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Broadcast Rat Race Week 1: “Blindspot” a Bright Spot, “The Muppets” Makes a Splash, “Minority Report” Looks Grim

I’m introducing a new feature on Da Blog, adapting the Renew/Cancel Index used by TVbytheNumbers the past few years to predict the fates of scripted shows on broadcast television. The basic formula involves taking the average live+same day 18-49 ratings of each show and dividing by the average of all scripted shows on that network. Shows above about .85-.9 generally get renewed, those below .7-.75 generally cancelled, with shows on Friday getting about .2 leeway given the lower ratings on the night.

The adaptation I’ve made is an attempt to address two related issues: first, shows could premiere to great ratings and then crash through the floor in subsequent episodes, resulting in the Index’s prediction adjusting to the show’s post-crash level faster than the Index number can catch up to the show’s new level. Second, the Index has generally reset at midseason, with the index numbers only factoring in shows’ performances in the new year, indicating that decisions on the renewal or cancellation of shows tend to weight ratings later in the season more heavily, if they don’t ignore fall ratings entirely. To address these, my Index is calculated by averaging each show’s most recent rating with the previous week’s average, so after the first two episodes the show’s average 18-49 rating is what gets divided by the network average, but after three episodes the third episode’s rating is averaged with the average of the first two episodes, so each episode counts twice as much as the one before. The network average is calculated normally. This isn’t a perfect approach, as it doesn’t really solve the first problem until at least the third episode and may overcorrect for the second problem, but most shows eventually find a level and put forth fairly consistent ratings for the latter part of the season.

Although 18-49 ratings are the main factor that goes into whether a show is renewed or cancelled, they aren’t the only one, especially for shows in the in-between range, although the other factors are pretty much all based around various business relationships and concerns and most of the other things that get bandied about in the media are ultimately irrelevant. Most obviously, a show that is produced in-house will generally get the edge over a show that isn’t, but one of the biggest factors in the fate of shows, especially veteran shows, that doesn’t often get talked about is the economics of the syndication market, which results in most shows being able to be broken down into a few categories based on their age, very few of which make it to the latter stages, which are affected by the index differently.

  • Rookie shows could conceivably get an index number anywhere on the scale, since the network has picked them up without having any past performance to work off of. Most rookie shows are only ordered for around 13 episodes, not the usual 22, and must earn their “back 9” orders based on their early ratings. Most shows with index numbers below .5 are rookie shows, and a show that does that poorly could well be cancelled after a handful of episodes, with the remainder of their initial orders being burned off in summer and/or on Saturdays (although networks may be moving towards letting them finish their initial orders no matter what). On the other end, rookie shows are particularly likely to have inflated premiere episodes, so rookie shows whose premiere ratings put them above the in-between range may be noted as being “Too Early” to call their fates. This year’s rookies, at least among shows premiering by the end of this week, are “The Muppets”, “Blood and Oil”, “Quantico”, “Dr. Ken” (ABC); “Life in Pieces”, “Limitless”, “Code Black” (CBS); “Blindspot”, “The Player” (NBC); “Minority Report”, “Scream Queens”, “Rosewood”, “Grandfathered”, and “The Grinder” (FOX).
  • Sophomore shows, that is, shows in their second season or otherwise finishing the season with less than 60 episodes, have established their security over the course of an entire season and thus enter Season 2 with a full 22 episodes to play with. Their performance generally only determines what their fate will be in May when the network makes their decisions for next year. “Fresh Off the Boat”, “black-ish”, “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC); “Scorpion”, “NCIS: New Orleans”, “Madam Secretary”, “CSI: Cyber” (CBS); “The Mysteries of Laura” (NBC); “Gotham”, “Empire”, “The Last Man on Earth”, and “Sleepy Hollow” (Fox) are in this category.
  • Things start getting interesting for shows on the syndication fast track. When a show is within a season of the magic number for syndication (generally assumed to be 88, or about four full seasons, although that number may be dropping to the low 70s), the production company will do everything in their power to get the show the additional season they need to get over that magic number. Thus, shows that will finish their season (usually the third) with a season’s worth of episodes left to hit 88 are all but guaranteed to get the fourth season they need to get over the hump. It isn’t quite a guarantee, especially for shows that aren’t produced in-house given “The Mindy Project” was cancelled after three seasons last year and had to finish its run online, but it is a force unstoppable enough that TVBTN predicts certain renewal for every in-house show in this category. I don’t go that far, but shows in this category do start out with the color of “probable renewal” in their prediction column before they premiere, and thereafter are placed one color rank higher than their index number would otherwise suggest; in-house productions may never fall below “probable renewal”. “The Goldbergs”, “Agents of SHIELD” (ABC); “Chicago PD”, “The Blacklist” (NBC); and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (FOX) are all shows premiering by the end of this week that are on the fast-track; “Sleepy Hollow” is not, despite being in its third season, because it’s a half-season-long “limited series” whose shorter episode orders don’t put it in range. (CBS isn’t devoid of fast-track shows, but “Mom” doesn’t premiere until after Thursday Night Football ends.) On the other hand, I may be a teensy bit more likely to predict cancellation for non-in-house shows on the lower end of the in-between range that would enter this category next season.
  • All other shows are veteran shows, which for my purposes are all shows that have gotten over the 88-episode hump for syndication, or are in the process of doing so. These shows could still be cancelled, but especially for in-house shows, the terms of the syndication deal can matter as much if not more than the show’s ratings in going into the decision. A network could very well keep a marginally-rated show on the air in order to pump out more episodes to feed the syndication pipeline. As such, the “probably cancelled”, in-between, and “probably renewed” ranges extend a bit further down than in the first two categories, and predictions for these shows are much more of a crapshoot in general unless they have ratings good enough for renewal in their own right. The renewal and cancellation of rookie and sophomore shows can be reasonably reliably predicted based on their ratings and who produces them; if a bunch of veteran shows are all on the bubble, nothing you do is likely to be much more accurate than guessing, which also makes it harder to predict the fortunes of young shows.

