Taxing Circuses.
April 1, 2012 11:11 AM   Subscribe

The Dodgers tax. 'The group that paid an astronomical sum for the' The Dodgers baseball 'team will seek big money for broadcast rights. That cost will end up on your pay-TV bill, even if you don't watch sports. But how long can TV services expect the millions of' Americans 'who aren't sports aficionados to pay a premium for channels they don't watch? The demands from sports networks are outsize versions of the increases obtained by other channels; together, they've driven up the average monthly cable bill from $40 to nearly $80 over the last decade. That's far faster than the rate of inflation. This trend seems impossible to sustain.'

This is of course not limited to just baseball. The economics of spectator sports affects the entire paid viewership model.

'When it comes to basic cable, ESPN is perhaps the biggest offender. Media tracker SNL Kagan estimates that ESPN alone sets distributors back $4.69 a month for every subscriber.

You can expect that figure to continue to inch higher, and some in the industry are more than a bit concerned. Speaking at a media conference earlier this month, Liberty Media (LMCA) CEO Greg Maffei suggested that there will come a point when ESPN's escalating fees will become a "tax on every American household."

We may already be there. '
posted by VikingSword (104 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
If they had only stayed in Brooklyn...
posted by jonmc at 11:14 AM on April 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is one reason why I don't have cable. Why in the world would I pay anything to watch sports, since, outside of the occasional soccer game, I don't enjoy it? Sports cartels: ruining it for everyone in yet another arena.....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:15 AM on April 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'd be curious to know if cable's days numbered. People seem to be moving to the a la carte model that Internet outlets provide.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:16 AM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Bundles of Cable, New Yorker, January 2010
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:20 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do have to give baseball credit for running its own training programs, more or less, unlike, say football and basketball, which not only mess around with this sort of thing but also academics.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:27 AM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah one monopolist.

Boo another monopolist.
posted by JPD at 11:28 AM on April 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is an outrage that monopolistic cable providers are charging their customers rates that are going up many times inflation!

This is why we need to remove regulations on businesses!
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:32 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


there will come a point when ESPN's escalating fees will become a "tax on every American household."

Thhpppfft. Not this household. Cable-free for years now and no desire whatsoever to go back. Antenna gets me local news and major sports, XBOX gets me games, Netflix (on XBOX) gets me TV shows and movies. Would switch to an open PC-type device instead of the XBOX in a hot minute if anybody did it right.
posted by madmethods at 11:32 AM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am not a cable TV package subscriber (though, due to local monopolies, I am a cable internet subscriber).

The only silver lining for consumers in the NFL's new deal with the major networks is that Fox, CBS, and NBC are free over-the-air channels. You can kick your pay-TV provider to the curb and get a cheap HD antenna to catch all three networks for free.

I wonder how long deals like this will last. I've noticed more and more that sports events are being moved to ESPN (and affiliates) or to the networks "sportsnet" channels which, of course, you can't get without the pricey tv package.
Hell, it's hard these days to see any of the local college teams play for free, as they seem so to have signed over the rights to the big broadcasters.
posted by madajb at 11:35 AM on April 1, 2012


Isn't this mostly adverse selection? If every American were required to buy cable, the increased price for sports programs would be distributed more evenly. Instead, we increasingly divide into people who must buy cable to see the games live and people who think that sports is irrelevant. The must-watchers are then stuck with spraling costs, while those who are indifferent flee to a la carte programing.

But since we all benefit from the externalities of baseball and football, we're actually free-riding on the spending of others. You never know when you might discover you're a secret lacrosse fan, right? At that point you'd enter the sports programming market, but it would be too late.

So yeah, I do support affordable sporting reform. It'd be better, though, if we nationalized all the leagues. We might even see sports growing cheaper if we allowed cable companies to negotiate as a cartel to protect the rights of subscribers, instead of letting Big Baseball and Big Basketball maintain their cartel.

Of course, I understand the counter arguments. If we don't allow consumers to choose which games to pay for, they'll consume too many games. Did you know that 2/3 of all baseball games are unnecessary? It's true: everyone wins a third and everyone loses a third. The difference between a World Series team and a last place finish is what you do in that last third. So an a la carte system would probably lead consumers to demand that teams only play the important third of their games, which would be a tremendous savings for everyone involved!
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:35 AM on April 1, 2012 [21 favorites]


One of the big reasons I ditched cable was the huge number of channels I never watched but had to subsidize with my cable bill. I'm not a sports guy, so the wealth of sports crap that comes with every subscription, from ESPN to the Golf Network, was useless. Lifetime? No. CNBC, Fox News, TLC? No. Channel after channel of unwatchable garbage. But the worst of all are the religious channels/programming. I don't want a single dime of my money going to a pack of god botherers proselytizing to the bored masses through the TV. So, no cable.

I miss out on a lot of stuff, but with popular culture fragmenting as it is, it's much easier to step out of the stream and still be socially functional. And it'll all be available via Netflix in a few months, anyway.
posted by Lighthammer at 11:37 AM on April 1, 2012 [8 favorites]


together, they've driven up the average monthly cable bill from $40 to nearly $80 over the last decade

Not to be a Negative Nelly, but the article the author links to does not say that. Or anything close to that.
posted by yerfatma at 11:37 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've recently canceled cable as I just couldn't justify the cost. I can buy a lot of content off iTunes or on disk for the $85 a month I was paying for cable, and the picture quality of over-the-air hdtv is dramatically better than what I was getting from Rogers. The only thing I'll lose, and the only reason to keep cable, is live sports, and I will miss baseball on a summer afternoon. For that reason, I think cable companies will keep paying for the sports channels.
posted by sfred at 11:38 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yep, I'm another one who refuses to sign up for cable, for just this reason: rapidly-rising cost for a product that requires subscribers to pay for a ton of stuff I Do.Not.Want? Phffft.
posted by easily confused at 11:40 AM on April 1, 2012


Get rid of cable. Stream or download what you absolutely must watch. Try not too watch too much, it's bad for you.
posted by codswallop at 11:40 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


But since we all benefit from the externalities of baseball and football

And negative externalities too, like heavy traffic around stadiums and, sometimes, the cost of the stadiums themselves, or the costs of urbanization, usually compensated with some more or less questionable promises of "economic benefits / jobs".
posted by elpapacito at 11:42 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yet more proof that the jocks are allowed to run things even after high school.
posted by jonp72 at 11:45 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only reason I really ever had cable was to watch live sports, and I find that while I do miss them (especially the big events like the World Cup or the Olympics), it's not worth $600-$800 a year just to watch those.

