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Do I HAVE to update the lineal titles every September?

I said last year that I was thinking of no longer tracking the lineal titles and I meant it, even though I could desperately use the extra content. This time I’m actually most of the way through the opening Saturday of college football season before I even bother to update everything. I’ve updated the NFL lineal title history but not the actual category pages, and you’ll notice that the non-DeflateGate title I said I was going to track isn’t reflected in the history at all, because the Patriots started the season undefeated for a long time while the DeflateGate title changed hands a bunch, and the main title went into the playoffs and starts the season with the Broncos while the non-DeflateGate title starts it with the Saints of all teams. (At some point I may make the format of the site more consistent across the subsites, and I may get rid of the special category pages for the lineal titles entirely at that point, so here’s a link to the NFL lineal title history should that happen.)

On the college side, the anticipated unification of 2009 Boise State with the Princeton-Yale title did in fact happen as TCU and Oklahoma State went into their game against one another undefeated, but even though the Cowboys won that game it’s TCU that enters the new season with the title, and it’s the 2006 Boise State title that returned to the College Football Playoff and starts the year in the hands of Alabama.

How NBC Gets the Olympics Exactly Backwards

Another Olympics has come and gone, and with it another round of hand-wringing over NBC’s tape-delay policy, fueled further this time around by NBC’s historically low ratings for its primetime coverage. NBC’s primetime coverage averaged a 14.4 household rating, dominant over the rest of TV but the second-lowest mark for a Summer Games since at least 1968 and probably ever, beating only Sydney in 2000, with declines especially acute among key young-adult advertising demographics. People are still trying to figure out the reasons for the low ratings, especially since everyone expected numbers much closer to London (the highest-rated non-North American Summer Olympics since 1972), but plenty of wags on the Internet and among sportswriters are pointing the finger at NBC’s long-standing and woefully outdated policy of tape-delaying the marquee events for primetime. This, of course, despite the fact that Rio is only an hour off of the East Coast and many events, including the marquee track and swimming events, aired live in primetime, meaning if anything NBC is likely to come to the conclusion that the Games suffered because they were live, not because they were taped. London had no events live in primetime, while NBC pulled strings to get Michael Phelps’ chase for gold into the morning time slot in Beijing, putting it in primetime on the East Coast. The result: London’s completely taped coverage beat Beijing’s mostly-taped coverage, which beat Rio’s mostly-live coverage. It sure looks like tape delay helps NBC’s ratings rather than hurts them, no matter how much people on social media may whine about it.

Further fueling this attitude is the popularity of the Olympics on the West Coast, where even NBC’s live primetime coverage is delayed, and thus where the whining about tape delays reached a fever pitch, but which is perennially the region where the Olympics are most popular, something NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus pointed out. But the dominance of the West Coast is not what it used to be; Salt Lake City and Denver were the top two markets, but San Diego was the only other market in the Pacific or Mountain time zones to crack the top 20. In Beijing, those three markets were joined by Portland in the top 10, and at least in the first week (when Phelps raced), four more West Coast markets placed in the top 17 with higher-than-average ratings, including every West Coast market in the top 40 except for Seattle (which gets the CBC’s live coverage on our cable systems). Had that held, it would seem to suggest that, even holding the time slot and specific games constant, tape delay only improves ratings. Instead, it raises the question of whether the West Coast, and indirectly audiences in general, really are souring on tape-delayed Olympics coverage.

Of course, since 2012 NBC has allowed people to stream almost all the events live regardless of where they live, albeit with the Olympic international feed’s announcers, and NBC claims that when streaming and cable are added in (for the first time ever, NBCSN and Bravo aired coverage in primetime that cannibalized some of NBC’s audience), the Rio Games trailed only London as the second-most watched ever. Streaming, however, remains only a teeny-tiny subset of total viewing, with the total amount of streaming for the entire games accounting for as much consumption as an hour 45 minutes of NBC’s primetime coverage.

But even though live sports streaming in general has a fraction of the popularity of viewing sports on linear TV, that only gets to the real problem with NBC’s “Olympics as ultimate reality show” approach, namely that it treats the Olympics as a type of programming that is slowly losing its relevance to linear television. Indeed, as “cord-cutting” increasingly emphasizes being able to watch what you want when you want, leaving live events as the sole area where linear television retains a purpose in the face of the rise of the Internet, NBC’s approach of streaming the Games live and delaying events to be neatly packaged for its linear network seems to be exactly backwards. As I’ve said before, streaming is not and may never be well-suited for airing major live sports events, and while complaints about Olympic streaming seemed to be more about the experience of getting through NBC’s authentication and its insistence on delaying the Opening Ceremony even on the stream than the sluggishness experienced in London, if NBC continues to insist on streaming as the only guaranteed method of watching marquee events live, it will only put themselves under more and more strain, or alternately greatly increase the cost of delivering the Games smoothly, as streaming becomes more normalized as a means of watching content. On the other hand, it’s disingenuous for NBC to insist on packaging the marquee events for showing when everyone is at home and then require that those events be shown at the same time for everyone even when they’re not live; after all, not everyone has a 9-to-5 job where primetime is the most convenient time to watch the Games. There is a place for recorded, prearranged programming on linear television, but that place is heavily reliant on social media, and social media was disproportionately represented by those that didn’t like NBC’s current strategy.

By the end of NBC’s current contract running through 2032, I could see NBC’s linear channel(s) (assuming it still exists as such) sticking strictly to airing the marquee events live, while also offering its traditional packaged coverage for streaming online whenever someone wants to start it for those who want the Olympics as “ultimate reality show”. That NBC does not do this already, instead forcing both the sports and reality fans to watch tape-delayed, packaged coverage at a specific time in order to maximize ratings for that specific time and sell ads at the highest price, is a sign both of how far streaming has yet to go to achieve normalcy, and a sign of how slowly linear television is embracing its true nature and the key to its future.

Will an ACC Network Be Obsolete Before It Launches?

In 2013, a year after financially-struggling Maryland left the ACC for the greener pastures of the Big Ten, the Charlotte News and Observer obtained e-mails that circulated among the leadership of the University of North Carolina, perhaps the single most important school to the long-term survival of the ACC, showing their reaction to the news. Many of the e-mails expressed disbelief at a Sports Illustrated article that claimed that Maryland would make nearly $100 million more in its new conference by 2020, thanks to the Big Ten Network, than it would have made in the ACC, with UNC officials looking for confirmation that Maryland was going to make that much more money (indeed Maryland itself wasn’t aware of it until it started going through realignment talks). But for many college sports fans following the sports media and college sports realignment worlds, the fact that the Big Ten was making oodles more money than any other conference was hardly news, but something that had been widely reported throughout the sports media and had been fueling the current round of realignment from the start. Ordinary college sports fans and bloggers knew more about the financial disparities between the major conferences than the university presidents within them whose job it was to make informed decisions. As Frank the Tank, one of the bloggers most responsible for exposing the implications of those disparities, put it:

It would have been one thing if these were average sports fans just focused on on-the-field results, but it’s quite amazing that university leaders and athletic department officials didn’t seem to be as informed on college sports financial matters as, say, most of the people reading this blog or those that followed the reporting of mainstream media members like Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, Andy Staples of SI.com and Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. It’s an indication of the insularity of many universities and athletic departments and partially explains why the inertia in favor of the status quo is often stronger than many conference expansionistas would like to believe. What we’re seeing is that it takes a real external crisis for the vast majority of power conference schools to take notice of the information that’s out there and consider switching leagues.