How to read the chart: First box shows current time slot, second box current season number. Eps: Total number of episodes aired / total number of episodes ordered (if known). Last: 18-49 rating of the most recent episode. Raw: Average of first-run 18-49 ratings. Adj.: Average of the most recent episode and the previous Adj. rating. RawIdx: Raw divided by the network scripted show average. Index: Adj. divided by the network scripted show average. In general, >1.1=certain renewal, .85-1.1=probable renewal, .7-.85=on the bubble, .6-.7=probably cancelled. Anything substantially less than .6 for rookie shows indicates a dead show walking. Prod: Production company that produces the show (ABC=ABC Studios, CBS=CBS Television, Fox=20th Television, NBCU=Universal Television, Sony=Sony Pictures Television, WB=Warner Bros. Television). Asterisks indicate co-productions distributed by company shown. Incorporates ratings through Sunday, September 27; write-ups do not take into account Monday’s ratings or news. Network averages used: ABC 2.15, CBS 2.12, FOX 2.06, NBC 1.86. Read More »

An Open Letter to Steve Ballmer

A while back I heard that you had rejected a $60 million dollar offer from Fox Sports to renew their contract to show Clippers games and were considering setting up your own streaming service.

I can’t say I’m terribly surprised. You leaped pretty much directly from being the CEO of Microsoft to owning the Clippers. At Microsoft, you’ve been immersed in the pace of technological change and the increasing role computers have played in our lives for virtually the company’s entire ascent; once in charge, you saw a path for Microsoft to remain relevant in a tablet world, a path that gave Microsoft its biggest OS embarrassment this side of Vista (also released during your tenure) in the short term but which Apple recently affirmed the wisdom of. You already dipped your toe in the streaming-video revolution with the XBox. You see the direction technology is going and the revolution that is already upending the cable industry and the business model Fox’s RSNs run on, and you want to blaze a trail with a new business model in a territory you’re more familiar with than any other owner of a professional sports team not named Paul Allen. You want to set the course for the professional sports team business model of the future that teams around the country hope to follow. So what’s the best business model to go with?

Let’s say you decide to put up a paywall and offer Clippers games as a subscription service. A source quoted in the New York Post thinks you could make up for the money lost by not taking the Fox deal by selling subscriptions for $12 a month to 500,000 homes. Without even looking I’m pretty confident in saying the average audience for Clippers games on Prime Ticket isn’t even a third of that as it is. So let’s assume that, regardless of price, the most households you can get to subscribe to a service that’s offering just Clippers games is 150,000. To make up the $60 million Fox is offering, you’d need to charge $400 a season. Even at $35 a month, that’s going to cut off a substantial number of households that can’t afford that much, forcing you to increase the price higher, forcing more homes out of the service, and so on. That’s before production costs Fox would have covered as well as the costs of hosting the games on your server and sending it out to customers.

Okay, so you don’t care about how profitable the deal is in the short term; you’re getting out in front on a business model that’s more sustainable than what Fox has and you want to control it all yourself. So long as it’s profitable or even takes a loss in the short term, you’re building a streaming infrastructure you can sell out to other teams and taking in all the advertising money instead of letting Fox take it. But even with all that, there’s another, deeper problem. LA is a frontrunning town to begin with, and despite your recent success and the Lakers’ recent floundering, you’re still very much the #2 team in LA, with even record low Lakers ratings not being enough to fall behind the Clippers. The Clippers aren’t even like most other places with two teams in the same sport (including LA’s baseball and hockey teams) in that they don’t draw from any particular geographic area; no one, I suspect, is truly a diehard Clippers fan, they just follow the Clippers because they can’t bring themselves to root for the Lakers. (In other words, most of your fans are probably Bill Simmons-types, in that they’re expatriates from other places who hate the Lakers too much to shift their allegiance to them but still want to see basketball games regularly as long as they’re in LA.) Donald Sterling’s decades of incompetence isn’t going to be washed away overnight; as successful as the Clippers have been in the last few years of Sterling’s tenure and the start of yours, it’s going to take many, many years, maybe generations, to build a fanbase that’ll follow your team through thick and thin, and that assumes nothing goes wrong in the meantime, that the Clippers will remain as successful and attractive as it is today. Your reign has already shown signs of mismanagement of its own, even if not at Sterling levels; what happens if Jimmy Buss gets forced out somehow, either relinquishing control of the Lakers to the more competent Jeanie or outright selling the team?