So we don't have cable anymore. Netflix at $8 a month for the kids and for older movies, and itunes or other downloading for others. I don't really miss tv shows or movies that much.
posted by sauril at 11:47 AM on April 1, 2012


yerfatma: Not to be a Negative Nelly, but the article the author links to does not say that. Or anything close to that.

Actually, it does say just that in the bar chart in the middle of the article.
posted by JiBB at 11:50 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


My household never had cable, and got rid of our last TV shortly after September 11th. Haven't looked back, especially now that much of the really good stuff is available a la carte, either on disc or streaming.

Seven years ago, our daughter's Montessori teacher asked us out of curiosity "do you have a TV at home?" The lack of TV had a notable impact on her attention span, even in a community (Portland, OR & Montessori) of low-TV tolerance.
posted by dylanjames at 11:50 AM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is an outrage that monopolistic cable providers are charging their customers rates that are going up many times inflation!

This is why we need to remove regulations on businesses!


Wasn't it local governments that gave cable companies a monopoly in the first place?
posted by gyc at 11:51 AM on April 1, 2012


The only thing I'll lose, and the only reason to keep cable, is live sports, and I will miss baseball on a summer afternoon.

I don't know if it's possible where you are, but there's something about a single speaker AM radio, a warm summer evening and those mellifluous radio broadcast voices that just makes for a relaxing time.
posted by madajb at 11:54 AM on April 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


You all want to know why television fees for sports have risen so much? Because sports isn't easily time-shifted. People don't ignore the World Series because it'll be on Netflix in six months. They want their games right now.

And that means people who watch sports watch the commercials. Thus, the paradigm of commercial TV remains alive and well in the sports world, while most every I know who watches Mad Men never even knew it was on AMC.

Can the Dodgers recover the $2B investment through TV rights? Absolutely. When Colorado left the Big XII for the Pac 12, one of the reasons they did was because they were only getting $6M in revenue from the Big XII thanks to an old TV contract and a formula that favored the University of Texas. That $6M included bowl revenue -- in fact, it was almost entirely bowl payouts. In 2012, CU will receive $21M from the Pac 12 just in TV money -- before you add in the additional millions in bowl revenue and merchandising.

I can easily see the Dodgers asking for $2B from Fox Sports over the next 10 years -- and getting it. And if they don't, they'll launch a Dodgers TV network and make the money back that way.
posted by dw at 11:54 AM on April 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


agreed madajb. Baseball on the radio is sublime.
posted by jonmc at 11:55 AM on April 1, 2012


Sports are frequently the only watchable thing on cable. People who want to watch reality shows about alligator hunters being forced to pay for basketball games seems like a feature not a bug.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:56 AM on April 1, 2012


Welcome to America. Making you buy health insurance hurts your freedom, but ESPN is totally ok.
posted by humanfont at 12:01 PM on April 1, 2012 [10 favorites]


You can expect that figure to continue to inch higher, and some in the industry are more than a bit concerned. Speaking at a media conference earlier this month, Liberty Media (LMCA) CEO Greg Maffei suggested that there will come a point when ESPN's escalating fees will become a "tax on every American household."
Except for people who don't have cable.
Antenna gets me local news and major sports, XBOX gets me games, Netflix (on XBOX) gets me TV shows and movies. Would switch to an open PC-type device instead of the XBOX in a hot minute if anybody did it right.
The whole point of the PC is that you do it yourself. You just have to switch from netflix to the pirate bay. (Although netflix works on the PC as well, as far as I know)
posted by delmoi at 12:01 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


dw, the problem with that theory is that if you have a locked-down audience for commercials, why does it cost more? One would think it would cost less, since then there could be a larger charge for the commercial broadcasts.

Or is this a situation where someone is doing what cartoonist Howard Tayler calls the "We're Getting Paid Twice Dance"?
posted by mephron at 12:02 PM on April 1, 2012


jonmc: "agreed madajb. Baseball on the radio is sublime."

If you can get it. When baseball teams switch radio broadcasters, often they switch away from 'clear-channel' frequencies too. Those frequencies are setup so that there's no other interference during their broadcasts in the evening. Consequently, fans from hundreds of miles away can listen to games.

Or could anyway. Switch to some other AM broadcaster, or FM, and suddenly the broadcast audience is limited to the city and suburbs.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:03 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


dw: " I can easily see the Dodgers asking for $2B from Fox Sports over the next 10 years -- and getting it. And if they don't, they'll launch a Dodgers TV network and make the money back that way."

I would be surprised if the new Dodger ownership isn't at least thinking about it, though they're currently aligned with Fox Sports West. Building your own sports network, whether you're a team or a sports conference, is a good way to create and sustain a predictable income. It's how the Yankees built their wealth, though that was before the rise of ESPN and Fox Sports Net. But I would think the market's saturated right now with sports networks.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:09 PM on April 1, 2012


But I would think the market's saturated right now with sports networks.

I agree with this sentiment, but then I see ESPN partnering with the University of Texas to create a Longhorn sports channel, and think to myself "what the fuck?" The failure point for these sports networks will only happen if either the cable providers refuse to pony up for them, or consumers refuse to keep their cable service. Despite all of the exquisitely smug "I don't watch TV and therefore am better than you" people above in this thread, a very small share of cable subscribers are jumping ship.

I made the snide comment above about deregulating the cable networks. It is my opinion that regulation on the prices is probably what is needed to fix the stupidity. But there's no way that's getting through any form of government at the moment.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:19 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe a derail, but am I missing something about streaming live sports? March Madness: streams to mobile devices. MLS: streams to mobile devices. Who the hell is watching sports regularly on a mobile device? Why can't we stream to the TV? This "a la carte" thing you mentioned; can't find it.

And there are 8 Dodgers games on KCAL (Vin Scully!) this month. Free.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:21 PM on April 1, 2012


But how long can TV services expect the millions of' Americans 'who aren't sports aficionados to pay a premium for channels they don't watch?

I dunno ... how long can TV services expect millions to pay for home shopping, foreign language, public access and other niche programming they don't watch?

Answer: They're doing it right now. They've been doing it since the beginning of cable TV. They'll probably keep on doing it until there's sufficient demand for a la carte television services from both customers and broadcasters.

To me, this can't come fast enough. I suspect that most people consume content from a tenth (twentieth?) of the stations they have available on basic cable.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:30 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


So if I understand correctly, the average cable tv subscription has the sports channels bundled in, rather than that those are sold seperately as is done here in the Netherlands?

Seems rather backwards to let every subscriber pay for things they don't want rather than unbundle it and sell it as premium channels.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:32 PM on April 1, 2012


It's what's known as a racket. But by god torrenting will bring the country down.
posted by Trochanter at 12:35 PM on April 1, 2012


So if I understand correctly, the average cable tv subscription has the sports channels bundled in, rather than that those are sold seperately as is done here in the Netherlands?