I thought of this upon hearing about the ACC’s move announced last week to try to rectify this disparity, which has only grown to their further disadvantage with the launch of the SEC (and Pac-12) Network, yet the circumstances surrounding it have changed considerably since 2012. The sports-network market has always been built on the con of the cable bundle, where people with little to no interest in sports see large chunks of their cable bill get shipped off to pay for sports networks, and recent years have seen one piece of news after another suggesting that bundle is being increasingly undermined. My generation sees little value in the bundle and has increasingly been “cord-cutting” to get their entertainment from sources like Netflix and Amazon, getting away from bloated bundles that exist largely to subsidize sports networks. Investors are increasingly concerned about what the trend means for the sports-network market and especially ESPN, which finds itself caught between the rock of cord-cutting and the hard place of their desire to keep the cable bundle going for as long as possible; no less an institution than Moody’s has predicted the end of the cable bundle and that regional sports networks are looking like an increasingly dicey proposition. Meanwhile, cable companies, blamed for higher prices even as they struggle to keep pace with the rising price of sports networks, have increasingly taken stands against the launch of more and more new networks, as evidenced by the carriage struggles of SportsNet LA and the network formerly known as CSN Houston, with SportsNet LA remaining uncarried even as Time Warner Cable has reduced its price and even in Vin Scully’s final season.

Against this backdrop, the ACC has been the one major college conference with a substantial number of third-tier games still airing on broadcast television through regional syndication on Raycom. Assuming broadcast stations could get their act together and ensure wide coverage without relying on the crutch of retransmission consent (hardly a sure thing), I felt that, for all the ACC may have looked longingly at the SEC and Big Ten Networks and the revenue they make, staying the course could prove to give them a massive advantage in exposure if the market flipped and the SEC Network and BTN found themselves limited to what could be a distinct minority of people willing to pay relatively large amounts of money for them or for bundles including them, especially among poorer recruits, and especially if the ACC made an aggressive move to distribute their syndication package nationwide.

Instead, last week the ACC and ESPN announced an extension of their existing media rights agreement for the next twenty years, with the launch of a new “ACC Network Plus” digital network this fall leading up to the launch of a full-fledged linear ACC Network in 2019. I’d be shocked if the cable bundle still looked anything like it does today by 2036, and frankly I’d be surprised if it still looked viable in 2019. Reportedly, the long delay for the launch is related to the expiration of ESPN’s carriage agreements with cable providers, meaning ESPN would rather hold off on the launch of the ACC Network until it can tie it in with its established linear networks. But the addition of the ACC Network to ESPN’s bundle could be what causes the bundle to collapse entirely and marks the fall of ESPN’s empire.

Cable operators have been chafing under ESPN’s tops-in-the-industry subscriber fees for a long time, with Dish Network chairman Charles Ergen suggesting in 2011, following the signing of an expensive Monday Night Football deal, that certain companies might decide to go without ESPN and market their service as a low-cost alternative for non-sports fans, and in recent years many such operators have been experimenting with sports-free packages that offer a selection of popular channels at a lower price, resulting in ESPN’s carriage falling considerably. But no cable or satellite company has taken the plunge and experimented with cutting ESPN out of their lineups entirely, instead limiting the availability of their sports-free packages to avoid violating their ESPN contracts, and online “skinny bundles” that have won considerable acclaim for being an “alternative to the cable bundle”, including Dish’s own Sling TV, have made themselves part of the problem by including ESPN and other sports networks. For now, pay-TV providers feel they must have ESPN’s high-value programming such as MNF and the College Football Playoff, even though they know it’s almost single-handedly fueling the revolt against the cable bundle, because even as the cost of sports drives people away from the cable bundle, the presence of sports is the one thing keeping people tied to it, because live events, especially sports, are the one thing linear TV does better than the Internet. The power of ESPN explains why the SEC Network, theoretically a channel of regional interest, had the largest launch in cable TV history, avoiding even the carriage battles that bedeviled the Big Ten Network.

But for as much as the SEC Network benefited from the ESPN connection, it may not have been so successful if it weren’t sufficiently valuable in its own right. The SEC and Big Ten have the most passionate fanbases and bring the most value to any sports network by a significant margin over any other conference, even any other college conference; the ACC is strong in basketball, but their football conference tends to consist of Florida State and not much else, both in terms of quality on the field and in terms of schools with passionate fanbases that can attract large audiences, and football is what drives TV deals and conference realignment. What may be more relevant to what the ACC Network has to look forward to is the fate of the Pac-12 Networks, which remains uncarried by DirecTV years after launch; it was thought the DirecTV-AT&T merger would smooth along talks, but instead it seems more likely that AT&T will drop Pac-12 Networks from U-Verse systems once that deal expires than that DirecTV will add them. According to Washington State AD Bill Moos, Pac-12 schools were hoping to receive $5 million a year from the Pac-12 Networks at this point, but instead are only collecting $1.4 million. Unlike the SEC and Big Ten Networks, the Pac-12 went it alone on their network without selling any stake to anyone that might have helped their network gain carriage (or shared in the network’s expenses), but thanks to the CSN Houston and SportsNet LA struggles – not to mention ESPN’s Longhorn Network, which recently eliminated much if not all of its studio programming – cable operators are a lot more confident in their ability to stand up to sports networks than they were in the late 2000s when they challenged the BTN.

They may not have wanted to alienate ESPN’s many loyal viewers over the SEC Network, but the ACC Network won’t bring nearly as much value to the table, and while ESPN may have largely escaped the bruising carriage battles other large programmers have fought, if they overestimate how much cable operators are willing to pay for an ACC Network, at least one large programmer may just decide they’ve had enough of ESPN pushing them around and go to war (especially since even with the wait, ESPN’s carriage deals with Comcast, Charter, and Dish Network still won’t have expired yet by 2019, meaning the ACC Network will have to stand and fall on its own merits with them). Even if they don’t, the resulting hike in people’s cable bills might just be the spur cord-cutting needs to cross a tipping point and cause large numbers of people to dump their cable subscriptions en masse – and that assumes it won’t have done so already. Cord-cutting has come a long way in just the last three years – HBO went from disdaining the possibility of a direct-to-consumer offering to offering one in less time – and there’s no reason not to assume it won’t go even further in the next three. If ESPN escapes any major controversy surrounding the ACC Network, it may only be because the popularity of the cable bundle will have shrunk enough for it not to matter, to the point that ESPN might just decide to make the ACC Network the centerpiece of their own direct-to-consumer offering. Any of these scenarios would likely result in the ACC making substantially less money than they might have planned (or, depending on the structure of the contract, ESPN taking a loss on the enterprise).

