photo credit: the internet
by mike in boston / @mikeinboston / hatemailaccount at gmail
Good morning sports media watchers. It’s been a quiet couple of weeks as the Leafs season turns to ash, the Raptors play out the string of winning their division, and the Jays try to survive spring training. Here are some quick hits and hot takes to get us through until spring begins in earnest. As always, if there is something I’ve missed drop a link or note in the comments.
There are few governmental (or arm’s length) agencies more maligned in this country than the CRTC. It keeps our cell phone bills high, our access to American television content low, and arguably frustrates more than it facilitates our lives. But it is also partly responsible for protecting our cultural patrimony, and in an ideal world it would perform an important service looking out for Canadians as we try to avoid being devoured by Rogers and Bell.
The first notable CRTC ruling this week was on the issue of exclusive NHL content for Rogers customers who subscribe to GameCentre. As you may have heard, Rogers spent $5.2 billion dollars to partner up with the league over the next 12 years. In order to encourage viewers to switch over to Rogers from Bell, they made some things like camera angles “online exclusives”, to be accessed via an app called GamePlus. Bell complained that this breached the rules requiring large providers to offer and be able to offer access to competitors’ wares. Rogers execs called Bell “crybabies” and argued that without the ability to lure and retain subscribers via exclusive content, they would not be able to recoup their costs. The ruling came in Roger’s favour, and against Bell. James Bradshaw of the Globe has the story.
It’s hard to know how to feel about this. On the one hand, it’s great that media companies are looking for ways to add more content. That benefits the hardcore sports fan. The NFL Now app delivers fantastic free highlights packages and interviews. I use it at the gym throughout the football season to catch up on games I missed. The MLB At Bat app is the gold standard for up to the second game updates. It’s hard to remember watching baseball games without one’s iPad open to track pitch locations and other stats. On the other hand, as great as bonus content is, it’s useless if you can’t access it. It’s not hard to see where the puck is going following this ruling. Each side will have its own exclusive content and you’ll have to choose one over the other, when what you really want is access to both.
So in the end this ruling on exclusive material is probably bad for the hardcore consumer since there is no way to get access to all of it. Some people may find themselves in the position of needing to choose Rogers or Bell and will use exclusive content as a tie breaker. However most consumers will just stay with their existing provider and grumble that the other side has chosen to deprive them of something they want. If both companies were forced to make all bonus content available to all, the end result would likely be the same in terms of switchers. So all this ruling does is add one more thing for people to be annoyed about. That said, the hardcore sports consumer probably represents a tiny fraction of the overall subscriber base.
Question: are you likely to switch to Rogers for access to GamePlus?
More CRTC News
The second ruling from our regulatory overlords came in the form of a requirement that by late 2016 cable companies offer a “skinny” basic cable package and allow customers to pick small bundles or a la carte channel options on top of that. People have been beating the consumer choice drum for a generation and this is a pretty major development. James Bradshaw again has the story, but warns that this decision may have significant effects beyond customer freedom: “But greater choice could come with consequences: Some customers may pay more, a number of channels will likely die out and substantial revenue losses across the industry could mean job losses and less new content.”
I am not competent to speak to the current state of cable bundles nor the value one receives for the cost since I don’t pay for cable. Over to you: What do you pay for your cable? Has it gone up significantly over the last 5-10 years? How eager are you to pick your own channels?
The most interesting aspect of this ruling from a sports angle is what effect, if any, this will have on the value of sports rights. If you google “cable sports bubble” you’ll find plenty of recent articles by smart people talking about how broadcast rights are at peak-value because they are PVR-proof and can thus command astronomical rates from advertisers. These same articles warn that as people continue to cut the cord, there is a potential for that value to crater. If this ruling encourages more people to cut down their cable bills then there will be a huge effect on sports rights simply due to the fact that lots of people currently pay for sports channels they never watch. Think of your grandparents who only watch the weather channel and the CBC. Why do they need 10 sports channels? Christine Dobby at the Globe goes into some of the details of the ruling. (Great work by the Globe being all over this story.)
I’ll speak for my own case: I pay $8 a month for Netflix and $130 per year for the audio and video of every MLB game. This provides me with more content than I can possibly watch and none of it requires me to pay a monthly cable bill. Most of the NFL games I want to watch are available over the air. I watch some games in bars but overwhelmingly I catch up after the fact using league apps.
It’s not hard to see a future where all leagues charge a significant number of viewers directly for access to the games, and customers watch online, on mobile devices, or on their smart TVs via a streaming app. It is hard to see what happens to all the advertising dollars that are currently being funneled to the cable companies who pay for the rights. Do those same dollars just go to the leagues or do some of those dollars get lost since there is less money to be made courting online viewers as opposed to people captive on their couches? If so, does that create an incentive for leagues to prop up the cable model? Think of the recent Rogers/Bell bidding war for NHL rights. You need hungry networks to keep that cash flowing.
