NBCUniversal will stream Premier League soccer games, no cable subscription required

  • NBCUniversal's NBC Sports unit is going to offer a direct-to-consumer subscription package that will let soccer fans watch live games from the Premier League, the high-profile U.K. league that features many of the sport's biggest teams, like Chelsea and Manchester United.
  • The $50 "Premier League Pass" will start in August, when the league's new season starts, and will offer 130 live games to U.S. fans, as well as extra content like studio shows.
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Alex Livesey | Getty Images

Interesting sports/media/internet news: Starting this summer, one of the country's biggest cable programmers will let people stream one of the world's most popular sports — without paying for cable.

Instead, NBCUniversal's NBC Sports unit is going to offer a direct-to-consumer subscription package that will let soccer fans watch live games from the Premier League, the high-profile U.K. league that features many of the sport's biggest teams, like Chelsea and Manchester United. (NBCUniversal is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.)

The $50 "Premier League Pass" will start in August, when the league's new season starts, and will offer 130 live games to U.S. fans, as well as extra content like studio shows. NBCUniversal will continue to show a handful of live Premier League games on its broadcast network, and a couple hundred more on its NBCSN and CNBC cable channels, which will only be available to pay TV consumers.

In the past, NBCUniversal has also streamed many Premier League games that it didn't air to pay TV customers, as a so-called "TV Everywhere" strategy. Now, the programmer is essentially turning those games from a freebie it gave to pay TV customers into a separate revenue stream. NBC says its subscription package will feature at least three games per club.

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This isn't NBC's first foray into direct-to-consumer streaming sports. It already sells access to Tour de France coverage, as well as other niche sports like rugby and motocross, for up to $70 a season. But the Premier League games will be the highest-profile sports package it has sold to date.

NBC's announcement comes on the same day that Facebook announced it will stream more than a dozen matches from the Champions League — a sort of all-star European soccer tournament, which also features Premier League teams — this fall for free, in conjunction with 21st Century Fox, which owns the rights to that tournament.

Still to come: ESPN's effort to sell sports directly to consumers, which was supposed to launch last year and is now slated for later in 2017. That offering, which ESPN has yet to formally unveil, won't feature sports that the cable giant shows on conventional TV, and will focus on niche sports and leagues.

By Peter Kafka, Recode.net.

CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.