ESPN likely knows all this, and tried for a long time to dissuade the ACC from the idea, preferring to let a clause activate this summer that would have substantially increased its payouts to the conference (and which, apparently, will still activate in the interim) than to launch a network that would not only lose money or fail to achieve the conference’s goals, but would accelerate the larger trend ESPN has been trying to slow down or fight off. But all the ACC sees is the boatloads of money the Big Ten and SEC are making, even though they have no chance whatsoever at making anywhere near that much, despite the conference’s consultant, Dean Jordan, claiming that if it “performs even moderately, it’ll put the ACC in a situation where they’ll be very, very competitive financially with the upper tier of the collegiate industry”. The ACC is deluded not only about the changes sweeping the video industry, but about its own value compared to “the upper tier of the collegiate industry”. There may have been a time when ESPN could ask for any price for an ACC Network and gotten the ACC money on par with the SEC, but that time has been long past for several years now.

ESPN President John Skipper points out that 93 of the top 100 TV programs in the ratings in 2015 were sports, compared to 14 just five years ago, and takes that as evidence that live sports is growing more popular and that the insatiable appetite for it will justify an ACC network, not that linear television is growing less popular among people who don’t watch live sports. The ACC is confident that ESPN will “find a way to make this work” no matter how untenable the cable bundle becomes in the interim. But that assumes live sports will maintain their elevated position, that the economics of the video content market won’t recalibrate themselves to favor video-on-demand services and linear television becomes the specific subset of the larger video landscape delivering a specific type of content, live content of all types, that it should be, that the linear market doesn’t greatly and rapidly contract to the level actually warranted by the provenance and popularity of live events that are out there, that conference-specific networks reliant on subscription revenue and showing lower-tier games don’t become an increasingly dicey proposition when they have to stand and fall based on their target audience alone. In that case, the best-case scenario for the ACC could be that the SEC and Big Ten networks become equally untenable, and if that happens they’ll still be in better shape than the ACC. I don’t know if the ACC will ever realize the scenario they passed up, but I do know they could find themselves cursing their foolishness – especially if their decision turns out to be the proximate cause of exposing its own foolishness.

Want to learn more about all this? As this post goes up, you still have a few hours left to get my book THE GAME TO SHOW THE GAMES on your Kindle for FREE! Or you can order the paperback or get it on your Kindle for cheap anytime! Find out more about the book by clicking the cover on the sidebar!

ANOTHER month without a post?!

This is not the way I should be following up on my book…

I have been active on Twitter, but I haven’t been able to put together enough uninterrupted time to actually write an actual post. It doesn’t help that what I’ve been working myself up to write is an ambitious series of political posts, and those have always worked out well. (You can probably guess what’s prompted it.)

I have started working my way towards some less ambitious posts that will start churning out over the next week or so, so July won’t be as much of a dead zone on here as June was. I could have a post on cord-cutting, and my continued frustration with OTT cable bundles, as soon as tomorrow.

The 200 Most-Watched Live Events of 2014

Yes, this is over a year late. I actually got really close to being far enough along to post this until I let things drop off to pursue other interests and eventually started spending all my time putting the book together.

If, as I’ve suggested, the only purpose of linear television going forward will be to show live events that many people want to watch at the same time, then ratings for live events become a particularly important category to look at, because they form the underpinning of everything else. So here are the 200 most-viewed live programs of 2014 to my knowledge, with the top 50 ranked.

Breaking news outside of primetime and other non-primetime news events are not counted because I couldn’t find any numbers for them. I’m also assuming no other evening news shows had audiences high enough to appear on the chart; I also assumed all non-audition episodes of American Idol were live, but marked the Hollywood and Vegas episodes with question marks. Events in red are news events; in blue are NFL games; in green are other sports events; in orange are awards shows; in purple are reality shows; and all other events are white. Read More »

Why the Proposed “Hulu Skinny Bundle” Will Be Set Up to Fail

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday night that Hulu is developing its own over-the-top “skinny bundle” for release sometime in the first half of 2017. (Note: since the WSJ article is paywalled, most of this info comes from a Mutlichannel News writeup of it.)

According to the WSJ, the bundle would include, at minimum, channels associated with two of Hulu’s co-owners, Disney and Fox, including ABC and Fox owned-and-operated stations and other popular channels they own, including ESPN, FS1, and Fox’s regional sports networks. The reports I’ve seen don’t say whether the service would include channels from anyone else other than the third co-owner, NBC Universal, but one analyst speculated a little over a week ago that it might end up including channels from CBS and Time Warner, both of which have contributed to Hulu’s existing on-demand service (with Time Warner even approached about a stake in the company last year). In other words, it would include the five companies that offer substantial sports content and that, together, keep the cable bundle together. Even if Disney and Fox were only able to get the Turner networks on board, the Hulu service could conceivably be a one-stop-shop for sports fans with every nationally-televised game from MLB, the NBA, and every major college conference, every bowl game of significance, and every NCAA Tournament game not on broadcast television, plus, for fans of local teams, games of any team with an agreement with a Fox network. The main reason to get NBCU on board would be to appeal to NHL, NASCAR, golf, and soccer fans, as well as fans of teams on Comcast’s RSNs. All told, it could well be the biggest step yet towards the breakup of the cable bundle.

Which is precisely why the companies creating it, especially Disney, won’t let it be.

Both the analyst that speculated about this a couple weeks ago and the WSJ report suggest that a Hulu skinny bundle would cost around $40 per month. After slashing the price earlier this year, PlayStation Vue currently offers broadcast stations and a broad selection of popular channels, including ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, FS2, and all three of Turner’s networks that carry NCAA Tournament games, and popular networks from NBCU (but not NBCSN) and all of the non-sports four, for $39.99 a month in the markets where it carries broadcast stations. If you have an antenna and live in one of Vue’s non-broadcast markets, for just $5 more than the proposed Hulu skinny bundle, you can add most of the channels left out of Vue’s base package, including NBCSN, Golf Channel, beIN Sport, ESPNU, BTN, SEC Network, and regional sports networks. Of course, considering PS Vue dropped its price at the same time it added the uber-expensive Disney networks, it may well be operating at a loss in an attempt to spur adoption, and may hike its prices again later. Still, if the Hulu skinny bundle is competing with PS Vue at those prices, not to mention Sling TV currently offering (with the single stream package) all the ESPNs, including SEC Network, plus TNT and TBS for $25 a month or (with the multi-stream package) FS1, the Fox RSNs, and all three Turner networks for $20 a month (suggesting Sling would probably offer all those channels for around $40 once it synchronizes its packages, depending on the effect of adding the Viacom channels), there’s really little reason to sign up for the Hulu skinny bundle unless you really want NBCSN and Golf Channel or you just want to deny the non-sports four your money out of principle.