You’re counting on the team being and remaining attractive enough that people will pay up to see your team’s games that aren’t on national television. If the team starts to fall back to earth, people will cancel their subscriptions and you’ll have less revenue, and it’ll be that much harder to get back to where you were before. To those people, your team will become all but invisible, even further out of the LA sports conversation than under Sterling, and it’ll be that much harder to get those people back if the team does get good again. That’s before even considering all the fans you’d be pricing out of the market to begin with, or the casual fans who won’t elect to pay you for games they might not watch that much of and whom it’ll be that much more difficult to turn into hardcore fans who will pay.

Okay, so let’s say you go in the complete opposite direction and offer Clippers games to everyone in your television territory for free. You could even go one step further and offer Clippers games to everyone period for free, and try to build the team up as “America’s Team”, but the NBA is likely to frown on that; you’d be undercutting the NBA League Pass package and the RSN deals of all your opponents. So let’s just restrict it to your TV territory for now.

According to the Los Angeles Times, last season Clippers games averaged a 1.04 rating on Prime Ticket, a decline from either 1.25 or 1.27 the previous season. That means 1.04% of all television households were watching a Clippers game at any given time over the course of the season. That may not sound like much, but during the 2014-15 season the Los Angeles market boasted 5.5 million households with television. 1.04% of that number is a little under 58,000. Since you’re offering games for free to people who may have cut the cord, we can assume the number could climb a little higher; 1.25-1.27% would bring the number to around 70,000, but for particularly attractive games the number could top 100,000. Are you ready to provide the infrastructure required to deliver Clippers games to 100,000 devices at once, without buffering, lag, or other problems, especially as audiences demand better picture quality through technologies such as 4K? Can you handle the even larger audiences that would come with an “America’s Team” strategy?

This is why the prospect of streaming disrupting the live-event market in the way it’s disrupted the market for on-demand shows has always been overblown. The true reason sports has become so important to the linear television industry is that it’s the one place where linear television’s strengths shine – its ability to scale to deliver content to many people at once. That doesn’t mean you aren’t smart for blowing off Fox – they can only pay you $60 million because they charge hefty subscription fees to every household in the LA area that subscribes to cable, and if only 70-100,000 of them watch Clippers games (and it’s not like the Kings, Ducks, and high-school and lower-tier college sports are that much more popular), the rest of them aren’t going to take it much longer, and it won’t be long before that $60 million rights fee evaporates. Does that leave you completely trapped? Is there a way forward towards pioneering a new sports-rights paradigm for the twenty-first century suited for the challenges inherent in it?

Yes, and it’s a decidedly retro one: sign a contract with a group of broadcast stations.

Due to its size and relative isolation, Los Angeles has pretty much the most broadcast television stations in the country, even if a good number of them are foreign-language and other multicultural stations. Leaving aside the Big Four affiliates, KTLA, KCAL, KCOP, and KDOC are all general entertainment stations with histories with sports, and the first three have all aired Clippers games at various times in the past. As has always been the case all over the country when broadcast stations have aired local sports, they never aired more than a small smattering of Clippers games, which opened the door for regional sports networks to take the rest and, in most cases (including the Clippers), ultimately take them all. For this strategy, which is also a strategy for the very survival of broadcast television itself, that’s going to have to change.

The key is that, in the long term, this strategy is really a modification of the offer-games-for-free strategy, except it’s moving the delivery mechanism to one that’s better suited to the task, one that can better handle large audiences tuning in for at least the highest-demand games, and one that requires considerably less expenditure on infrastructure to start. You’re still producing the games yourself and controlling their distribution and advertising revenue; you’re simply syndicating the games to broadcast stations within your TV footprint as a means to manage demand while maximizing exposure, giving stations control of a small percentage of advertising in the process to target their specific markets. Selling advertising on the traditional linear television model may give you the chance to increase ad rates compared to the usual online model of serving up custom ads based on users’ personal information, a model there’s a lot of resistance to.