It's basically sold in tiers.
Basic - Extended - Premium - Ultra

Every tier gets more channels added on. The thing is that, last time I looked, there was no way to get, say AMC for Mad Men, without getting ESPN (or Fox Sports or whatever) bundled in.
So you are effectively paying for one of the highest priced channels (ESPN) even i you have no intention of watching it. There is no "sports free" bundle with a lower price.
posted by madajb at 12:39 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


ZeusHumms writes "But I would think the market's saturated right now with sports networks."

However unlike say reality TV or news networks sports programming is something that can be diced up pretty finely before the assorted channels start competing against each other. So a Dodgers Channel isn't going to compete with the Yankee Channel rather with ESPN and local channels. If Houston or the Mets latter decide to set up their own channel they aren't going to steel many Dodger's channel subscribers.
posted by Mitheral at 12:40 PM on April 1, 2012


For $20 you get the home and away radio broadcast of every single MLB for the entire season, via MLB.com. Spend another $30 on a low power FM transmitter and you can sit on your porch with a cheap radio and your beverage of choice, and enjoy baseball on the radio.
posted by COD at 12:53 PM on April 1, 2012


Cool Papa Bell: "I dunno ... how long can TV services expect millions to pay for home shopping, foreign language, public access and other niche programming they don't watch?"

The home shopping channels pay to be carried, so they don't cost the subscriber anything but the opportunity cost of carrying another channel in the limited space available even on a 1GHz cable system.

The problem here is that ESPN won't allow cable companies to carry their channel unless they agree to put it in the second-level tier, so you get it along with A&E, AMC, TBS, TNT, USA, and all the other "basic cable" channels (which in most areas don't actually come with basic cable any more, the cheapest tier is usually government access, C-SPAN, shopping channels, and local over-the-air channels).

Many of the other sports channels go in their own special sports tier that is sometimes included with other packages and sometimes a paid add-on. Although the price of the tier is $8 a month here, my incremental cost is only $2.25 due to some nearly incomprehensible discounting, so I buy it.
posted by wierdo at 12:59 PM on April 1, 2012


Comcast, at least, offers a very basic cable option that consists of fast internet plus only the broadcast channels (saving you the bother of erecting an antenna). I think they may be required to do so by law, haven't checked. The option is buried on their website and best found by searching for internet-only service. I get faster internet for less money than the 'basic' cable package with all the unwanted sports channels etc.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:00 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


So if I understand correctly, the average cable tv subscription has the sports channels bundled in

Sort of. 1) you can usually get a very stripped down bundle that has no sports channels - but thats basically Free-to-Air channels only
2) Basic bundles usually come with ESPN (the biggest sports network, owned by Disney) throughout the country, but then things start to diverge by carrier.
3) above a certain level things are a la carte. Like my package comes with Fox Soccer Channel, but if I wanted Fox Soccer Channel+ I need to pay


On the other hand I guarantee all of you benefit somewhat from the cross-subsidy. For example - I really really really disdain Mad Men, but I still have to pay for AMC because that's in TWC's basic bundle.

Removing bundling makes cable cheaper, but also reduces the diversity of options. Probably good if it means we only get 1 gator pawn storage wars reality show, pretty crappy if it means no more BBC Americas. If you get rid of bundling and force people to actively make a decision about what they want to buy, it ain't gonna be ESPN that suffers.

Actually if you read the book about the history of ESPN, the network really only became as financial successful as it has become when they realized that price elasticity for sports television was pretty damn close to 0, so they could just keep raising prices every year. Hell look at what happened in NYC with MSG this year. TWC tried to push them into a premium tier, they refused, and you couldn't watch the Knicks for a few months - but TWC lost the battle eventually, and MSG is back on the basic tier..
posted by JPD at 1:02 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


FWIW many (most?) people can get espn as part of their Internet service at no extra cost. You get everything except pro football.
posted by aerotive at 1:11 PM on April 1, 2012


It's amazing to me that so many of these pay channels, like ESPN, are also chock-full of ads. I don't mind paying for HBO, which is high-quality ad-free programming, but why should I pay for ESPN if they are also going to hit me with 3 minutes of ads every 10 minutes?
posted by cell divide at 1:12 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


FWIW many (most?) people can get espn as part of their Internet service at no extra cost. You get everything except pro football.

I'm under the impression that this very cable ISP dependent - for example if you are a Time Warner NY customer you must be a TV subscriber in order to access ESPN3 or 360 whatever it is they are calling it this week.
posted by JPD at 1:15 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


ZeusHumms:
If you can get it. When baseball teams switch radio broadcasters, often they switch away from 'clear-channel' frequencies too. Those frequencies are setup so that there's no other interference during their broadcasts in the evening. Consequently, fans from hundreds of miles away can listen to games.

Or could anyway. Switch to some other AM broadcaster, or FM, and suddenly the broadcast audience is limited to the city and suburbs.
"

If you just want the radio, you can pay $20 to MLB and get live streaming of every broadcast of every game. It's more expensive than just turning on your radio, but hey, compared to eighty bucks a month for cable, $20 for a season of baseball sounds pretty okay.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:16 PM on April 1, 2012


There is an easy solution : Don't watch shitty American sports like American Football or Baseball. Instead, you should just torrent the Europeans, South Americans, Asians, etc. playing real football.

Btw, I'll admit that baseball is an enormous improvement on it's parent cricket because baseball lasts only one day while cricket lasts three, but another further improvement is simply drooping the ridiculous bat all together.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:19 PM on April 1, 2012


Cool Papa Bell: They've been doing it since the beginning of cable TV. They'll probably keep on doing it until there's sufficient demand for a la carte television services from both customers and broadcasters... To me, this can't come fast enough. I suspect that most people consume content from a tenth (twentieth?) of the stations they have available on basic cable.

My first job out of college was in cable marketing, and I've written previously about why the cable industry (both content and vendors) is opposed to an a la carte model. It's been many years now, so the situation's probably changed a bit, but a la carte pricing would drastically reduce the number of channels available. Which is great for most of us because they're stupid clutter, but bad for cable vendors who want to wow you with the amount of content available while sidestepping that most of it is crap that you'd never watch. So the cable industry will probably follow the recording industry's playbook and resist adaptation while they wither and die.

The real crime is what cable service costs. I live in a town with competition and pay about three-fifths of what my friends and family who are subject to cable monopolies pay.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:23 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


However unlike say reality TV or news networks sports programming is something that can be diced up pretty finely before the assorted channels start competing against each other. So a Dodgers Channel isn't going to compete with the Yankee Channel rather with ESPN and local channels. If Houston or the Mets latter decide to set up their own channel they aren't going to steel many Dodger's channel subscribers.

