depends on your answers to two questions. First: Do you have a cable subscription? Second: How good is your Spanish?

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If you’re a paid cable subscriber, you’re probably in luck. ESPN is streaming all 64 World Cup matches online via its WatchESPN website and WatchESPN apps for tablets, smartphones, and set-top boxes. Just go to the site or download the app, select your cable provider from the list of options, and enter the username and password for your cable account. (If you don’t know what it is, contact your cable company to find out.)

One catch: Your cable provider must be among those that have “TV Everywhere” agreements with ESPN. Here’s the full list, which includes AT&T U-Verse, Comcast, Cox, Dish, and Time Warner, but not DirecTV, among others.

If yours isn’t on the list, or if you don’t have cable, then ESPN doesn’t want your viewership. Fortunately, there are alternatives.

One of those is Univision. The Spanish-language network will stream every match of the tournament’s first two rounds for free on its website and Univision Deportes mobile apps for iOS and Android. If you’re fluent in Spanish, you’re all set. And if not, well, the action tends to be pretty self-explanatory, and the word “goooooooaal!” sounds the same in English and Spanish.

Once you reach the final rounds, however, you’re going to hit that cable-subscription wall again. In this case you’ll be fine so long as you have DirecTV and a host of other providers, but not if you have Comcast, as it doesn’t carry Univision Deportes. D’oh!

If you have a TV but don’t have a cable or satellite subscription, you can catch a handful of games on ABC, including the final. And then there’s Aereo, the controversial online service that lets you stream and record live network broadcasts. It’s not available in all markets, there’s a small monthly fee, it will only work for the games being shown on ABC, and oh yeah, it’s being sued by the networks in the Supreme Court. But for the growing number of young people who don’t have a TV at all, at least it’s something.

The reason ESPN, Univision Deportes, and a lot of other networks don’t stream all their games to just anyone is that they want to discourage cord-cutting. In the age of Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, live sporting events are among the last big-ticket attractions that cable companies can get people to pay for.

By now, however, the more resourceful and less scrupulous among us have found ways around these barriers. Some of us do it guiltily, others with stick-it-to-the-man glee. Regardless of your feelings, the simplest way to go here is to find a friend or family member who doesn’t mind sharing her cable credentials with you.

In most cases, password-sharing is probably against the provider’s terms of service, and possibly even illegal. In practice, cable companies don’t crack down on it. That’s not because they want you to do it, as my colleague Jordan Weissmann recently pointed out. Rather, as venture capitalist and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen explains, they’d risk alienating their actual subscribers by limiting the variety of devices they could use on a given account.

If you’re fortunate enough to live in a country like Canada, the U.K., or Australia, you don’t have these problems. The CBC, BBC, and SBS respectively will stream every game for free with no subscription required. Those streams will almost certainly be blocked to viewers outside of those countries. But Americans desperate for a fix could try using a virtual private network, or VPN, such as TunnelBear. This is a pretty clear terms-of-service violation, but again, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get in trouble.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

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