Most of the world can watch the World Cup for free. Not so much in the US.
The tournament, which began yesterday, will largely air on cable; streaming matches online also requires a television subscription. But there are a few options for so-called cord cutters who don’t pay for TV but still want to watch the World Cup.
Why the US Is Different
Disney paid about $100 million to broadcast the 2010 and 2014 tournaments in the US. It will show this year’s World Cup on three of its popular channels: 43 matches on ESPN, 11 on ESPN2, and 10 on ABC. (Here is the schedule.)
Only the matches on ABC can be seen for free, and that has to be done the old-fashioned way: with an antenna. They can’t be streamed online without paying for access. Disney is increasingly protective of its channels, including the once-free broadcast network ABC, as it charges cable companies more and more to carry them. Cable companies don’t want that programming to be freely available online.
The situation is quite different in other countries. Many require that the home nation’s matches are aired on free TV. (All three of the US team’s group matches, by contrast, are on ESPN.) And in Europe, the rights to broadcast the World Cup were purchased by a continent-wide coalition of networks that are generally available for free on television and the internet. Britons, for instance, can watch the entire tournament on the BBC and ITV. Germans will get the whole thing on ARD and ZDF.