It’s hard to see who the Hulu skinny bundle would appeal to that wouldn’t be better served with Vue or Sling – which, of course, is probably the point. Disney and Fox don’t really want to do anything that would hasten the breakup of the cable bundle, so it’s not surprising they’d price it to be uncompetitive with Sling and Vue given its selection, even though they could theoretically offer a lower price since they’re not really going through middlemen, potentially setting it up to fail and giving them a reason to claim skinny bundles and going direct-to-consumer doesn’t work. If they did try to competitively price it, Disney likely wouldn’t sign off on launching it unless it had the non-sports four on board, effectively making it the same as Vue, because there’s nothing Disney fears more than cutting the non-sports four out of, and thus motivating them to become independent from, the cable bundle. (Incidentally, that same analyst that speculated about a Hulu skinny bundle, and about a skinny bundle with the non-sports four, suggests that the latter could cost just $9 a month. That’s cheaper than anything I speculated about at the time, though only barely.)

It’s become increasingly apparent that the current batch of “skinny bundles” is more about the Big Nine declaring their independence from cable companies and networks not owned by the Big Nine (not to mention broadcast stations) than from the cable bundle itself, with all of them too scared of the consequences of leaving the others. In that sense, there is some importance to a Hulu skinny bundle that gives Disney and Fox a distribution mechanism independent not only of cable companies but of any middlemen whatsoever. But don’t be fooled by the uncritical pro-cord-cutting media touting it as some sort of landmark development in the breakup of the cable bundle. In the end, a Hulu skinny bundle will do little to benefit the consumer, at least in the short term, only its owners.

Two Types of Station Owners: How Broadcasters’ Inability to Navigate OTT Services Could Be Their Undoing – And Broadcasting’s Salvation

Ever since the Aereo controversy caused broadcast networks to threaten to pull their signals from the free airwaves, I’ve long accused broadcasters as a whole of being led by retransmission consent to disdain their own nominal medium. But it’s not a coincidence that ground zero of the Aereo controversy was New York, the single largest market in the nation where most of the biggest stations are owned and operated by their networks. The networks are on the front lines of fighting with cable networks for sports and other content, and are deeply aware of the advantages of the cable business model. Many of them have substantial investments in cable networks themselves or would like to have them.

Their affiliates are a lot harder to read. On the one hand, many affiliate owners were pursuing cash in retransmission consent negotiations even before the networks got in on it. The National Association of Broadcasters, which is supposed to represent broadcasters as a whole, has fought hard to preserve the retransmission consent system as it is and to weaken ownership restrictions so station owners can get more leverage at the expense of the overall viability of broadcasting. And certainly affiliated stations aren’t falling over themselves to improve their coverage areas any more than their networks are. So it’s pretty clear that affiliate groups, like their networks, staunchly try to preserve their retransmission consent revenue against forces trying to disrupt it. But are they willing to go so far as to give up their identity the way the networks are?

On the surface, there is reason to think they wouldn’t, simply because if the networks went cable-only they would effectively shut the affiliates out entirely, but during the Aereo affair Fox only threatened to take away the most valuable programming that seemed to most need retransmission consent to support it, and pretty much seemed set to simply insert their programming into affiliates’ feeds they sent to cable companies, allowing them to keep the affiliates in the process, and they seemed fine with that. More tellingly, I don’t think any broadcasters, no matter how small, vouched for Aereo’s argument that they were simply broadening broadcast stations’ reach, nor did affiliates indicate that they were in any way resisting the moves their networks seemed to be making to undermine broadcasting except insofar as it undermined their own access to top-tier programming, and even then in utterly ineffectual ways; certainly keeping the CW and MyNetworkTV alive in their current forms suggested they had no ambitions to improve the relevance of broadcasting as a whole. So my assumption was that the affiliates understood the perceived importance of retransmission consent to their business and to their networks’ ability to compete with cable networks, and so wouldn’t do anything to make broadcast more viable and would present a united front to preserve retrans and keep people tied to the cable bundle, with some potentially bailing in the incentive auction out of a belief that broadcasting isn’t viable on its own (and certainly the fact the FCC’s initial clearing target is the maximum possible suggests broadcasting is being as undervalued as I’ve long feared).

But there was always reason to think the networks were overselling the importance of retrans and their signal-pulling threat had more to do with their cable-network offerings than any actual importance of retrans; after all, contrary to popular belief advertising is sufficient to pay broadcast networks’ NFL rights fees and even Fox’s deal with the BCS, the one it ended up losing to ESPN because they couldn’t pay enough to make up ESPN’s subscription fee advantage and kicking off the retrans mania to begin with, actually made money for them without needing to be a loss leader. At the same time, someone was leading the charge to develop ATSC M/H and ATSC 3.0, technologies that hold (or held) the promise to increase the usefulness and viability of broadcasting as a technology without, by themselves, changing the economic incentives favoring cable, and while the networks seemed reticent to lend their full support behind ATSC 3.0, the largest non-network station groups were pretty much staunchly behind it, and while they’ve never quite fought the forces undermining their industry as strenuously as I might like (and in some cases have doubled down on them), the NAB and several other groups representing broadcasters have made many of the same pro-broadcasting arguments that I’ve made on this blog, even if they’ve come across as more self-serving lip service than actually being reflected in their actual policy recommendations, which suggest they’re more interested in protecting incumbents than in the actual overall relevance of broadcasting. And while they never quite addressed the question, reading between the lines of their FCC filings, by and large station owners seemed fine with over-the-top providers omitting broadcast stations from their offerings.

Which brings me to what really has me scratching my head: TV Everywhere. In the wake of the Aereo affair, the Big Four networks have all rolled out apps allowing you to access their programming and a live feed of your local station, so long as you “authenticate” with a cable or satellite provider. In theory, these apps are a centralized clearinghouse to watch any station associated with the network, regardless of who owns them, and have been explicitly pitched to affiliates this way, with CBS All Access offering most of its affiliates through the service. The ABC and NBC apps, however, still only include their respective owned-and-operated stations, with CBS reaching an agreement with Cablevision for authenticated access to their O&Os a few months ago and Fox offering no stream of any of its stations through the app. The only markets where all the Big Four stations are owned-and-operated are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and the Bay Area, so as a result of this, among other things, those markets plus Dallas and Miami were the only ones PlayStation Vue was operating in. This despite Hearst being announced as a partner with Watch ABC pretty much as soon as the app itself was announced, yet their stations remain absent nearly three years later – supposedly because of the need to reach agreements with the cable companies, but if Hearst was in charge of that there’s little reason for that to be a problem if they were as into it as ABC itself was, and if ABC was in charge of that you’d think they’d have already struck those agreements to begin with, and in any case there’s not much reason to announce Hearst jumping on board if it wasn’t going to actually smooth out the negotiations with cable companies. It does suggest that, on the surface, it’s understandable that three-way negotiations between network, affiliate, and cable company would be difficult to make work, and ABC just announced a “clearinghouse” intended to make it easier for stations to latch on to their existing agreements with DirecTV and PlayStation Vue for streaming, with Hearst stated to be taking part with the former. But other recent developments suggest it may be too late.

