Wednesday, August 29, 2007

F DirecTV

From the title you might think that I am just bitter because I'll have to leave my couch to watch Ohio State play the Youngstown Area Girl Scouts this weekend. Unfortunately, the only place to watch it is on the rumored-but-still-not-confirmed-to-exist Big Ten Network. As you may know, the only available cable system in most of NE Ohio (Time Warner) is in a contract dispute and does not have the channel at this time. (And, based on the fact that the NFL Network is nowhere to be seen, I don't think they are soft negotiators). As of Wednesday afternoon, the only places to see the game are on DirecTV, Insight Cable (in parts of central Ohio), and now on AT&T's new U-Verse. I don't know what side I'm on. Looks like the Big Ten Network wants a lot of money for a network with limited appeal. At the same time, they want to be on basic cable--and I see a couple very similar networks on basic cable in Cleveland--SportsTime Ohio and FSN Ohio.

My guess: We'll have a deal next week.

What I am still pissed at DirecTV, and this is going on somewhere like ten years now, is their exclusive deal with the NFL. King Kaufmann summarizes the most recent screwing of the fan.

Aug. 20, 2007 | Fewer headlines have ever been more apt than this one in Thursday's Hollywood Reporter: "DirecTV Tries New Offense for NFL Coverage."

Offense is right. As in offensive.

The new deal is that up to 11 games a week will be streamed online. Great news for the legions of fans who can't get the DirecTV satellite service or don't want to switch their TV provider just to have their choice of NFL games to watch on 17 of the 52 Sundays in a year. Right?

Wrong. The deal is only good if you already subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket, which, in the second most fan-unfriendly deal in North American team sports, is available for $269 but only to DirecTV subscribers. And! You also have to subscribe to the $99 add-on bell-and-whistle package known as SuperFan. Also, it doesn't work on a Mac.

The NFL has its reasons, millions upon millions of them, for having an exclusive deal with DirecTV. Limiting access drives up prices as long as there's sufficient interest, which it's safe to say there is in NFL football.

There's a calculus involved, a weighing of the extra profits against the bad feelings engendered by the league's giant "Screw you" to fans who don't want a football league dictating what TV provider they do business with. The NFL evidently made that calculation a few years ago -- and extended its exclusive deal with DirecTV.

So, fine. I think it's a poor decision in the long term, but then again, NFL fans seem incapable of being offended enough by the league's anti-fan stance to do anything about it. The single most fan-unfriendly deal in North American team sports is the NFL charging regular-season prices for exhibition games, and then forcing season-ticket buyers, the best customers, to buy those exhibition-game tickets.

But it seems to me the biggest market for streaming games online would be the folks who don't have Sunday Ticket, for whatever reason. How many of the people who are willing to pay $269 or $368 for a season package will be glad to see that most -- not all -- games will be online because they just aren't able to stay in front of the TV on Sundays?

Major League Baseball, a comparative piker in saying "Screw you, fans" despite that phrase being its operating philosophy, offers games online through as an alternative to the television Extra Innings package. You can pay by the month or by the year, and it's a lot cheaper than Extra Innings, as it should be at this stage in history. Watching things online just isn't as good as watching them on TV just yet.

As high as the price tag is for a season of Sunday Ticket, my guess, based on years of real-time and virtual conversations with football fans, is that a lot of them would be not just willing but happy to pay through the nose for individual games. I'd bet $20 for an individual game, $50 for one week's worth of games and $150 for a month's worth are price points that wouldn't go begging.

We'll never know as long as the NFL keeps getting richer by not giving the fans what they want.