The Future of Content, Part I: How We Got Here, and Where We’re Going

One thing the recent brouhaha over SOPA has done is raise awareness of the entertainment industry’s long-standing efforts to line their pockets by restricting what everyone else can do on the Internet, a practice in place long before anyone had even heard of SOPA, as anyone familiar with the term “DRM” knows all too well.

At first blush, the matter seems simple: Content producers can’t expect to make money off their work if anyone can download it off the Internet for free. If no one can make money off their work, no one will bother to create work, so pirates are essentially free-riding off of others’ hard work and essentially robbing creators of the ability to continue making the work they’re enjoying. In fact, one thing the debate over SOPA and other anti-piracy efforts has been missing has been suggestions from the other side to crack down on piracy without hindering the Internet for everyone else, which has made it easier for the entertainment industry to portray the anti-SOPA protesters as a bunch of free-riding geeks. Fortunately, there are such efforts out there.

But the problem with this line of reasoning is that plenty of people are making money from people downloading their work off the Internet for free, often in ways the entertainment industry precisely wants to outlaw. And that points the way to a more fundamental issue, which is that none of this would be an issue if creative works didn’t completely break the rules of economics in the first place. The only reason this has become apparent is that the method of delivery has changed.

Economics is based on the principle of scarcity: there are only X number of things to go around, so we have to find some way to ration them out to the people who need them. You may find issue with the way capitalism does so, but that is neither here nor there. The point is that for physical things, this principle holds true, a simple consequence of the laws of physics; we don’t yet have a machine to make something from nothing. But for creative work, the value is not in anything physical at all, but in information (for lack of a better term), unless you subscribe to the “I like the look and feel of print” theory. If this information could be duplicated and disseminated completely independently of a physical context, the principle of scarcity would be completely irrelevant, and it would be impossible to use it to assign a price to creative works without imposing the sort of artificial constraints the entertainment industry has and wants to impose.

Creative works have been created for thousands of years in spite of this condition. Whether a religious ceremony, telling history in an epic poem, or just telling stories around the campfire, or even making a new contraption to make life easier, people have created and sustained art of all types without seeing any sort of compensation from it. While I have serious doubts about capitalist economics’ contention that the only reason people do anything is to make money or its equivalent (which is neither here nor there), nowhere is this more apparent than with creative works. Apart from the possibility (whose truth I don’t know of either way) that admission was charged to Greek or Roman plays, no one made any material gains from the vast corpus of creative works humanity created for thousands of years until very recently. They made creative works to perpetuate or sustain a religion, to bind together a culture, to form social bonds, or even merely because they had nothing better to do.

At first, creative works were passed from one person to another the only way they could be, through performance, whether a theatrical performance or re-enactment, or through someone simply reciting the poem. Other people could then memorize the performance, whether through training or simply witnessing the performance themselves, and then perform it themselves for a new audience. This crude approach kept the work as pure information and probably worked better than it’s often given credit for, but it did have a number of drawbacks, such as the potential for the work to be unknowingly edited repeatedly in a long-term game of telephone, or even eliminated entirely if outside forces put a stop to the performance. The development of writing gave creative works a sort of permanence, but was so difficult in both materials and reproduction that the problem of scarcity swung in the complete opposite direction: now only one copy of each work could exist, kept in vast libraries just to ensure the work continued to exist at all.

But like a soul bound to corporeality and all the suffering that comes with material existence, writing also bound creative works to physical objects, and when the printing press made reproduction relatively trivial, brought them into the economic world. The availability of creative works was now pinned to how much paper they were printed on. But the paper was interchangeable; the same blank sheet of paper could conceivably hold a page of the Bible, or of Don Quixote, or of The Wealth of Nations. Creative works were, at their core, still pure information, even if they needed paper devoted to them to be transmitted. You can’t pop an orange into Calvin’s duplicator and get another orange for free. You can put a piece of paper into a copy machine and get another piece of paper with the same writing on it that’s for all intents and purposes just as good as the original, or even copy down whatever is on the paper yourself and print any number of copies of it.