Last month, PlayStation Vue, evidently fed up with the slow progress of reaching agreements with non-owned-and-operated stations, rolled out its service nationwide (and to devices other than the PlayStation itself), omitting broadcast networks entirely in the new markets with “Slim” options $10 cheaper than the equivalent full-service options, but not giving customers in its existing markets the ability to sign up for the “slim” packages. This raises the prospect the networks feared with Aereo: people paying for cable channels including ESPN but watching broadcast networks without paying for them if they can get them with an antenna, outside of markets where PS Vue was already offering them. Then, a couple weeks ago, rival Sling TV made that prospect explicit by reportedly introducing a new “AirTV” box that enables broadcast content received over-the-air to be integrated with Sling’s own offerings in Sling’s programming guide, regardless of whether Sling has an agreement with the station or even the network in question. I’m not sure I agree with the implied notion of continuing to treat linear television as something special and separate regardless of its nature, putting all linear television into a single, separate app as though linear television itself is the product, and as such Sling isn’t really doing anything it wasn’t already doing by its own nature, but integration of OTA content on streaming boxes can be hit-or-miss enough that AirTV can still encourage people to pick up broadcast stations over-the-air without paying for them, if they can. More to the point, it sounds like Sling can then deliver the broadcast content to any device, like a legitimate use of what Aereo was doing, actually providing some usefulness to the product.

To put this in perspective, last week Dish and Viacom avoided a potentially nasty and damaging carriage dispute with an agreement that will put Viacom’s channels on SlingTV, to the confusion and disappointment of analysts who felt Dish “caved” in not standing up to a Viacom that Suddenlink and Cable One have already seemed to do well enough without. Coupled with the inclusion of Fox in the new multi-screen bundle and the mutual interest on both sides to add ESPN and the other Disney networks to it as well, explicitly hiking the price and obviating everything I said about its potential impact, it seems like Sling TV is coming awfully close to recreating the entire bloated cable bundle just like PS Vue, putting the lie to all the public statements Dish made at its launch about wanting to keep it slimmed down to provide maximum value, and making me wonder, if they really did mean those things, if the Dish-Viacom deal pointed to ESPN acting as the Godfather of the cable bundle in keeping it together at all costs, certainly in keeping Viacom dependent on it. Putting aside anything else, if Sling TV and PS Vue weren’t going to actually provide anything different from the existing cable bundles, it would seem that the cable companies could pretty easily put them out of business, even without shady tactics, by lowering their prices to make a cable/internet bundle competitive with internet plus Sling or Vue and/or making it easier to watch their linear television content on a streaming device… that is, if they weren’t hamstrung by the need to charge retransmission consent to all their customers. Sling TV and PS Vue’s ability to offer broadcast stations separately or not at all, allowing people to rely on an antenna to receive them, could well be their one major, vital advantage over traditional cable television, what allows them to continue providing value even with a traditional bloated cable bundle. I didn’t agree with Rich Greenfield that retransmission consent was the major factor causing the cable bundle to lose its perceived value, but if Sling TV and PS Vue can continue making it optional, it may well prove to be traditional cable’s fatal flaw.

The funny thing about this is that other companies have felt that finding a way to untangle the thicket of broadcast stations was so vital that Apple outright gave up on creating its own Apple TV service when it couldn’t negotiate with broadcast stations. Indeed, PS Vue itself not only offered broadcast stations in its launch markets but included them in its base packages, forcing everyone to pay for them, and showed every indication of applying the same to any market it expanded to. PS Vue wanted to play by broadcasters’ rules, yet when the affiliates couldn’t get their act together, leaving the service still stuck with just the O&Os, PS Vue decided “screw it” and took its service nationwide without broadcast stations, effectively costing the affiliates their opportunity to make OTT work for them and not against them. If Sling TV and PS Vue prove successful enough without broadcast stations, Apple and other companies that felt they had to offer them may decide that, at the very least, they’re not worth the hassle, and broadcasters will have completely missed the boat, left to see the gap between them and cable networks widen again, and seeing cable operators redouble their efforts to undo or shake up retrans.

Again, it’s possible the affiliates just didn’t grasp the importance of getting some deal, any deal done before Sony decided to go without them… but this has me wondering whether the affiliates deliberately dragged their feet as part of a larger effort to make broadcast the center of the broadcast industry again. Perhaps the affiliates really don’t want to be as dependent on cable-style bundles as their networks want them to be, and recognize that it is killing broadcasting as a medium and that nurturing the creation of a large base of people aware of and exploiting broadcasters’ free over-the-air signals is vital to broadcasting’s long-term survival (even if it might hit their pocketbooks in the short-term), by creating a group of people interested in the fate of the medium and ultimately providing motivation for broadcasters to actually invest in their signals and in technology to make them easier to access on a wider variety of devices. Perhaps they felt all along that they preferred to rely on ATSC 3.0 as their ticket to reach mobile devices and that there was no reason for cord-cutting to work to its detriment rather than its benefit. Or perhaps it’s a combination of both and they haven’t yet grasped that Sling TV and PS Vue haven’t been the threats to the cable bundle they thought they would be (not helped by uncritical media coverage that has treated them as “a boon to cord-cutters” without questioning whether someone signing up to either service is truly living up to the spirit of cord-cutting), or just didn’t anticipate “cable minus broadcast” being the niche “skinny bundles” would occupy so early, before “cable minus sports” or something else that would actually deconstruct the cable bundle… or maybe they don’t even care about that and care more about getting broadcast out of its cable-imposed ghetto.

By goading PS Vue into encouraging customers to pick up broadcast stations with an antenna while still delivering them cable channels, broadcasters may have dealt themselves a fatal blow. But if Sling TV and PS Vue have the effect of encouraging widespread antenna adoption, it may well prove the best thing to happen to broadcasting as a whole.

Sling TV May Have Just Triggered the Beginning of the End of the Reign of ESPN

“Skinny bundles” have long been an overhyped disappointment. Cable companies offering sports-free packages have been hamstrung by contractural provisions and legal threats from offering them all that widely, when they’ve bothered to promote them at all. And efforts to create over-the-top offerings, like Sling TV, have kept most of the most expsnsive channels, including ESPN, thus preserving, not undermining, the worst parts of the cable bundle.