In San Diego, the Padres games used to be shown on Channel 4 on Cox Cable and the sold rights to parts of the area with Time Warner (and to the cable company in Tijuana). They never could work out a deal with Uverse, DirecTV and Dish. So if you were a baseball fan, you'd need old school cable or a radio.

That contract expired and the Padres went with Fox Sports so there's now a Fox Sports San Diego which from what I can tell is the home and away games and a bunch of Fox Sports Net filler the rest of the time. This was added to the basic cable lineup and they bumped the Speed channel into "Advanced TV". Cox still has a Channel 4 which tends to show tourist crap and infomercials.

One thing the that was mentioned in an article I read the other day about Tribune Media and DirecTV's contract negotiations (Tribune owns a bunch of local stations and WGN) was one of the reasons that DirecTV was looking for more revenue was because of NFL Sunday Ticket. I figured at the price that they charged for that package it carried its own way. But it seems that all DirecTV customers are paying to subsidize it.

The Game of Thrones and its Metatalk talked about how people would gladly pay a fee directly to HBO for HBOGo but don't want to spend for all the bullshit cable channels to get there. I think the day is coming where HBOGo will be offere standalone, but the cable/sat companies will go kicking and screaming. Cable TV will need to re-do its business model if it wants to compete with the internet (the first thing is most cable TV companies are also the internet companies so they're still making money). The problem we consumers will have is if too many people drop cable, it will cause the cable company to raise their internet rates to be able to stay fat and happy. Either way we look at it, we consumers are fucked.
posted by birdherder at 1:23 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


The cable companies are terrified to go to a la carte. How could they possibly justify not getting your $4.50 for ESPN to their shareholders. So they will stay the course. And the ship will hit the iceberg. And they will go down with the ship. It's just like that movie that's coming out in 3D.
posted by the1inBK at 1:27 PM on April 1, 2012


JPD: "FWIW many (most?) people can get espn as part of their Internet service at no extra cost. You get everything except pro football.

I'm under the impression that this very cable ISP dependent - for example if you are a Time Warner NY customer you must be a TV subscriber in order to access ESPN3 or 360 whatever it is they are calling it this week.
"

Yes I think it varies by ISP...for me I have the newer sort of DSL service, no voice no TV, and I get can get it either through a computer or a videogame console at no extra charge. With some you can also get it through tablets and phones.

Anyway, for anyone looking to get rid of cable but espn is a hangup, it's worth looking into.
posted by aerotive at 1:27 PM on April 1, 2012


birdherder said:
I think the day is coming where HBOGo will be offere standalone, but the cable/sat companies will go kicking and screaming.


Makes perfect sense, but remember that HBO is part of TimeWarner, and so is TimeWarner Cable. So not only will the cable companies be kicking and screaming, they'll have the friendly ears of their parent companies to scream to.
posted by the1inBK at 1:32 PM on April 1, 2012


Every tier gets more channels added on. The thing is that, last time I looked, there was no way to get, say AMC for Mad Men, without getting ESPN (or Fox Sports or whatever) bundled in.

The DISH welcome package. It's basically unadvertised. They offered it to me last year when I called to cancel. For $14.99 a month I get my local channels, AMC, HGTV, Food, Comedy Comedy Central. History, TBS, MSNBC, TWC, and about 40 crap shopping / religious channels. For $14.99 a month though, that ain't a bad deal.

My Internet provider is hooked into ESPN 3, so I can get my sports fix that way.
posted by COD at 1:33 PM on April 1, 2012


Who has cable?
posted by karmiolz at 1:40 PM on April 1, 2012


Makes perfect sense, but remember that HBO is part of TimeWarner, and so is TimeWarner Cable.

TimeWarner Cable and TimeWarner are separate and have been so since 2009. What was really weird was when HBOGo came out TimeWarner Cable was one of the last major cable companies to get it.
posted by birdherder at 1:45 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who has cable?

More than 50% of American households.
posted by cell divide at 1:48 PM on April 1, 2012


Removing bundling makes cable cheaper, but also reduces the diversity of options.

This is the standard argument from the cable companies, but it remains to be demonstrated as true. I understand why *they* want to keep the bundling; it's the system they're comfortable with and any change to that system will be clearly disruptive short- to medium-term. But the idea that offering consumers more choices in the channels they pay for will somehow result in a long-term reduction in diversity of options offered to those consumers?

Yeah, that one smells funny.
posted by mediareport at 1:55 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


One day a provider will introduce the revolutionary idea of "a la carte" programming. People will fall all over themselves to get it, since it's a) better and B) cheaper. The CEO will be some young whippersnapper who will get his face all over Forbes and Times magazines.

Everyone will want to know "how did you know it would work?" "Genius!"
posted by Xoebe at 1:59 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


It puts Cable Companies in a bad spot. Live sports are one of the few things that they can offer that can't easily be picked up via the net, so it's one of that last carrots they have to lure in subscribers.

On the other hand, that carrot costs them a significant amount, and leads to them having to raise rates. Then they lose subscribers, and need the live sports now more than ever.
posted by drezdn at 2:01 PM on April 1, 2012


...and I will miss baseball on a summer afternoon.

I already miss that. Used to be that nearly every weekend game was a day game. Now, because ESPN or Fox might want to pick up those weekend games, and they don't want them on in the daytime, almost all weekend games are at night. (At least that's the case for Red Sox games.) There are still some day games, but they're on weekdays. Since my employer has some strange objection to my watching baseball at work, I don't get to see those. Another evil perpetrated by ESPN and Fox is that they want games to start at 8 pm, instead of the usual 7. That means the games run until at least 11 pm. My employer also has some inexplicable preference for me showing up early in the morning and not falling asleep at work. Once in a blue moon, there's a day game on a weekend, but it's always half of a double-header, and usually a make-up of a rainout, so it's not on the printed season schedule.

These things also make it tough for kids to watch many games. You know, kids - the future? I think MLB is committing slow suicide by allowing the national networks to dictate game schedules.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:06 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would like to point out that, if you have the "conventional" MeFi page, you currently have a lot of Dodger Blue in your field of vision, and have all along.

They are more insidious than you thought!
posted by Danf at 3:27 PM on April 1, 2012


Maybe a derail, but am I missing something about streaming live sports? March Madness: streams to mobile devices. MLS: streams to mobile devices. Who the hell is watching sports regularly on a mobile device? Why can't we stream to the TV? This "a la carte" thing you mentioned; can't find it.

Pretty sure they all stream to PC too, which can easily be connected to a TV.