The amount broadcast stations can pay you will probably still be inflated by the cable bundle as stations hope to use Clippers games to maximize retransmission consent revenue, but if there’s no major change in the regulatory environment in the near term and cable operators continue to try to prop up their subscriber numbers with “skinny bundles”, that market may remain intact for longer than you think, or at least longer than the RSN market will. Moreover, in the long term linear television of all stripes, broadcast and cable, will be as much a demand-management mechanism for broadband providers as anything else. A typical optical node on a cable operator’s network, which serves as the last relay point before reaching individual households, serves 500-2000 homes, according to Wikipedia; even on the low end of that scale, if 1.04% of those homes are trying to watch a Clippers game that amounts to at least five households, which may not sound like much but which means serving them all with a single linear television stream could reduce the bandwidth demands to a fifth of what they would be otherwise. With continued technological development, especially the advent of ATSC 3.0 which should be finalized by this time next year, you should be able to reach a wide variety of devices with a bare minimum of need for the Internet to deliver video, including being able to reach mobile devices without needing to use viewers’ data plans or going through wireless carriers, something a cable network or streaming service can’t do. People could use any Internet-capable device, including what we call a television today, to watch the game directly from the broadcast signal (or a relay thereof sent over Wi-Fi) while going through the Clippers’ web site.

Of course, all this assumes the broadcast stations in question are even interested. KCOP is owned by Fox, the very same entity whose $60 million offer you rebuffed, and they are not going to take part in undermining their RSN hegemony and substantial investment in cable networks – unless you convince them that that hegemony and those cable networks are going to crumble anyway and at least this allows them to get a piece of your streaming plan and salvage something from the ashes. CBS, which owns KCAL, might be more receptive but has enough cable dreams and investment in retransmission consent of their own to be hesitant. KTLA might have a different problem – the prospect of regularly pre-empting CW network shows – and would only really be an option to the degree we’d like if the CW shuts down or Tribune no longer takes part in it, and KDOC is the smallest of the four stations we’re considering, and might well put up its spectrum for bid in next year’s incentive auction. But that just underscores the importance and impact what you do could have on two industries – and the urgency of it. We already know anything other than the traditional RSN model will help set the tone for the local sports media landscape of the future. But signing up with a group of broadcast stations won’t just establish an infrastructure that might be, technically, the best one available, one with direct and indirect benefits to numerous parties. By pointing the way forward to an era of increased importance and relevance, it might just save the broadcast television industry from itself.

Football season approacheth!

I suppose I should probably get this site ready for football season. To be honest, I’m tempted to stop following the lineal titles; I haven’t done anything with them outside of these introductory posts in a few years and here I am putting up this post with the start of the college football season literally hours away. Besides, the advent of a true college football playoff makes those titles more likely to see unifications and less likely to see split titles in the first place and thus less fun. But we charge forth into the breach regardless.

(I’ve had a few people ask me on Twitter when the Flex Schedule Watch starts. It has always started four or five weeks into the NFL season, whenever CBS and Fox’s protections are due.)

The NFL title is pretty straightforward, bouncing around a few different Western teams over the course of last season before winding up back with the Seahawks heading into the playoffs; I’ll be tracking a “DeflateGate” title that remains with the Seahawks. On the college side, Florida State went undefeated until the Rose Bowl so Ohio State starts the season with the 2006 Boise State title; Michigan State lost 2009 Boise State to Oregon in their second game of the season, but after Oregon lost to Arizona the title bounced around the Pac-12 for a while and never made its way back to Oregon, ending the regular season with Washington, so it starts with Oklahoma State and could be unified with Princeton-Yale, now in the hands of TCU (although TCU has to avoid losing to Minnesota first).

Despite its ostensible importance, I’m honestly not sure if this plotline actually served any purpose other than whatever happens in the next strip. Not complaining, yet.

Nothing the gods have said has contradicted anything Shojo told the OOTS - which considering they seem to be talking mostly with each other, probably suggests most of what we learned about their dealings, at least, is true.(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized dynamic entry.)

For the past couple months-plus Homestuck has been the main thing distracting me from getting any work done on the book or other things that might actually be productive… so naturally my triumphant return to webcomics posts involves OOTS.

When Rich Burlew signaled that anyone tired of the constant internal strife between Durkon and his vampiric doppelganger “would be in for a rough 2015”, I let my reading of OOTS come to a stop. Not because that struggle was bad per se, though it certainly was dominating the early comics of the sixth book and seemed clunkily-written and cringe-inducing at times, but because of the same problem I had with Gunnerkrigg Court: I could not handle the high drama and emotional torque of the plotline. Rich seems to have made a tradition of ramping up OOTS‘ Cerebus Syndrome even more than it already was on a regular basis; when Haley and V dropped an oblique reference to it back in Book 2 it sparked surprise on Websnark, the site that gave birth to the term, because OOTS supposedly had never gone through it, but an honest accounting of the strip’s drama levels shows that it had indeed gone through it as early as the 43rd comic – which didn’t stop it from going through it “for real” at the end of the book with the revelation of the gate plotline. Book 5’s length seems to be partly Rich’s way of signalling that the plot really was getting down to business at this point in a way it hadn’t even in Book 3 (in retrospect OOTS‘ Golden Age), but the Durkula plotline seemed to mark the point at which OOTS did what once was unthinkable, the thing that once prevented Websnark from declaring it to have gone down the path of Cerebus Syndrome: the point where OOTS‘ dramatic aspects began to push out its comedic ones.

