So, to review: Many of you who normally watch Islanders games will not be able to do so Tuesday night. Some of you who normally cannot watch Islanders games will be able to do so Tuesday night.
If that sounds strange and confusing, it is. But we are in a sports-viewing transition like the one from broadcast to cable TV many years ago, and it is going to be a bumpy ride.
One big difference this time: Rather than going from free TV to pay TV, we are going from pay to pay.
So in the short term, if you want to see every Islanders and Rangers game this regular season, you need not only a pay TV subscription that includes MSG Networks, ESPN and TNT but also a subscription to ESPN+ and/or Hulu.
That is where the Islanders game against the Flyers on Tuesday night can be found. Same goes for Jan. 27 against the Kings.
The Rangers have three ESPN+ exclusives, the second of which is Feb. 1 against the Panthers.
What is going on here? Simply put, the early stages of sports migrating from traditional cable TV bundles, which are fading, to live streaming, which everyone agrees is the future.
The time frame, particulars and eventual cost are unclear, but this eventually will lead to a more rational world in which non-sports fans no longer subsidize sports fans by paying for expensive sports channels.
(Sports fans also will be spared channels they do not care about, but those generally are far less expensive.)
The big question is when will local outlets join the likes of ESPN+ and offer live streaming of in-market games for a fee separate from a traditional pay TV subscription.
That is coming soon around the country, with Sinclair poised to offer such products for some NBA and NHL teams, and eventually to New York, but less soon.
When will it happen? Within several years, presumably, pending complex contractual arrangements involving leagues, teams, distributors and regional sports networks.
The price figures to be on the high side initially to help protect the pricing logic of cable bundles, but no one knows where all this will land when the dust settles in . . . five years? Seven years? Ten years?
The next big national streaming advance will be Amazon Prime Video’s takeover of the NFL "Thursday Night Football" package next season.
But there is a big difference between that deal and the NHL/ESPN+ one: Amazon games will be shown on local broadcast channels in the cities of the teams involved in the game.
It is remarkable how quickly all this has happened. It was not yet four years ago, in April 2018, that I attended a screening of a new Bob Knight documentary that was set for the launch of ESPN+.
I spoke to an ESPN digital media executive named John Lasker that night and as he explained the new service and nodded as if he were speaking English and I understood what he was saying.
"It’s really important to start out with saying what it’s not," Lasker said that night. "It’s not ESPN or ESPN2. It’s not the content or the networks that you would normally get through your cable operator.
"What we’re building here is a brand-new network, not dissimilar to what we’ve done in the past in building ESPNU, SEC Network. It’s finding an opportunity for us here to serve fans a little more than we have."
Well, here we are.
ESPN+ has grown its offerings massively since then and attracted a lot of business for many customers as part of a bundle with Disney+ and Hulu.
The latest splash was the NHL contract that kicked in this season. ESPN never has shied away from the fact the deal’s primary focus was the digital side, including the 75 ESPN+ exclusives.
But ESPN+ also includes a massive collection of out-of-market games that for super-avid hockey fans has been a programming bonanza.
Key words: "out of market." That means that an Islanders fan in Seattle can subscribe to ESPN+ and see, for example, both Monday’s Islanders-Flyers game on MSG+ and Tuesday’s Islanders-Flyers game on ESPN+.
Not so for those of us in the New York area. Unless you are familiar with the millennial dark arts of circumventing the stream-for-pay system, the only options are to get a cable bundle AND ESPN+, or miss some games.