Last week Sling TV unveiled a new “beta” multi-screen offering, allowing customers to stream Sling TV content on up to three screens, rather than the single screen their existing offering was limited to. But that’s not the only difference between the multi-screen and single-screen offerings. For the first time, the multi-screen offering provides access to the Fox networks, including FX, FS1, and Fox’s RSNs. And perhaps more to the point, the multi-screen offering does not include ESPN or the other Disney networks. For the first time, there is a widely-available linear TV service that can actually free you from paying the ESPN tax.

The new multi-screen offering is not perfect; for one thing, Fox is nearly as much of a contributor to the high price of the cable bundle as ESPN, through FS1 and especially its regional sports networks, though Sling does not appear to be offering Fox News. So subscribers to the new package may not be subsidizing ESPN, but if they have no interest in sports they’re still subsidizing expensive regional sports networks, and unlike with the single-stream product broadcast networks are included so you’re paying retransmission consent (or at least making up Fox’s share of it) even if you can get Fox with an antenna. Sports fans are still hitched to the entire cable bundle, and FS1 offers few sports whose fans can go without ESPN or other sports networks (basically the UFC, NHRA, and that’s it). As a result of Fox’s own high price, the new service’s $20 price tag offers no savings over the single-screen product, so it might seem like someone would only switch to it if they’ve read my book and are dropping ESPN out of principle, especially since the Discovery networks are also missing so anyone who wants any of them will be stuck with the single-stream offering and paying the ESPN tax.

But if you’re someone who’s interested in Sling TV for reasons other than ESPN, if your interest revolves around the AMC, A&E, and Scripps networks (and Turner as well), you’re going to gravitate to the service that actually allows you to stream the content on multiple screens. And for sports fans, local sports is arguably more of a motivator to remain signed up for cable than ESPN is, and while fans of local teams can’t necessarily go without ESPN entirely, since ESPN has a significant number of exclusive baseball and basketball games including Sunday Night Baseball, one baseball wild-card game, and one of the NBA’s Conference Finals, fans of teams on Fox networks can still watch most of their games without paying the ESPN tax, especially if the teams aren’t that good.

A part of me thinks that Disney and Discovery are just the only two companies that haven’t given Dish the right to offer their content on multiple screens and this is just Dish’s way of pushing them to re-do their deal, meaning ESPN will be there to inflate the price of the offering and keep people paying the ESPN tax soon enough (as Disney seemed to imply in a statement), making this not that different from when PlayStation Vue didn’t include ESPN until earlier this year. But Sling is a lot more visible, and provides more cost savings over a more traditional bundle, than PS Vue ever did, and it’s not exactly obvious that ESPN will eventually join the multi-screen offering. Unless and until it does or Dish ends up nerfing it in other ways, people looking to save money on their cable subscriptions now have a viable option that deprives ESPN of their revenue stream and broad reach that allows them to keep high-profile sports hostage to the cable bundle. And if AMC and Scripps find the multi-screen offering attractive enough, they may just decide they don’t need to be propped up by sports networks at all – and that’s when the real threat to ESPN’s business model begins.

From a revolution breaking down borders between mediums to a specific work that singlehandedly broke down others.

"Homestuck has now become an anime" in more ways than one: this ending is certainly reminiscent of certain animes TV Tropes has informed me about, but that's not necessarily a good thing.(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized THE END.)

On April 10th, 2009, Andrew Hussie began work on Homestuck, the fourth story on his MS Paint Adventures site, after having concluded a year working on Problem Sleuth, which built from humble and rather silly beginnings to an epic conflagration and turned MSPA into a minor Internet phenomenon, which also had the effect of making him less someone who sent his stories into random directions based on people’s input and more someone who used that input to help spur the story in the direction he wanted. With Homestuck he had a story where the directions he wanted to take it were largely set from the start, and he had much grander ambitions for this story, intending to use Flash to underlie the whole thing. That turned out to be much more than he could really chew, and three days later he started the story over using regular GIFs, but nonetheless Homestuck proved to dwarf PS in its ambition and in the ways it bent the boundaries of media, and within two years it dwarfed PS in popularity as well, becoming far more popular than Hussie could have ever imagined, indeed a phenomenon perhaps unparalleled in the history of the Internet, with “Homestucks” practically taking over cons dressed up as a class of characters Hussie hadn’t even thought of when the story started.

It was in this context that I took note of how ridiculous a phenomenon Homestuck had become and decided I owed it to myself to read and review it. While I certainly found it a good comic, I didn’t see what made it such a huge phenomenon, but I was still willing to stick it out through the end of Act 5, which was just a few months away. Of course, those few months were enough to drag me so inexorably into Homestuck‘s spell that it became impossible to escape, and I continued to plow through with the comic as it continued into Act 6 (in part because no other webcomic reviewers were doing so). Even though I never quite embraced it to the degree of its biggest fans, never getting involved with Homestuck fandom the way I have with, say, The Order of the Stick, nonetheless I still waited with baited breath to see where the story was going. In October 2011, when the conclusion to Act 5 almost literally broke the Internet, there was no doubt that Homestuck was just revving into the last push towards its ultimate climax, and with how epic Act 5 had been, everyone was on the edge of their seats waiting to see just how mind-blowing Act 6 would be, what sort of climax Hussie could give a story that had somehow transcended the meaning of story.

Last night, seven years after it started, Homestuck finally came to an end (well, sort of – more on that later), and although Gary “Fleen” Tyrell (who never even really read Act 5, the act that created the Homestuck phenomenon) has a postmortem that treats it as though it’s the ending of the phenomenon it was, for those actually invested in the comic, the feeling is decidedly more of a letdown and the experience decidedly less shared than it was four or five years ago.

It’s hard to figure out where to begin articulating what went wrong, but let’s start with this: Maybe a year or so after I started reading Homestuck, I sat down and plowed my way through Problem Sleuth, after having an earlier false start. I was able to laugh at and enjoy its particular brand of absurdist humor well enough, even sort of understand it on its own terms at first. The big problem with it was that the entire last half was devoted to a long, drawn-out fight against the final boss, Demon Mobster Kingpin, that just consisted of one “awesome” RPG attack after another, interspersed with confusing plans to weaken him that took too long to play out when they didn’t end up being complete duds along with pointless sidetracks, and it just became a tedious slog to get through as I just waited for it to end already.

In many ways, Homestuck has the opposite problem as Problem Sleuth. The set-up and eventual payoff for the final battle was clunky and rushed, and ultimately failed to answer many of the questions still hanging over the comic’s head. Indeed, the final flash has Homestuck‘s own version of DMK, Lord English, at best implied to be defeated, and it’s far from clear exactly how, and you can only come to the conclusion that the main characters of the comic were even involved in his defeat at all based on an earlier spell of exposition that had considerable room for interpretation and remains one of the bigger unexplained points.