The issue with streaming right now is blackout rules. MLB will, for a reasonable monthly fee, let you stream live all MLB games...aside from your home team, because why would someone in Philadelphia want to watch the Phillies? So, fork that money over to a cable company instead so you can watch the Phillies on Comcast SportsNet and buy a whole bunch of other channels you don't want.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:29 PM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Meh, if you're a real Philadelphia sports fan, you hate all the teams already so you're not missing anything.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:43 PM on April 1, 2012


I think the day is coming where HBOGo will be offere standalone

Absolutely, 100%, positively not in the near future.

The sole goal of HBOGo is to reinforce the value of cable subscriptions. The contracts with the major distributors (Comcast, Time Warner, DirecTV, etc.), all specifically prohibit HBO from offering their content ala carte.

All of the 'TV Everywhere' services you see have the same goal, showing the value of cable/satellite subscription and putting another bunch of content outside of the reach of the cable-cutters.

Obviously, many cable-cutters are using torrents/newsgroup to gather shows they want to watch, but that does not dissuade the industry from their plans.
posted by Argyle at 3:46 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


dw, the problem with that theory is that if you have a locked-down audience for commercials, why does it cost more? One would think it would cost less, since then there could be a larger charge for the commercial broadcasts.

Because if you have a captive audience, you can charge higher ad rates than you can with an audience that timeshifts like no one's business. And the leagues know this, and they want a cut of that money. And the networks will give it to them, because sports are a sure thing money-wise.
posted by dw at 3:47 PM on April 1, 2012


Let us not forget that the price of subscription television only started to grow by leaps bounds and multipliers once the industry successfully lobbied to be deregulated in the late 80s. One of the explicit terms negotiated for that change to deregulation was the right for subscribers to subscribe channel-by-channel, "ala carte" is how it was described at the time. Not nadatory tiers or packages, but on a channel by channel basis.
The cable companies never complied, and nearly 25 years later the FCC still doesn't care about this industry-wide non-compliance.

So we'd be remiss for not thanking the FCC for their graceful oversight of the matters at hand.
posted by Fupped Duck at 4:09 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fupped Duck,

I've been working in cable television for 20+ years and have never heard of any FCC rulings mandating 'ala carte' subscriptions. But perhaps I'm missing something. Where did you read of this?
posted by Argyle at 4:15 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


For those interested in actual costs per network, here is some info.

Cost of basic (~80 channel) cable per month in subscriber fees (pdf) = ~$16/mo (varies per differing agreements)

List of various cable network and the costs in per month subscriber fees. (pdf) This is what a cable company pays a cable channel for the right to sell you television.
posted by Argyle at 4:25 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Absolutely, 100%, positively not in the near future.

The sole goal of HBOGo is to reinforce the value of cable subscriptions. The contracts with the major distributors (Comcast, Time Warner, DirecTV, etc.), all specifically prohibit HBO from offering their content ala carte.


I didn't say it would happen soon. I was reading an interview with David Milch and Michael Mann of how HBO looks at the success/failure of their programming w/r/t the show Luck. It had poor night-of ratings but when you count HBO OnDemand and HBOGo along with scheduled repeat showing on the network, it did pretty good. Had there not been issues with the horses, it would be Emmy-bait and helped maintain subscribers.

What will get HBOGo to be a standalone product will be when its next Sopranos is still Monday morning water cooler conversation but using their metrics, they're not seeing the subscribers. I sort of seeing a middle gap when HBO changes its carriage contracts with cable nets over time is that it becomes an option for ISPs (most of them are cable TV providers as well). What it would mean is the $15 charge on cable TV will become a $15 charge on your cable bill. In most cases the cable company still gets its cut of that revenue. HBO gets paid. And people like me subscribe. I would have loved to keep HBO on my TV lineup, but I couldn't justify the additional $35 in bullshit "advanced" TV channels I have no interest in watching and box rentals to be able to pay my cable co $14.95 to get HBO. So now, they still get the $44.95 for my internet and neither HBO or the cable co get money from me.

Historically HBO has pretty much had to submit to whatever the cable/sat company said because that was the only way into the house (and at one time they were in the same corporation as a major cable company). But if HBO continues to provide quality content, it will have leverage over the cable companies. Cable companies will want to have HBO on their lineup and will have to adapt. The other alternative is HBO stays cable only and it loses paying viewers which means it won't have the money to produce quality shows. Which means fewer people will want to pay for it.

Unless the cable companies fix their value proposition they'll continue to bleed customers. I still get channels 2-99 so I can get my Comedy Central, adult swim, Southland, Justified, Archer, and Breaking Bad. That's 5 channels. Which means I'm paying $50 a month for 5 channels I watch and about 70 channels I never watch. There's USA, the 24/7 NCIS/Law & Order: SVU channel. There's channels with nothing but pawn shops, repo men, storage space auctions. Add in these wasteland channels have 43 minutes of programming per hour and giant popup ads for other shows. I've had cable all of my adult life and it is if the cable company is doing everything it can to get me to cancel.
posted by birdherder at 4:34 PM on April 1, 2012


If I could pay a fee and have Vin Scully call Dodgers games forever, I'd totally do that.
posted by dry white toast at 5:16 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Disney owns ESPN. This is all just another facet of The Mouse's plans for world domination.
posted by radwolf76 at 5:17 PM on April 1, 2012


This is nothing compared to the hundreds of millions of public dollars that go toward construction of nearly every new pro sports stadium or arena. At least when you pay your inflated cable bill, you actually get to watch ESPN on the off chance that you want to someday. What do you get with your taxpayer equity in a new stadium? The opportunity to get in line with every other schmo to pay $50 for a seat and $8 for a hot dog.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 7:12 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lighthammer: And it'll all be available via Netflix in a few months, anyway.

No, it won't.

karmiolz: Who has cable?

Apparently enough people to keep the cable cartels swimming in ducats.
posted by blucevalo at 8:21 PM on April 1, 2012


VikingSword: "But how long can TV services expect the millions of' Americans 'who aren't sports aficionados to pay a premium for channels they don't watch?"

For as long as TV services can actually hide the per channel costs inside of bundle costs, which I suspect is part of maximizing income.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:01 PM on April 1, 2012


Despite all of the exquisitely smug "I don't watch TV and therefore am better than you" people above in this thread, a very small share of cable subscribers are jumping ship.

Not owning a TV in this day and age doesn't mean you don't watch video. It just means you don't pay for it. Youtube is free and there's more then enough stuff on there to keep you mildly amused. Much more so then channel surfing. Install adblock and you don't ever need to see ads at all.