These are fascinating questions. This will be a story to watch as we move forward. In particular, I wonder how people see the value in paying for Sportsnet and TSN beyond access to the games? Both stations have invested a ton in fancy studios and highly paid personalities to deliver highlight packages and panel shows. What happens to all of that infrastructure if people stop needing sports cable channels to watch sports?
Question for you: if you could get your sports content directly from MLB/NFL/NHL/NBA/etc, would you still be interested in paying for cable?
Jonas Siegel Stays Home
We have spent a lot of time discussing the work of Mr. Jonas Siegel this season. Most people would agree that he does a good job as a beat reporter. I certainly think so. However, he chose to become part of the story on more than one occasion this season. We have debated the merits of those choices at length and there are, I think, reasonable arguments on both sides of both the Kessel and the Rielly incidents.
The reason we are talking about Jonas again is that he was not sent on the road with the Leafs on their recent Western trip. This is the first time, as far as I can gather, that this has happened since TSN1050 hired him to cover the Leafs. (I tried to confirm this with people at TSN but my queries went unreturned.) The natural question to ask is: why? The most obvious explanation is that the Leafs season is over, and sending him on the road is a waste of money. But in light of the previous incidents it is also reasonable to wonder if this says something about how TSN1050 views Siegel’s work. (I tried to get a clarification on this question from TSN but queries went unreturned.)
The more general question is whether TSN1050 is rethinking the value of having a daily beat reporter who travels with the team. Whether this is an indictment of Jonas or not, the fact is they chose to cut costs rather than have a radio guy on the Western swing. This is one aspect where TSN1050 has a competitive advantage over the FAN. The FAN axed Howard Berger’s old position, which was being filled by David Alter, and has been peeling the audio off the TV side to cover the gap on radio. Chris Johnston has also been appearing on the FAN quite a bit as a Leafs reporter, even though his twitter bio lists his title as “Senior Hockey Writer/Insider”.
I wrote at the time of Alter’s firing that this was a curious move for a company that is going all-in on hockey coverage. Why give the competition a valuable point of differentiation? We can debate the merits of having a beat reporter with the team day and night. I can see that in today’s media age this may not look like good value. But compared to what? If I have to choose between listening to another insider or listening to a reporter I know which choice I am making. Especially on the hockey side, the market is saturated with guys who have to give opinions — often several times or for several hours a day. As a listener and a reader, I tune many if not most of these guys out simply because I see them as trying to justify their jobs rather than as delivering discussion-worthy opinions.
It’s possible this is a hockey specific issue. Many of the reporters who cover the Jays do some of the best work in the city. For example, Scott MacArthur of TSN1050 and Shi Davidi of Sportsnet are both credible and interesting. Furthermore, there are no real local baseball insiders in the mold of Bob McKenzie (note the correct spelling this week) so there is less pressure for talking heads to compete for “insider” status.
Questions for you: should we read anything into Siegel’s March break? Do you care if TSN1050 stops sending him on as many road trips? How many insiders is too many? If you could get rid of one insider from each network, who would it be?
Sean Fitz-Gerald has a very informative piece on the impending Pan-Am and Para Pan-Am games. Representative quote: “Once again, it seemed like the Games could not get out of their own way.” I wish these games all the best and it is going to be great for Canadian athletes and their families to compete at home. That said, I could not be less interested in watching or attending any of the events.
Matthew Wuest, creator of the universally used hockey website Cap Geek, died this week at age 35 or 36. James Mirtle has a touching blog post on this very sad news.
Josh Cohen at Vice Sports picked up the CHL labour story and has a nice summary of the main issues. The question I keep hoping someone will answer is what percentage of players end up receiving full tuition waivers, and what happens to that money if the player does not go to college or university? For me this is the biggest issue if the leagues want to treat their players as student-athletes. If it turns out that few of them ever end up using the scholarship money then that undermines the justification for not paying them a working wage.
Serena Williams made an emotional return to Indian Wells. I don’t usually post a lot of human interest stories here, but I can’t get enough of this one.
Low Hanging Fruit
- A gander at Dean Blundell’s twitter feed this week treated viewers to references to “wet shits” and “blow jobs with teeth”. (Some of those tweets have since been deleted). This trend has been on the rise as the show has settled into itself. I wonder what effect, if any, this will have on the kinds of guests they are able to get.
- Fay Vincent was on PTS (March 16th, 4pm hour) this week. I could listen to Bob talk to Fay for hours. He’s one of my top 5 PTS guests of all time.
- Butch Carter made his return to Toronto radio after being banned from the FAN for ripping Raptors play-by-play man, and long-time FAN employee, Eric Smith. NewsTalk1010 host Barb DiGiulio tweeted this out: “The one and only @TOButchCarter joins me at 8 tonight. We talk about mentoring young athletes, and more.” Did anyone listen?
- If you were on the radio this week and did an Irish accent, you’re part of the problem.
- In the novel Suttree Cormac McCarthy writes: “There are no absolutes in human misery, and things can always get worse.” This more or less sums up my feelings about about non-Brunt PTS co-hosts. Come back Damien! Oh hell, come back Rob Faulds!
thanks for reading and commenting,
until next time …
mike (not really in boston)