What I didn’t anticipate was that Durkon’s plot would be the very first proper plot point in Book 6, and it would only take most of 2015 to get to this point because of Rich’s excruciatingly slow update schedule of late, coupled with a side-plot tying up Haley’s loose end with the Thieves’ Guild. Now barely 50 strips into the book, Hel has achieved the goal she hijacked Durkon’s body for – and Roy has finally figured out how badly he’s been played.

Although Rich paid a lot more attention to the advent of the 1000th strip than the multiples of 100 that passed in the last book, the real impact is still to come. There is, of course, no way Rich will allow the vote to go as it stands and have the world be destroyed when he’s less than half the first book’s length into the sixth. But the main other way for the plot to be resolved – for Roy (and possibly a dramatic entrance from Belkar) to finish Durkon off – also seems like it’s happening a little early in the entire plotline of the series, let alone the book, especially when the end of Book 5 and all of Book 6 so far have given the impression Durkon’s internal struggle would be the main underlying plotline of the book (in fact, there’s not much sense so far of where the plot will go from here, assuming there’s still at least one more book after this). Moreover, you get the sense Durkon’s plot isn’t over either; he had to have some idea that by dragging Roy here he’d tip him off to what his true nature was, and that Roy wouldn’t just stand by and let them carry out their plot. If you look in the last panel, he and Hel are both smirking as Roy swoops down into the chamber, giving the sense that Roy taking on Durkon was part of their plan all along. Perhaps they figure there’s no way Roy (and maybe even Roy and Belkar together) are a match for a high-level spellcaster with vampiric powers (if V were in the room with them it might be another matter) – indeed there’s a disturbingly-good chance that now is when Belkar’s long-awaited death prophecy kicks in (which is fitting considering the last time it was teased, it ended in the resolution of Durkon‘s death prophecy that started this whole mess to begin with). Or more likely, they figure Roy’s little escapade will effectively swing the vote in their favor anyway because of some obscure violation of the rules of this little convocation.

Thinking about it, I almost think the most likely way for this to be resolved (other than Hel being wrong about how the demigods vote) is for the real Durkon to wrench control back of his body at a critical moment – perhaps spurred on by Roy realizing his plight at some point and giving him some encouraging words – and nullifying Hel’s vote by switching his allegiance back to Thor at least long enough for the result to be made official (although given what’s been hinted before I’m not sure that’s even possible). This is especially the case when one considers the Order’s divine casting situation; Durkula roped Roy into this plot to begin with by noting that the team would need more divine power than he could provide in his vampirized state, and no matter what else for them to simply lose Durkon right now would probably make them too weak at the worst possible moment. While bringing some of the assembled clerics with them to Kraagor’s Gate is an option (one Roy has already made some progress on), a more likely solution is for Roy to accomplish what he thought he was coming here for to begin with: resurrecting Durkon. Or perhaps the Durkula plotline isn’t over after all, considering the other prophecy hanging over his head from On the Origin of PCs (now available in PDF form!)

Whatever the case, I think I’m back to reading OOTS on a regular basis, at least through the next strip and the resolution of this cliffhanger.

Peeking my head back in the door…

You may have noticed that my posting frequency has dropped through the floor in recent months. I wish I could say that that’s because I’ve been working on the book I’ve referred to obliquely in the past.

In reality, what’s been happening is that I’ve been wasting a lot of my time on frivolous projects and trying to catch up on the book towards the end of each month. We’ve just submitted a version of the book that falls far short of my expectations to reviewers and pegged a release date of the beginning of December, and only because that’s the absolute latest we were willing to let it go past. About a month and a half ago I started catching back up on Homestuck for the first time in close to two years, which would be sort of productive if I didn’t promptly fall back into frivolous stuff and end up not really being able to write a post on the time that I missed.

I’m hoping to have a more substantial post or two on Monday, and I’ve been advised to pick up my posting frequency in general to gin up more interest in the book, but I’m still not happy with how my 2015 has gone so far, or the effectiveness of this whole “move to LA” experiment.

After Sepp Blatter: FIFA Reform, or Western Imperialism? (Or Neither?)

What can Vladimir Putin and Jeremy Schaap tell us about the just-concluded Sepp Blatter era at FIFA?