Get a little bluetooth keyboard and you can use a PC from the couch
posted by delmoi at 10:17 PM on April 1, 2012


"impossible to sustain"? Right. I guess you are going to try to tell me that the housing market is not going to continue to grow in value.
The trouble with bubbles is that no one believes it will be their actions that will make it burst, so they keep pushing. The cable bill bubble makes me wish that Apple would step in and do the same thing to TV that they did for the music business, which was to turn it on its head.
I remember the artists and studios complaining that the รก la carte purchasing that the iTunes store offered would destroy them, and run them broke. Instead, it has done more for the music industry than they could have ever imagined. It is the main portal for music in most of the world.
Now, think about an Apple TV box that would let you purchase a season of a TV show, on a first run basis. Or, you could purchase access to an entire network for a year. They could deal directly with the studios that produce the shows, and not have to worry about the whims of a Network exec. They could put the big 4 Broadcast Networks out of business, as well as changing the cable companies into just being bandwidth providers.
Personally, I would love it. Buy only what I want, and watch it when I want to, without concern for my DVR's capacity. It would let some smaller, niche shows exist, and not end up in some networks list of shows to cut.
If you are an Apple Exec reading this, please do this, if you are not working on it already.
posted by MJLavelle at 10:49 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


ZeusHumms: "VikingSword: "But how long can TV services expect the millions of' Americans 'who aren't sports aficionados to pay a premium for channels they don't watch?"

For as long as TV services can actually hide the per channel costs inside of bundle costs, which I suspect is part of maximizing income.
"

I remember when I found out, from the horse's mouth, that Cartoon Network was only to be bundled, yet Insight Communications (the pre-Comcast provider) was only offering it ala carte.
posted by Samizdata at 11:52 PM on April 1, 2012


I know this is gonna be a bit of a derail, and tbh I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned already... but another such solution is to ditch the x number of $ spent on cable and actually head out to the local park and watch your lowly affiliate team play. Most local teams still have pretty decent ticket prices, and hot dogs are still sold.

80$ a month on AA baseball, or womens collegiate bowling, or nighttime coed fast pitch softball, or whatever, should get you pretty far.
posted by Blue_Villain at 6:06 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cable is going to go away, but its going to be because someone figures out a way to bring data into your home, not because of how content is charged for. The cable guys actually don't reap any sort of excess return from content - that all gets harvested by the content producers.

Even if you "Don't have a TV" you presumable have some sort of land-line data connection.
posted by JPD at 6:12 AM on April 2, 2012


The issue with streaming right now is blackout rules. MLB will, for a reasonable monthly fee, let you stream live all MLB games...aside from your home team, because why would someone in Philadelphia want to watch the Phillies? So, fork that money over to a cable company instead so you can watch the Phillies on Comcast SportsNet and buy a whole bunch of other channels you don't want.

mlb.tv's blackout rules are extremely irritating. I considered picking it up just for when I'm upstate visiting the in-laws. Three hours from Philadelphia, that should be far enough away, right? Wrong. From there I'm considered too close to the Phillies AND the Pirates AND the Mets AND the Yankees. I've heard of others in the southeast who aren't in reasonable driving range of any team but get blacked out from half-a-dozen. There are ways of using proxies to get around it but it's too fiddly by half for me.

MLB Gameday Audio, on the other hand, IS a great value as COD pointed out earlier in the thread. $20 for the year, and you get every regular season game with home, away, and even Spanish feeds where available. No blackouts at all except in very few national-telecast exceptions. You get the playoffs and a lot of spring training games as well, you can switch games on the fly, and you can go back and listen to recordings of any completed game.

Joe Bob sez check it out.
posted by delfin at 6:32 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mediareport asked me to clarify why I don't necessarily think unbundling is a net positive for cable consumers. Here is the memail I sent him:

If you force people to choose you'll have a big spike of people willing to purchase lowest common denominator type programming. You'll see everything pushed to the middle of the road. It won't be people cutting off ESPN - if anything it would be positive for ESPN and sports rights in general. It would be bad for smaller programs that appeal to a narrower audience. If you could dramatically decrease production costs for those sorts of things, then maybe that would make up the difference, although I suspect you would also need to dramatically reduce comp for creatives as well to make that math work.

Basically it becomes much more of a winner take all. Demand would look like ten channels or so with massive demand and lots of pricing power and, then 100 channels with a little bit of demand, and not a ton of pricing power. Now - this isn't to say the whole setup wouldn't be cheaper for cable subscribers - I suspect it would be, I'm just not sure it would be better.

And I say this as someone who loathes his cable provider.

posted by JPD at 7:13 AM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is one reason why I don't have cable.

Interesting. I don't have cable tv either, or satellite or whatever, and the *only* thing I miss is the sports. Everything else is available online. What else is live TV for?

MLB Gameday Audio, on the other hand, IS a great value

Is it ad-free? Or what's the $20 for? It seems like all the feeds of the radio games across the world should be gratis, though I know they are not. Why wouldn't radio advertisers want their ads to get national exposure? Oh right ...

why should I pay for ESPN if they are also going to hit me with 3 minutes of ads every 10 minutes?

This is a most excellent question. I've tried to Ustream or otherwise watch sports streams of time-delayed US broadcasts (wimbledon and olympics mostly) with varying success, but it seems like there are less of the "P2P video" services these days.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:29 AM on April 2, 2012


In my experience, MLB gameday audio has whatever ads the local broadcast station is transmitting. They are often small local businesses that wouldn't really benefit from exposure outside the area.

We live close enough to Nationals Stadium to hear the fireworks there. Back when they would shoot fireworks for home runs (I think that money is now being used for player salaries), it would be neat to hear them and then a few seconds later hear the delayed announcement of the play on the MLB audio.

Seems as though the sports networks that owns the local video broadcast rights to games (MASN in my case) ought to make deals to stream video online. This would be great for people like me who want to watch the games but don't want cable and are subject to the MLB blackout on video.
posted by exogenous at 8:49 AM on April 2, 2012


Is it ad-free? Or what's the $20 for?

It's the actual radio broadcast from whatever radio station covers the team. If you are listening to the Red Sox, you are getting the local Hood Dairy commercials. That is a feature and not a bug for me.
posted by COD at 8:50 AM on April 2, 2012


Is it ad-free? Or what's the $20 for? It seems like all the feeds of the radio games across the world should be gratis, though I know they are not. Why wouldn't radio advertisers want their ads to get national exposure? Oh right ...

