On November 15, 2023, cycling fans awoke to some unsuspected and frustrating news - GCN (Global Cycling Network) was ending their GCN+ subscription service - the streaming platform that offered live coverage of bicycle racing, including 3 of the 4 major cyclocross series.
For 'cross fans in Europe, this is an inconvenience that means subscribers will have to switch platforms. For 'cross fans in the USA, however, this is a disaster, because no alternative platform that carries these cyclocross races currently exists.
Who owns GCN+, and how does GCN+ relate to Eurosport, Discovery+, and MAX?
GCN indicated the decision was made by their corporate parent, Warner Bros. Discovery. The same organization also owns Eurosport, with 2 TV channels, plus streaming on the MAX app (MAX is the service known formerly as HBO MAX) and Eurosport Player, another subscription service.
This has created an unusual structure where the same content was often available across 3 different subscription platforms: GCN+, Eurosport TV channels or Eurosport Player, and the Discovery+ streaming service.
Eurosport Player was already on the way out, being superseded by MAX and Discovery+. With GCN+ also now sunsetted, it appears Warner Bros. Discovery will consolidate their live cycling coverage on their Discovery+ and MAX services. This news follows some previous consolidation; WBD shuttered the similar GolfTV streaming service a year ago.
What does the end of GCN+ mean for cyclocross fans?
The answer to this question depends a little bit on your location. If you're in the EU, you likely have some good alternatives to GCN+. For cycling fans in the USA, however, there simply aren't any alternatives, at any price (as of this writing.)
In the USA, GCN+ has carried 3 of the 4 primary cyclocross series: the Superprestige,the X²O Badkamers Trofee, and the Exact Cross. The notable exception has been the cyclocross World Cup, which is carried (and will continue to be offered) on FloSports' FloBikes subscription service.
It's not yet clear what plans Discovery+ has for the United States. While the Discovery+ service is offered in the USA, it doesn't have any cycling coverage, at all, so it's probably not of interest to cyclocross fans. That could change in the future, but no announcement has yet been made. Making things even stranger is that Warner Bros. Discovery actually owns a piece of FloSports too, which has historically been a primary competitor to GCN+ and Peacock.
When is the deadline? How do I get a refund if I prepaid for GCN+ ?
GCN+ has announced that December 19, 2023 will be the last day of service. That's not much notice! Unfortunately it occurs immediately preceding the 2023 Kerstperiode block of races, meaning that USA fans could be shut out entirely of some popular races that happen between Christmas and New Years: Zolder, Diegem, Azencross, and Baal.
If you've paid in advance for an annual subscription, GCN has announced that pro-rated refunds will be issued automatically. Presumably those who subscribed directly will get a refund from GCN themselves, while refunds will happen through the Apple App Store for users who subscribed on that platform.
What are the alternatives to GCN+ ?
In the EU: Fans in the EU has some good alternatives to GCN+, notably, Discovery+ and Eurosport, both subscription streaming options. Most of the EU countries have access to these services.
In the USA: there aren't any good alternatives at the moment for watching the Superprestige, X²O Badkamers Trofee, and the Exact Cross races. A few subscription services offer other cycling content to USA subscribers - Peacock has the rights to the Tour de France and some of the Spring Classics, while FloBikes has the rights to the cyclocross World Cup and the USA Cycling National Championship.
If you're thinking, "This doesn't affect me, I'll just use a VPN..." read on.
What about using a VPN?
USA-based cyclocross fans are likely already familiar with using a VPN to access region-locked content. If you found yourself unable to view a race, "spoofing" your location using some software to trick the system into thinking you're in France instead of the USA was likely possible, and made quick work of the location problem.
Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that using a VPN will allow USA fans to subscribe to Discovery+ or Eurosport, at any price. In addition to checking your location, these services also check the country of issue for your chosen payment method, making it very difficult to subscribe and pay for these services without an EU-based bank account or credit/debit card. You might need to have an EU bank account to subscribe - an extreme step most American viewers won't take.
GCN+ is ending, but what about GCN itself?
At this time it appears that only the GCN+ subscription service is ending, not GCN itself, i.e. the popular GCN YouTube channel, for example, is expected to continue separately from the live race coverage.
Now what? What could happen next?
The end of GCN+ puts USA cyclocross fans in the very awkward position of having NO legal, approved, licensed way to watch the Superprestige, the X²O Badkamers Trofee, and Exact Cross races for the time being. That's very disappointing.
Here are just a few of the scenarios that could happen in the future:
- No one streams the Superprestige, X²O Badkamers Trofee, and Exact Cross races to the United States, and we return to the "Wild Wild West" era of pirate sites, stuttering streams, and inconsistent coverage.
- The streaming rights for the Superprestige, X²O Badkamers Trofee, and Exact Cross races are sold to FloBikes. That would make FloBikes in the USA the king of cyclocross content (rounding out their offering that already includes the Cyclocross World Cup and USA Cycling National Championship), and it's not as crazy as it sounds, since Warner Bros. Discovery is already an investor in FloSports.
- Warner Bros. Discovery adds live sports, including cycling, to the Discovery+ or MAX subscription services in the USA. If this happens, it probably comes at a cost higher, or much higher, than what subscribers were paying for GCN+.
Watch this space for any future news about cyclocross and other cycling coverage being added to Discovery+, FloBikes, Peacock, or MAX in the USA.