As the ongoing corruption scandal came to a head last week with the indictments of several prominent FIFA officials, something came to light that put Blatter’s reign in a new perspective for me, which I first learned from a clip from Schaap’s E:60 profile of the FIFA grand poobah: under FIFA’s rules, every nation gets one vote in all decisions, no matter their relative qualifications. The United States has exactly the same number of votes as Brazil, Germany, China, or Montserrat. So while you might think of UEFA as the strongest, most powerful of soccer’s continental confederations on the pitch, when it comes to decisions in the FIFA boardroom UEFA can only bring its 53 member organizations’ votes, roughly a quarter of FIFA’s 209 total – a not insignificant number, but small enough that once Africa and Asia’s confederations reaffirmed their support of Blatter, his reelection last week was all but assured no matter how much UEFA, its members, and the US condemned him.

This provides a glimpse into the source of Blatter’s power: by rallying the many small nations across the world to his cause. It’s easy to see why FIFA works this way: to make sure rich, well-heeled nations can’t push smaller, poorer nations out of their way in order to get their way. In theory, this structure makes sure FIFA works for the good of the game across the entire world, not just working for the interests of the most powerful nations. Blatter’s reign saw the World Cup held in South Africa, the first World Cup to be held anywhere on the African continent, and a vote to hold the World Cup in the tiny Middle Eastern nation of Qatar, and Blatter has cited the growth of and investment into the game in smaller, poorer nations as one of the legacies of his reign. Most of the criticism of Blatter, FIFA, and the Qatar vote has come from the United States (whose own bid for the 2022 World Cup lost to Qatar), Europe, and other heavily Western-influenced nations (Australia was the other 2022 front-runner). If you were to try to defend FIFA and Blatter’s reign, this is where you would start: with the notion that this entire corruption sting, call for reform, and call to strip the 2022 World Cup from Qatar (and implicitly give it to the US or Australia) is an effort by the Western powers to grab power away from the poorer, smaller nations of the world, take the World Cup away from a small Middle Eastern nation, and appropriate more power (and another World Cup) for white people in the most powerful nations. Indeed, that’s pretty much how most of those that have attempted to defend Blatter, including Putin, have done so.

Of course, while the theory behind a “one-nation-one-vote” structure is to provide more power to smaller nations and prevent the bigger ones from muscling their way into getting their way, the reality is that it just gives a lot of power to people from nations with not a lot of resources, realistically not much to gain through legitimate channels, and (as Putin’s defense of Blatter points to) not much respect for democracy and the rule of law. That’s a recipe for a disproportionate number of those nations’ representatives to use their position to line their own pockets with little regard for the good of the game or of FIFA. Indeed most of last week’s indictments appear to have fallen on representatives of small nations in the Caribbean and South America. Qatar is hardly a poor, underprivileged nation; the general consensus in the Western nations seems to be that Qatar won the World Cup by slathering FIFA members in its considerable oil money. Rather than neuter the power of nations with the most money, FIFA’s governance structure simply gives the power to the nations with the most money and the least inhibitions against spending it illegitimately, by giving too much power to people most likely to resort to corruption.

But if FIFA’s corruption is baked into its governance structure, the prospects for reform might be dim. There’s no guarantee that when new elections for a new FIFA president are held later this year that the small nations won’t rally around a candidate that promises them business as usual (possibly while making enough public commitments to reform to shut up the critics), and it’s not clear they’re convinced enough of the need for reform that they’ll allow any reforms to go forward that might blunt their own power. Sepp Blatter may be just a symptom of a more systemic problem, and the resignation of one president means little when it comes to the thorny issue of cleaning up that problem.

What the Mayweather-Pacquiao Distribution Problems Say About the Future of Linear Television

Of the many, many issues with the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, from the fact it took so long to be put together to the continued arguments even after the fight came together to Credential-gate to the lackluster nature of the fight itself, the one that I found to be most interesting, and most telling both of the problems facing boxing and of the future of big-time sporting events in general, was the massive problems just getting the fight to the people who ordered it on pay-per-view. Every major cable system and probably most of the top minor systems were fending off complaints:

Though the cable systems took the brunt of the abuse, I’m not sure they were really to blame. HBO and Showtime called on people to “order early to avoid possible problems late” out of fear “the system” wouldn’t be able to handle a surge of orders, and the use of the singular suggests their concerns were on the joint venture’s end. As people flooded Twitter and operator lines with complaints on Saturday, though, HBO seemed to pass the buck back to distributors, so maybe I’m reading too much into it. Regardless, the result was the same: so many people wanted to watch the fight that “the system” couldn’t handle them all, to the point that the fight itself was delayed 45 minutes to allow all the orders to be processed. That doesn’t happen with other live events with far larger audiences than the over 3 million estimated buys of this fight:

What’s the difference? When it comes to events like the Super Bowl, cable operators don’t have to process each order individually – anyone can just turn on whatever channel the game is on if they’re already subscribed to or otherwise able to receive it. Hmm, I wonder if there’s any other means of distribution that’s like pay-per-view in this way