There are no ads above and beyond what's on the radio feed, since you're getting exactly what goes out over the air. What you're getting for the $20, beyond being able to listen to broadcasts with no reception issues regardless of your location, is the ability to go back and listen to any already-aired broadcast in its entirety.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:54 AM on April 2, 2012


Also, the fact that you get the exact over-the-air ads means that some of the advertisers are in fact getting nothing for letting you listen to them, because you're getting local stations that carry, in part, local ads. I'm in DC and listen to Phillies games. Any of the ads that advertise Philadelphia businesses are useless to me.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:56 AM on April 2, 2012


Also also, it's the only legit way to get those stations to stream games online. If I go to the web site for the Phillies' flagship station and click 'Listen Live!' during a Phillies game, I get alternative programming, specifically because MLB audio online broadcast rights are tied up behind this paywall.

Twenty bucks, flat, for 5000+ games + spring training + playoffs + your choice of commentary teams + 24/7 recall of any you missed or care to replay? I'll go there.
posted by delfin at 10:28 AM on April 2, 2012


If I go to the web site for the Phillies' flagship station and click 'Listen Live!' during a Phillies game, I get alternative programming, specifically because MLB audio online broadcast rights are tied up behind this paywall.

Yeah, that's my experience too. I'll be listening to KNBR right up to the Giants game, and then it's a replay of a talk-show from the day before. SHENANIGANS.

So, I can pull out a transistor AM radio and fire up the game, but I can't listen to it on a computer?

MLB audio online broadcast rights are tied up behind this paywall.

Right. Why is this allowed? Their monopoly exception should prevent this sort of bullshit.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:39 AM on April 2, 2012


So, I can pull out a transistor AM radio and fire up the game, but I can't listen to it on a computer?

In the past, I couldn't get the Phillies AM signal inside my apartment building, so the gameday audio was the only way for me to hear the games at home. This season, they do have an FM frequency broadcast, but I've gotten accustomed to the MLB Gameday app on my phone. I like being able to see the pitch count and being able to go back and read what happened after I've walked out of earshot. The little monkeys that type it up are slow as molasses when a play gets complicated though.
posted by gladly at 12:46 PM on April 2, 2012


The little monkeys that type it up are slow as molasses when a play gets complicated though.

That's funny b/c I followed a lot of last year's playoff games via the free ScoreMobile software, which indeed has a little monkey typing up (almost) every pitch for the big games (all of the playoffs, I think). Some of them are surprisingly fast and good, and they also have (moderated) comments from users, so it's a little like sitting around "listening" to someone broadcast the game (by typing) and then "listening" to the peanut gallery to get the nuances.

I will take that over Joe Morgan but not Ted Robinson ...
posted by mrgrimm at 2:14 PM on April 2, 2012


Now - this isn't to say the whole setup wouldn't be cheaper for cable subscribers - I suspect it would be, I'm just not sure it would be better.

Honestly, JPD, I'd be happy (and probably get cable again) if there were just a few more options between Basic and Expanded. The sports/no-sports thing is a no-brainer, at least, even for folks who worry about the (unproven, but understandable) dangers to small niche channels. Anyway, we may find out what happens sooner than you think. According to this Sept 2011 Reuters article, cable companies are already making the move.

In switch, cable operators want to go "a la carte"

NEW YORK, Sept 27 (Reuters) - U.S. cable operators are privately working on a plan to force programmers to unbundle their networks and allow customers to subscribe to channels on an individual basis. The plan represents a complete reversal from cable operators' long-held opposition to what is known as "a la carte" programming...

But executives now say the change is a necessary response to shifting dynamics such as higher carriage costs and using the Web to watch programs, as well as a weak economic recovery that has forced many consumers to cancel cable television subscriptions...An "a la carte" menu of programming would give consumers who are not sports fans the freedom to drop high cost sports channels such as Walt Disney Co's ESPN and ESPN 2 from basic packages...

"We feel that some of those expensive channels should be offered a la carte so only those people who want to watch them actually pay for them," said Jerry Kent, chief executive of Suddenlink, which has 1.3 million cable customers.

Rocco Commisso, chief executive of Mediacom, which has 1.2 million subscribers, sent a letter to Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski earlier this month that suggested "instituting a carefully designed a la carte system, so that decisions about what video services are bought are made by consumers themselves, rather than by content owners."

The specter of unbundled programming is likely to encounter fierce resistance from network owners such as Viacom Inc or Discovery Communications Inc, which are keen to maintain the economics of selling their most popular channels as a package with their smaller, nascent networks...

Moffett warned, however, that allowing customers to choose any station they wanted in any package would be economically unfeasible for both the consumer and the cable company. "It could be a la carte, but not as people imagine it now," he said referring to smaller packs of programming more akin to what Time Warner Cable Inc has tried. Last November, Time Warner Cable launched a three-city trial of a low cost TV Essentials pack with fewer channels. It now plans to expand that offer to other cities.

posted by mediareport at 2:38 PM on April 2, 2012


Following up a bit more, JPD...

If you force people to choose you'll have a big spike of people willing to purchase lowest common denominator type programming. You'll see everything pushed to the middle of the road. It won't be people cutting off ESPN - if anything it would be positive for ESPN and sports rights in general. It would be bad for smaller programs that appeal to a narrower audience.

So, to be clear, you're arguing that the per-subscriber fees companies like Time Warner pay to channels like Food Network, Turner Classic Movies, Syfy, etc, would fall if we were allowed to choose them individually, which would mean less money for the creatives who make the shows and possibly their complete elimination. Is that right?

Demand would look like ten channels or so with massive demand and lots of pricing power and, then 100 channels with a little bit of demand, and not a ton of pricing power.

I'm not sure I see the problem. Isn't that how just about every other art form works? Books, movies, music: a ton of folks like the lowest common denominator stuff, and a ton of others split the rest in various comfortable niches that somehow manage to work. Why not TV programming? Asking for a few more options beyond Basic and Expanded as a step in that direction seems to me a more than fair request to make of the cable companies. I've also read that some European TV companies already offer dozens of different packages, some with just a handful of channels (I know the systems are very different in other ways, but it would be interesting to compare).
posted by mediareport at 2:43 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


if anything it would be positive for ESPN and sports rights in general.

Oh, and the above is the opposite of what the first linked article claims:

Some consumer advocates have called for sports programming to be offered as a separate tier so the cost could be borne solely by sports fans, but the channels have fiercely resisted doing so because it would dramatically shrink their subscriber base. That, in turn, would yield less money to pay the likes of the new Dodgers owners and their star players.
posted by mediareport at 2:49 PM on April 2, 2012


You've got to read between the lines on that though - the cable operators have zero power over the "high cost" channels, that's why they are "high cost". The threat of going "a la carte" is a shot across their bow. Its an effort to pull back some of the economics from the in-demand channels. Its aimed at ESPN et al, not BBC Americas. The cable operators were built on the premise that they would get paid for the channels they carry, but they haven't. Its why the business has never actually made good returns despite the fact its a monopoly.