Homestuck did have a similar problem to Problem Sleuth in this sense: Act 6, which Hussie initially claimed wouldn’t be as long as Act 5, then admitted “could be close”, ended up being twice as long as Act 5, and half the entire length of the comic, in terms of number of pages, but because Hussie started taking numerous increasingly-lengthy hiatuses starting with the long wait for Act 5’s concluding flash (in retrospect Homestuck‘s high point in many ways), including one that lasted a full year, took even longer than that to play out compared to the two and a half years of the first five acts. Throughout the first four acts of Act 6 (which still managed to fit in Act 6’s first year), I complained that the new, post-Scratch kids it introduced us to, with the possible exception of Roxy, gave us very little reason to care about them as much as the kids and trolls we had grown accustomed to in the first five acts, though possibly they faced an uphill climb to begin with getting me and the fans to be less impatient for the intermissions within Act 6 where we could catch up on the more familiar characters. I also became increasingly exasperated with how much time the comic seemed to be wasting on romantic subplots and other frivolities and that all of Act 6 was little more than a waiting game waiting for the familiar characters to show up so we could actually pick up where Act 5 left off, while Hussie wasted our time exploring the cool concept he’d been waiting all of Act 5 to show us and that, I feared, he’d unnaturally bent his story to accomodate, with any actual plot advancement (and any reason for me not to bail on the comic in the meantime) limited to what we learned about Lord English (and to a lesser extent the Condesce) in the meantime.

And yet, it was after the familiar kids and trolls showed up that the real problem with Act 6 and the conclusion to Homestuck became apparent.

Like Act 6 itself, Act 6 Act 6 is divided into six sub-acts, and this time all the plot advancement is shunted into the intermissions while Caliborn, Lord English’s younger self, hijacks the narrative for the first five of those sub-acts, and badly damages the cartridge containing the actual plot of A6A6 resulting in numerous glitches in the intermissions. The middle three of those intermissions are where the problem lies. In Act 6 Act 6 Intermission 2, Aranea, the pre-Scratch version of Vriska’s ancestor, uses Gamzee to steal a ring John accidentally took with him out of the dream bubbles and that can bring one person back to life, that being Aranea herself, and begins to carry out a plan to wreck the session beyond repair and then use her powers to heal the resulting doomed timeline and make it the alpha, effectively preventing Lord English from ever being born to begin with by preventing the creation of his universe. The rest of the intermission lays out the chain of events resulting from that and setting up the flash that ends A6A6A3 and makes up most of A6A6I3, where almost all the characters we’ve grown accustomed to die, but Aranea is no more successful at her plan, as the Condesce rips the ring off her finger and kills her for good. That leaves it to John, in A6A6I4, to put the timeline back on track.

In A6I5, after Vriska and her ghost army find the treasure she’d been looking for, a glowing Sburb logo, John stuck his hand into it, which popped into numerous events over the course of the comic, before he became fuzzy and popped in and out of more events throughout the comic’s history before finally arriving in the new session. He continues to glitch in and out from place to place throughout A6A6I1, demonstrating an ability to become “unstuck in canon” and accidentally cause a doomed timeline or avert one (as well as immunity to the glitches), but unable to control when or where he zaps in or out. Even as things go to shit in A6A6I2, however, he doesn’t show up again until he challenges Caliborn in A6A6A3, and only at the end of A6A6I3 does he show up and see the carnage that’s been wreaked. After talking with the only two characters left alive, Roxy and a dying Terezi, John is motivated to go visit his denizen in hopes of controlling his newfound power once and for all, which results in more Easter eggs being sprinkled throughout the comic in the form of the oil that had been covering John’s planet to this point and that Typheus attempts to drown him with, and in John fulfilling his personal quest by playing the organ at the heart of Typheus’ lair, clearing out the clouds enveloping the planet and fixing the damage to the cartridge. The fixes he proceeds to carry out aren’t limited to grabbing the ring before Gamzee or Aranea can; with Terezi setting his agenda, he makes his presence felt in various places in Terezi’s past, some of them seemingly immaterial, others tipping her off to Gamzee’s role in the late-act-5 murder spree, but ultimately leading up to knocking out Vriska before she could take on Noir or Terezi could kill her in that confrontation towards the end of Act 5, allowing her to survive and travel with the meteor crew to the new session.

There are all sorts of problems with this development. For one thing, a pretty good case could be made that there was no other way for Vriska’s story arc in Act 5 to end than with her death, even with her ghost’s attempts to get back involved in the story in Act 6, so undoing that arguably cheapens her entire story arc. If there were any evidence that she’d learned from her near-death experience and found a way to contribute more productively to her comrade’s efforts, that might have been an acceptable substitute, but from what we see of her afterwards she’s as much of an asshole as ever, even going so far as to shame her own ghost to tears. Yet we’re led to believe that her mere presence on the meteor magically solves all the problems everyone on the meteor had and made everyone hunky-dory and well-adjusted by the time they showed up in the new session. Vriska was already one of the most polarizing characters in all of webcomics and the subject of numerous jokes both in and out of comic about Hussie marrying her; this seemed to have the effect of turning her into a complete Mary Sue. Combined with the post-retcon version of Jade having to spend most of her journey to the new session alone after John and Davesprite perished to make room for our John, it effectively means that everything in anything labeled as an intermission to this point in Act 6 – in other words, everything we actually liked about it – that didn’t involve John, Caliborn, or ghosts didn’t happen, at least not in the way originally chronicled, making all of Act 6 to this point even more of a waste of time. But in theory, it shouldn’t have affected the post-Scratch kids until the point the pre-Scratch ones entered the session and shouldn’t have affected the cherubs at all, yet both of them had numerous intersection points with the pre-retcon kids and trolls and were tightly synced with each other, raising numerous unnecessary and unexplained contradictions.

In a somewhat more minor way but perhaps most relevantly for our purposes, by wasting three whole Act 6 Act 6 intermissions on setting this up and carrying this out, Hussie left himself a grand total of one intermission to get us better acquainted with the post-retcon versions of the characters and set up and carry out the actual final battle, leaving himself a tall order to get us as invested in these characters and this timeline as we did with the one we followed for most of Act 6, and he attempted to do so with incredibly clunky, unnatural, exposition-laden dialogue that’s the complete antithesis of what people liked about the first five acts of Homestuck, which is why we know so little about what post-retcon Vriska is actually like. The result is that Act 6 Act 6 Intermission 5 reads more like a fanfic than the actual conclusion to the story, right down to wasting time teasing ships but not having enough time to actually do anything with them. Hussie has a penchant for mind-bending time shenanigans, being infuriatingly coy with details of the story and other important information, writing by the seat of his pants, and just plain trolling the readership, but in this case it had the effect of coming at the expense of good, sound storytelling. Hussie had to carry out the final battle with what effectively amounted to a brand new cast of characters and had to spend more time getting us acquainted with these characters and less time actually tying up loose ends, paying off foreshadowing (not that he’d been all that diligent about paying off foreshadowing earlier in Act 6), or creating a compelling climax. All by (arguably) derailing a character to serve as his agent to write himself into enough of a corner to justify bringing back another character whose role in the final battle, as it turns out, is exactly the same as what her ghost had been planning anyway!