Besides serving as a potential knockout punch (if you’ll pardon the pun) to the idea that the Internet can ever replace linear television entirely, more evidently and directly this debacle raises serious questions about whether or not the Internet might lead to more widespread adoption of the pay-per-view model, which this fight showed cannot scale to the level of many millions of households with or without the benefits of linear television. Broadcasters are hoping to include the ability to restrict their content to paying customers like cable networks have in the next-generation television standard, but methinks that’s more likely to take the form of the subscription model than a pay-per-view model; I can’t imagine big events like the Super Bowl moving to a platform any more restricted than an ESPN/HBO-type platform (and I certainly hope the NFL, already courting streaming disaster with this upcoming season’s experiment with airing one London game on a digital platform, won’t compound it by making it a pay-per-view experience). Indeed, I can’t help but wonder, assuming there’s sufficient economic incentive to avoid this fate in the future, whether the WWE’s move to a subscription model with the WWE Network, as well as boxing’s sudden recolonization of broadcast and non-premium cable television this year (by way of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions), might be rooted in a recognition that both “sports” might need to either dump the PPV model entirely or at least maintain the advantages of linear television if either one is going to continue to survive and thrive in the media landscape of the future.

Secret Wars and the Death of Superhero Comics

I blame everyone who ever bought a New 52 comic.

Back in January Marvel announced it would be launching a new Secret Wars event, 30 years after the original, except this one would be far more than a diversion for some superheroes to jump to a faraway planet, come back, and see all the battles that happened in the interim play out over the next year. This one would be the closest thing to a Crisis-style reboot Marvel has ever had – and Crisis on Infinite Earths is, from a story perspective, a rather apt comparison.

Come May, some sort of “incursion” that has been wiping out universes will strike the main Marvel universe, which will be reduced to a Manhattan that is merged with its Ultimate universe equivalent and plopped down on “Battleworld”, this version of which is made up of shards from many different universes, many of them inspired by various tales from various continuities from Marvel’s past.

What happens after all the dust settles, what the new status quo is going forward, isn’t entirely clear; Marvel’s powers-that-be are being understandably tight-lipped to avoid spoilers, and considering that Secret Wars #0 is coming out this Saturday for Free Comic Book Day, I’m pretty sure they’ve given out as much as they’re going to give out. But given what they have said – that “Battleworld is the new Marvel Universe“, that “the Marvel Universe is Secret Wars” and “the new Marvel Universe really does start in May” by the time Secret Wars #2 comes out, that “we don’t believe our history is broken”, that we should look for clues in the slogan “when everything ends, there is only Secret Wars”, that Secret Wars, as Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso puts it, “is not an intermission from our regularly scheduled program; it is our regularly scheduled program”, that “all of the series that we’re doing — all of them — are slices of the pie or toppings on the pie“, that the titles that will supposedly be setting up the future of the Marvel Universe (called “Warzones!”) will amount to “events within the event” taking place in individual zones on Battleworld, everything Marvel has done to attempt to reassure fans that no, really, this really isn’t a reboot – I’m left to reach the conclusion that what happens at the end of Secret Wars to produce a new Marvel Universe is… nothing, that the only difference between the Marvel Universe during Secret Wars and after is that Secret Wars is simply the conflict that is going to naturally flare up from kitbashing so many disparate universes together onto one world (although there is some suggestion of the existence of “universes” plural, and Secret Wars has also been compared to the X-Men’s Age of Apocalypse event that was mostly undone by the same thing that caused it at the end), and the Marvel Universe going forward is simply going to be whatever is left of Battleworld after the dust settles, a patchwork of numerous disparate, seemingly incongruous times and genres all smushed together, possibly still divided into discrete zones City of Heroes-style.

If I’m right, well, in one sense Marvel is correct to indicate that this isn’t a full-fledged reboot in the same vein as what DC has carried out over the years; whereas DC has long loved to say “everything you know is wrong”, here Marvel seems to be saying “everything you know is right“, even if much of it might seem incompatible. But in so doing, Marvel is abandoning any claim to have any relationship to reality, something that gives superhero comics so much of their power. Earth is not going to exist in the new Marvel Universe, only an artificial world resulting from a smashing-together of places designed to accommodate writers’ desire to tell whatever kind of story they want, no matter how unlikely it may be for them to coexist.

Ironically, when Marvel started one of the many things that made it stand out from DC and its other superhero imitators, and probably the one way that best encapsulated the others, was how realistic it was – the Marvel universe was so carefully crafted that multiple people who grew up on Marvel comics have attested that they could believe the sorts of things they read were accounts of things that really were happening in New York, in the real world you and I live in, all simply being reported and dramatized by the Marvel staff. Setting the books in a real city like New York was just one way this was accomplished; Stan Lee cultivated a more direct relationship between a comic company and its readership than had ever been attempted, the characters went through trials and tribulations the books’ readership could relate to, many of the books touched on themes that were in the news at the time (the space race, discrimination, nuclear testing and the dangers of radiation, the Cold War), and by and large the characters tended to be less god-like powerful than their DC counterparts. Say what you will about the New 52 (and I’ve said plenty), but at least the books DC is putting out are still set on an Earth that’s at least vaguely like our own. DC will soon be beating Marvel at its own game.