So, to be clear, you're arguing that the per-subscriber fees companies like Time Warner pay to channels like Food Network, Turner Classic Movies, Syfy, etc, would fall if we were allowed to choose them individually, which would mean less money for the creatives who make the shows and possibly their complete elimination. Is that right? Maybe not the cohort I had in mind, but yes.

Some consumer advocates have called for sports programming to be offered as a separate tier so the cost could be borne solely by sports fans, but the channels have fiercely resisted doing so because it would dramatically shrink their subscriber base. subscribers would fall, price would go up. Sky Sports in the UK charges 20 GBP/month, 30 GBP in high-def. The Suite of ESPN networks charges ~$5 if Argyle's link above is to be believed. Fox Sports is another 3 or so.
posted by JPD at 2:57 PM on April 2, 2012


subscribers would fall, price would go up

And we'd all see the true popularity and value of sports, right?
posted by mediareport at 3:00 PM on April 2, 2012


I've also read that some European TV companies already offer dozens of different packages, some with just a handful of channels

You also have much stronger government intervention in the TV programming market- especially when it comes to what the public broadcasters produce. No such thing as BBC4 in the US, and that ain't changing.

Why not TV programming?

Indeed - why not look what's its done for Radio in America.

Look my point isn't "unbundling is bad" its "unbundling will have consequences beyond lowering prices" depending on your tastes that might be good, it might be bad. If you think there are enough people with your tastes that your preferences will be reflected by what the market provides then its a win-win. For me, I'd probably drop down to just ESPN + FTA + HBO. I know it would be cheaper. I'd probably prefer it.

And we'd all see the true popularity and value of sports, right?
huh? is this an anti-sports thing? If sports didn't matter ESPN wouldn't be the single most profitable television asset in the country. ESPN wouldn't consistently get prices rises year after year.

I mean take your bet then and see what your chances are then.
posted by JPD at 3:09 PM on April 2, 2012


unbundling will have consequences beyond lowering prices" depending on your tastes that might be good, it might be bad.

Exactly. I'll take the chance. Again, a few more tiers/options would be fine.

is this an anti-sports thing?

Not at all; I like them fine but don't spend much time watching anymore. I just think you're avoiding the main point of the linked article: pro sports channels are now being heavily subsidized by non-viewers of those channels. Out of all the stuff on TV, isn't it bizarre that something so popular is the thing that's getting subsidized the most?
posted by mediareport at 3:21 PM on April 2, 2012


Out of all the stuff on TV, isn't it bizarre that something so popular is the thing that's getting subsidized the most?

Highest price /=/ highest subsidy.

The cable operators want - want - to tell the sports channels to cut their prices. They can't. They've been trying to for years. Literally every time a non-ESPN sports channel that's on the basic tier here in NYC comes up for renewal - SportsNewYork, YES (Aka Yankee Pravda), MSG (Knicks, Rangers) - TWC tries to either force them to lower their prices or move them to a premium tier at a higher per customer price - and they never succeed. So tell me what is the market saying about where the market power is?
posted by JPD at 3:42 PM on April 2, 2012


and they never succeed

Well, it looks like some of them are actually starting to do it now, which is great. I don't get your "what the market is saying" stuff at all. The point is that sports channel payments are currently *not* being set by what the market would say they are, due to a particular, and odd, set of historical circumstances whose inertia is tough to break.

I'll leave this now by just repeating: it is utterly bizarre that folks behind a realm of US pop culture with widespread popular appeal and tons of money are crying that they can't possibly exist without enormous subsidies from folks who don't consume their product and wouldn't pay for it if given the choice. Utterly bizarre. It's about as far insulated from "what the market is saying" as it's possible to get.
posted by mediareport at 6:11 PM on April 2, 2012


The issue is media companies bidding against each other for the broadcast rights. THAT market decided to get a bit too inflated, but the market for sports is still really, really huge. These companies aren't that far off base.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:43 PM on April 2, 2012


I think what you are missing is that companies like Disney simply won't sell a cable company ESPN alone. They insist that if you want ESPN and ABC, you will buy all their channels right on down to things like Disney XD and ABC Family and pay subscriber fees for the privilege.

So the studios don't want you to go ala carte.

The cable companies want steady revenue with locked in contracts, not a revenue stream that goes up and down depending on when specific series stop and start. They want simpler product offerings and simpler billing systems. Two tiny MSOs looking for a differentiator is the cable industry as a whole.

So the cable companies don't want you to go ala carte.

If there was ala carte pricing and it was adopted widely, 75% of the cable companies would fail, television production would enter a tailspin, and the bland crap of the widest possible demographic TV would return to primetime. There would be no niche or specialty TV channels.

While it's nice to think that ala carte pricing would simply allow people to avoid paying for ESPN, the end result would be far more complex than that.
posted by Argyle at 8:34 PM on April 2, 2012


So the cable companies don't want you to go ala carte.

And yet, there they are in the Reuters article, calling for a la carte pricing and offering experimental tiers and more choices. I get that Disney and other networks love to force bundling because it makes them more money; what I don't get is so many folks' bland acceptance of the sky-would-falling argument that if the current model is modified, then "75% of the cable companies would fail, television production would enter a tailspin, and the bland crap of the widest possible demographic TV would return to primetime. There would be no niche or specialty TV channels."

If you say so. Seriously, that's not an argument, that's a guess. It's also exactly the kind of fear-mongering companies like Disney have been making about OMGCHANGE for decades, whether it's VCRs, online piracy or - horror of horrors - actually allowing consumers a bit of choice in what channels they pay for. We should be at least a little more skeptical of it.
posted by mediareport at 9:38 PM on April 2, 2012


We've seen what chasing the lowest common denominator does though. It's wrestling on Siffy instead of Battlestar Galactica on The Sci-Fi Channel. The best shows aren't the most profitable.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:43 PM on April 2, 2012


So we leave things in Disney's hands to assure us all of quality?
posted by mediareport at 5:32 AM on April 3, 2012


So we leave things in Disney's hands to assure us all of quality?

No, I'm not saying that at all.

I'm trying to explain the complexity of the current situation and why change in the near future is unlikely. My views are based on a career spent inside the television industry, reading the contracts, and being the room for the strategic discussions.

I'm not trying to justify it as being 'right', just trying to describe it realistically.

Significant disruption in the way television is distributed is coming in the form of OTT (over the top) television and will likely be a boon for consumers. More competitors to the entrench cable & satellite companies will be good for the people as the costs will drop allowing much better price competition.

However, even then, IMHO, subscription packages will remain and people will continue to like them.
posted by Argyle at 6:42 AM on April 3, 2012


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