Monday, July 15, 2013

Prepare For Sports Network Armageddon

It's Getting A Wee Bit Crowded
You are about to start seeing full-scale and full-on hype for Fox Sports One, the new channel from the network that's redefined, mostly for ill, entertainment in this century. The concept that there can and should be a serious competitor for ESPN's status as sole dog in the 24 hour sports network space is a welcome one, and also makes you wonder just how profound NBC's failure has been with their launch... but, well, this is the only time-shift proof media left in the On Demand Age, so I guess it was inevitable.

What's also inevitable, it seems, is how strongly the market is going to fracture. Turner actually probably makes the best case for being the second-best cable network right now, as their NBA package trounces the Lemur, and their MLB work is more or less indistinguishable from the ESPN and Fox work. (A small aside to MLB: do you really sell any MLB TV subscriptions in the Northeast? Where I live, I get the Mets, Phillies and Yankees, along with ESPN, TBS and Fox -- in other words, way more baseball than I can generally hope to watch. Admittedly, none of it is my A's, but that's not exactly going to make me pony up for the package. Moving on.)

Now, the positive way to spin this is that more channels equals more competition, and less chance that you will ever be tempted to watch ESPN. Seriously, watching ESPN causes cancer in lab animals, even more than any other non-game coverage on any other station. Their little eyes just start bulging on the smugness, and by the time their heads finally explode from the tumors, you can see just how much they are ready to welcome death's sweet... perhaps I've said too much. Anyway. Skip Bayless, Screaming A. Smith, the PTI clowns, the Around the Horn mouth breathers... if you aren't watching them on a gym treadmill to fill your mind with cleansing hate to finish your workout, you have no excuse. And probably not even then.

But here's the thing... I'm not sure that the Brave New World of more people trying to do ESPN's thing is going to be any better. Consider Turner /'s mostly delightful "Open Court" panel show, where Ernie Johnson corrals a number of recent NBA luminaries into something approaching entertainment. Then compare it to Fox's nitrous whippet pre-game circle jerks, or MLB TV's insistence that Mitch Williams needs to be kept off the streets and in front of a camera, and you get my point. As a species, we do not deserve more of Tony Siragusa. (And if you like the Goose, two things: this is the wrong blog for you, and I can make you recoil in horror in the exact same fashion by dropping the name of Keith Olbermann in there.)

And beyond the panel shows, there is what is going to happen to your cable bill here. The only way to get the games that actually make people watch your network is to shovel more dollars at the major leagues. Once they've figured out the new king's ransom for rights payments, the channels will go to the cable providers and demand more, and we're right back to the past fights with NFL Network v. Comcast / Cablevision / Etc... and eventually, those channels will pass the bill on to you and me.


More channels showing more sports, less reason for you to be forced to watch terrible shows because there might be more games on, and maybe the explosion of hours will actually cause someone to hire some numbers nerds who might actually tell you something you haven't heard from an ex-jock, or a coach that doesn't dumb things down and actually gets into the guts on an expert level. Don't hold your breath on any of that.

And more money, not just for the people who want to pay it, but for the people who have cable and aren't sports fans.

We'd call these people the group that is increasingly cutting the cord and living on Web and DVD-only entertainment options.

And when they go... why, the cable providers will have to up rates, of course, which will drive more non-sports users out and so on, and so on....

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