How did this happen? How did Marvel fall so far from the ideals that made it so relevant to begin with? Read More »

How Kentucky May Have Saved Turner From Another Teamcast Fiasco

Last year Turner, in their first year airing the Final Four, decided to supplement their main coverage on TBS with two “teamcast” feeds on TNT and truTV, offering team-centric coverage of each team in each game. The result, however, was people turning on the teamcasts thinking they were the main feed and complaining about the “biased” announcers. So as much as Turner may have publicly proclaimed the Teamcasts a “success”, when they announced they would be repeating the Teamcasts this year, it was clear they would need to do more to direct people to the main feed on TBS and let them know what the purpose of the Teamcasts actually were, whether over the previous rounds of the tournament or at the Final Four itself.

Kentucky may have just done more to achieve that goal than anything Turner did or could do itself.

One of the more noteworthy elements of the Teamcast fiasco was that the vast majority of complaining tweets concerned the TNT Teamcast, and TNT’s viewership far outpaced truTV’s viewership for both teamcast games, making up a substantial chunk of the viewership for both games. Because of this, a leading theory for the cause of the Teamcast fiasco, or at least a factor that might have exacerbated it, was that people associated TNT with “the basketball channel”, not making the association Turner wanted them to make with TBS as the network for college basketball. To me, this only made sense if it only applied to those people that hadn’t watched TBS’ coverage of the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight; if they had watched those games, they could have probably figured out that TBS was airing games in rounds TNT wasn’t, and was likely to continue doing so into the Final Four. But the numbers back that up as well: TBS’ Elite Eight games last year had viewership numbers of 9.97 million and 7.2 million. The Final Four games had audiences of 10.39 million and 7.1 million on TBS alone. In other words, Kentucky/Wisconsin didn’t improve much over the Elite Eight numbers on TBS alone, and Connecticut/Florida did worse on TBS alone than either Elite Eight game. The Teamcast confusion primarily affected people parachuting in for the Final Four without necessarily having watched much of anything from the earlier rounds.

Fast forward to this year, when Kentucky played Notre Dame in a thrilling fight to the finish with Kentucky’s perfect season on the line on TBS. The result was a game that attracted an 8.4 household rating and 14.7 million viewers, the highest-rated and most-watched college basketball game on a single network in cable history (which opens up a whole other can of gripes for me, but whatever). That’s 14.7 million viewers with no choice but to turn on TBS to watch the game, and 19.7 million tuning in during the quarter-hour starting at 10:45 PM. To put that in perspective, Connecticut-Florida only attracted 11.65 million viewers last year across all networks, while Kentucky-Wisconsin attracted 16.25 million.

How many of those millions of people that turned on TBS to watch Kentucky-Notre Dame will now know to turn on TBS to watch the Final Four? We’ll know in a week’s time how this year’s Teamcast (or “Team Stream” as it’s being billed this year) works out; ideally both games would see the vast majority of their audience flip to TBS and leave tiny portions of the audience on TNT and truTV. But if Duke-Michigan State sees most of its audience turn on TBS, but Kentucky-Wisconsin sees only about 13 million or so people turn on TBS, we’ll know any improvement in TBS’ numbers vis-a-vis the teamcasts will have had more to do with the Kentucky-Notre Dame game than anything intentional on CBS or Turner’s part. Even that, though, would still be a massive improvement over last year.

2014 Boxing Ratings Wrap-Up

Putting together a list of the most-watched boxing fights of the year by myself poses a unique challenge. Both HBO and Showtime break up their boxing cards into multiple parts for ratings purposes that include both actual fights and bridge segments between fights, and to someone like me who’s just looking at the raw numbers it’s not at all clear which is which, especially when fights end in early knockouts – if you look at the chart you see I’ve listed two different time slots for one fight because I’m not sure my primary source identified which one was the actual fight correctly. I’m confident enough in the completeness of my sources that next year I’m probably going to do a chronological list of fight cards, similar to what I had for UFC last year, with all the numbers I have for them, and let you interpret them as you will. In the meantime, I’m going to take Dan Rafael’s top 16 fights of 2014 and use that as a baseline to extend the list as far as I can be reasonably confident in to a top 20, though I can’t be 100% certain there isn’t an interloper in the bottom four spots. The second table lists buyrates for all the PPV cards of 2014.

18-49 ratings, when available, from TV by the Numbers, TV Media Insights, or other sources. Household ratings for HBO/Showtime fights from SportsBusiness Daily, for ESPN from Son of the Bronx. Read More »