Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Lot Left In The TV Rights Battle

Team and league rights fees and advertising dollars continue to dominate the sports media news this week. Even the lawsuits currently going on regarding Aereo and its online TV station delivery station have begun moving into the sports world. Aereo is currently allowed to provide subscribers with access to local "over-the-air" TV stations in various markets around the country for only a few dollars per month. Those are for stations which are also available on TV sets with a digital antenna. Local TV stations have begun fighting this service as if they are entitled to revenue for signals that they have been sending "free" for years.

Now comes word that NFL and MLB are requesting court intervention to prevent Aereo and any other similar services from adding other stations which show their games to outside markets. The leagues reportedly generate in the area of $100,000,000 in "retransmission rights" from "broadcast stations".

It appears that both leagues overlook the millions in rights fees they receive for local "over the air" telecasts, even though they are becoming fewer and further between in most cities. The more games the pro leagues allow cable networks to show, the lower the "over the air" rights fees will be, and many local advertisers will have one less resource.

This, while CSN Houston continues in a significant court battle over Astros rights, and while upstart cable networks are openly struggling for viewers. An Advertising Age report last week revealed that certain Fox Sports 1 advertisers are already being given additional time on Fox Sports college and NFL related programming in order to bring them some results. The story also revealed that some of those advertisers got some of the "extra" commerical availabilities during World Series telecasts, such as during pitching changes.

Fox Sports 1 only averaged just over 100,000 more prime time viewers during the third quarter than it did as Speed Channel during the similar period last year.

Meanwhile, an interesting Sunday (11/17) for CBS when the Baltimore at Chicago NFL game was delayed for nearly two hours due to the severe storm that moved through the Chicago area. Viewers in the Chicago area missed out on much of the pre-game show due to storm coverage, which WBBM-TV also continued with throughout much of the delay, while most of the rest of the audience for that game was sent to other games while waiting. This also gave CBS two additional hours of "coverage" in some areas until the game, which went into overtime, was concluded, bumping up against Fox Sports and its doubleheader telecast.

The viewer reaction in Chicago was mixed. Some people actually complained about weather coverage bumping some of the football coverage, while others had the opposite complaint due to the severity of the storm. Even the media reporters had a mixed reaction to the situation. This happened to be the second and last time this season that CBS had the Bears telecast in Chicago, since only two AFC teams per season play at Soldier Field in Chicago. However, WBBM-TV does not have an additional digital channel, and thus could not devote one channel to complete football coverage and another to weather coverage. That would have been the ideal solution, but it was not available.

It will be interesting to see if or how the NFL reacts to this. After all, it has only been in the past few years that football games have begun to experience rain or storm delays. (The power loss delays are a different matter.) I have to wonder what might have happened to the Bears-Ravens telecast had that been the doubleheader game and been delayed well into prime time - and directly against NBC's Sunday Night Football pre-game and game telecast window.

Elsewhere, a couple of unusual announcements. Turner Sports has decided to expand its exclusive telecasts of the NCAA Final Four telecasts on the Saturday leading into the championship game. TBS will continue as planned with the traditional national telecast of each semi-final game, marking the first time these games will be only on cable. Yet, sister networks TNT and TruTV will take the same production and make those "team" telecasts for fans of one of the teams.

I would love to get some feedback about this. On one hand, the network showing these games should be providing as thorough of coverage of each team as it can, and the "regular" national telecast should be sufficient. Other than Curt Gowdy goofing up the names of the Kansas team in the championship game many years ago, the finals have been well covered by whichever network. It seems as though we the people accept that championship games have been relatively neutral with their coverage.

On the other hand, this concept does give viewers a new option they have not experienced before, at least for TV. (Satellite radio listeners have had the option of hearing the national or either local broadcasts for many playoff and championship broadcasts over the past few years.) The ability to experience one team coverage and different announcers could add enjoyment even for the casual fan.
The thought of a having a controversial play (and how often that happens in a championship game!) and the ability to switch between all of the coverage has a lot of intrigue.

Finally, there was the announcement that the Oakland Raiders now have a separate channel on Pandora. At first, my thought was that Pandora is taking another step toward knocking off HD Radio by featuring a team and adding to their content inventory. I was expecting to read about replays of games and a long list of content. But no. Instead, the press release explains that the channel "is going to be a bunch of tracks to get you pumped up and ready for Raider football". In other words, this is nothing but a music channel along the lines of a music shuffle channel. I'm not seeing how that would pump anybody up for a football game.


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