There’s so much left unanswered by this conclusion, even about this conclusion, and it ultimately serves as a serious black mark on Homestuck as a whole. As the end neared I took the position that Hussie was likely to leave more unanswered or dismissed as unimportant than some of the more over-analytical fans thought, but I was still left stunned by how much remains unaddressed. It’s hard to tell exactly how Lord English gets defeated, other than that the most important character to it is someone who barely interacted with the other characters beforehand and even less in a way with any relevance to the conclusion. What’s the full solution to the Ultimate Riddle? Where did those kids who took on Caliborn, inadvertently put the finishing touches on Lord English, and ended up populating the house juju in A6A6A5 come from? What’s life like for our heroes in the new universe? What happens with the trolls, since Roxy recreated the Matriorb and Kanaya told Karkat he was needed to be the new trolls’ leader? What about Vriska and all the ghosts, what happens to them going forward? Why did we even see Caliborn break his clock at this point considering he’s not a proper protagonist and is in fact the main antagonist?

I don’t know for sure quite where Hussie went wrong, where he lost the magic touch that made Homestuck such a phenomenon in the first five acts. But something tells me it’s related to how long Act 6 took both in terms of number of pages and in terms of time. By wasting so much time on brand-new characters that could never have been made as compelling as the ones we were familiar with, especially when they were used more to shine light on the character of our antagonists than themselves, Hussie lost the connection to the characters we were familiar with, and by not only destroying the old session but forcing the pre-Scratch kids and trolls to wander through the void for three years before arriving in the new one, when everything that took place in the first five acts happened in just over twenty-four hours for the kids, he made the connection between the final battle and the rest of the story that much more tenuous even for the characters themselves. Those are the storytelling errors. But for the last two sub-acts of Act 6, a little over a quarter of the story’s total pages, to take half the total amount of time to play out, indeed for the last quarter to take three whole years to come out, we need to take a closer look at Hussie’s real-world decision making. Although the end of Act 5 was billed as the pinnacle of effort and production value Hussie was likely to put into the story, Hussie’s general trend of continually raising the stakes and topping himself meant that continuous pauses may have been in retrospect inevitable. But to explain just how prominent they became in the back end of Homestuck‘s run, we need to take a closer look at the factors sapping Hussie’s attention.

In retrospect, the beginning of the end of Hussie’s ability to even maintain the quality Homestuck had in early Act 6 was the Kickstarter for a Homestuck adventure game held in the summer of 2012. Hussie now had to divide his time between working on the game and working on the comic, and as time went on and the challenges associated with the game mounted, the comic suffered and took a backseat. Not all of those challenges were necessarily avoidable: though nothing was made clear publicly for legal reasons, meaning the full story may never be known, as far as the fandom has been able to piece together the studio Hussie originally hired to work on the game took the Kickstarter money and used it to work on an unrelated game, forcing Hussie to try to recover whatever he could of the money early in the year-long pause and start his own studio to work on the game. But at that point, it would have been clear both that Hiveswap would not be able to be finished before the end of the comic no matter what, regardless of what had been promised in the Kickstarter, and that it would demand a lot more of Hussie’s attention than he had in mind. I can understand the mindset that Hiveswap would actually be making money for Hussie’s business and Homestuck would not do so to the same extent, but the fanbase was waiting on pins and needled to see how Homestuck ended, while Hiveswap would be little more than a hypothetical until it came out. The best thing Hussie could do to maintain goodwill with the fans would be to focus on finishing Homestuck before turning his attention to the game.

But throughout Act 6, it became increasingly apparent that Hussie just was no longer that interested in Homestuck, which he originally intended to last no longer than the single year Problem Sleuth did, was perhaps even more impatient with its fans (increasingly devoting even the intermissions to self-aggrandizement and sticking it to his own fanbase), and just wanted to get it over with. For the first five acts, maybe even some distance into Act 6, Homestuck may well have been the incredibly dense yet satisfying work that, as Tyrell says, could be the subject of a fruitful graduate thesis, but as Act 6 went along it became much more shallow and inferior, much less rewarding or even consistent. It’s especially painful for me to read because I’ve actually gotten increasingly involved in a corner of the fandom that involves reliving the comic over and over, especially the early, good acts, and it’s such a letdown to go from that to how Hussie wound it up. The Hussie who wrote A6A6I5 onwards, if not before that, comes off as a Hussie that is finishing the story more out of a sense of obligation than anything else, just to get the fans off his back about finishing Homestuck (and get the monkey of leaving Homestuck unfinished off his own back) so he can concentrate on the game. I’m not all that confident Hussie even remembered all the loose ends he didn’t tie up or how he planned to do so, he was working on such a remove from the parts of the story he was actually invested in. The “edit” to the concluding newspost seems to confirm that, even with yet another lengthy pause leading up to it and virtually the entire ending consisting of guest art, Hussie had to rush to get everything put together in time, both making us wonder what got left out because of the time crunch and suggesting just how little Hussie wanted to do with Homestuck at this point.

The main thrust of that edit is to suggest that, at some point, when Hussie’s not working on as much of a time crunch, he might work on an epilogue to the story that might finally tie up some of the loose ends left untied. Unlike much of the fanbase that I suspect is desperate to salvage something from this ending, I don’t read it as him definitively committing to it. So at best, even now, even though Homestuck‘s “ended” it hasn’t really ended and we’re now sitting through another pause of indeterminate length waiting to actually get the closure we’re looking for, assuming Hussie hasn’t just begun stringing us along with false hope just to prevent the fanbase completely revolting over this ending – and even if he does eventually provide an epilogue, unlike PS‘s, it’s still likely to suffer because even in the best case, many of the loose ends it’ll tie up really should have been tied up before the climax, if it weren’t for the storytelling errors, skewed priorities, and other factors that left Homestuck with an ending far inferior to what Tyrell thinks it is and what the phenomenon it was in its first five acts really deserves. Homestuck could have gone down as the Citizen Kane of webcomics, as I suggested when the Kickstarter hit, but ultimately, what Tyrell’s post serves to demonstrate is how much it may well go down as the biggest disappointment and missed opportunity in webcomics history.

Incentive Auction FAQ

The broadcast TV incentive auction officially kicked off last week with the deadline for stations to declare their participation in the auction. This triggered a number of pieces about what the auction is, how it works, and what the implications of it are. In that vein, I decided to write my own explainer for anyone wondering what this auction thing is they may have heard about. Read More »