So it was inevitable that intellectual property laws started to arise less than half a century after the publication of The Wealth of Nations, initially in the form of patents that protected innovation, later in the form of copyright laws that protected other forms of creative works. Both laws essentially said that whoever came up with a creative idea first had the exclusive right to disseminate or exploit it; anyone else doing so was breaking the law. If such laws didn’t exist, anyone who had an idea would benefit everyone, but the person who originally had the idea wouldn’t get anything for coming up with it, at least not directly. These laws didn’t create any major problems, because even infringing works were bound to corporeality and physical objects. All that was needed was to confiscate those physical objects.

The state of affairs created by the printing press held for nearly half a millennium. Then more modern technologies – radio and television – came along. These technologies meant that, in theory, creative works were liberated from physical objects. A single performance could be broadcast to an audience far larger than could have ever seen it in person, and a single radio or television set would allow you to see or hear many, many performances over the course of its lifetime. In practicality, each performance ran into the same issues that befell the original oral tradition: in order to be replicated outside a single moment, they needed to be recorded for posterity on to some sort of physical object. Still, because one device could pay for many performances at no extra charge, the physical objects were no longer necessary to enjoy the performance itself, so they couldn’t have a price attached to them for content producers to make money off of. So content producers (and legislators) flipped the relationship, making the large audience itself the product that they could sell to corporations looking to advertise.

That wasn’t the end of the problems created by radio and television. One of the bigger issues came with the advent of the VCR, which suddenly gave households everywhere the ability to copy performances, even if only onto a single physical object without much room on it. It was a far more restricted sort of copying than that which threatened books, but it still caused movie and television studios to panic and threaten all sorts of legal action, for a while at least. On the whole, though, the system that emerged out of the invention of radio and television remained stable and worked for all parties for half a century. Then the Internet came along and broke everything. Finally, creative works were divorced from physical objects once and for all, and could be disseminated far and wide as pure information.

On a computer, creative works exist as a file, as X number of bytes stored on a hard drive. This file can then be placed on a server on the Internet. When someone wants to have that file, their computer reads the file off of the server, and can write its own version of the same file automatically. It is more trivially easy than ever to make copies of a creative work, potentially even as easy as dragging a file from one folder to another while holding the “Ctrl” key, or right-clicking on an image and pressing “Save As”. All the work is done by the computer, in not a whole lot of time either. It’s easy to see why trying to fight this process and maintaining a system designed for a world where the availability of creative works is bound to physical objects and broadcast spectrum seems like a losing battle by people trapped in the past.

What motivation can there be to create creative works when they are travelling as pure information? The key is to go back to those thousands of years where people created art without any sort of monetary compensation. Looking at the vast corpus of work that humanity created before the invention of the printing press, it’s absurd to claim that no one would produce anything creative if they couldn’t get paid for it. The absurdity lies in the very notion of creativity; creativity is an expression of self, not a job like any other cubicle job. The laws of economics, combined with centuries of creative works being bound to physical objects, has blinded us to this simple fact, but the Internet has flung open the curtains and exposed it for all to see. Not that monetary compensation is completely irrelevant, of course; even a creative endeavor can take up so much time and resources to create it becomes something like a job, and doing something for the fun of it, for better or worse, doesn’t have much room in today’s money-centric society. Is it possible for a creator to create something they feel like creating and still fill the need for money when the laws of economics are turned upside down?

It can be done. One option may be to charge just enough that the added convenience of not pirating outweighs the monetary cost, a fair price to the consumer. This is the idea behind the “micropayment” notion that rears its ugly head every so often, and while it’s an appealing notion, it’s one most studios are likely to recoil in horror from, and one that hasn’t worked in the past and is unlikely to work in the future. An age where people are paying just a few cents for creative works is one many of the companies distributing those works – serving as middlemen – have no place in. For certain media, though, it can work and in fact is working relatively well; iTunes has made it the norm in music, while others, such as the army of webcomics artists, attract readers for free and make money on advertising and merchandise. For anyone wondering how extensible these strategies are, recently the comedian Louis CK decided to produce his own comedy special and make it available on the Web without any of the restrictions a large company would impose for $5, and proceeded to make over a million dollars in less than two weeks, with any pirating proving to be minimal.

Given these circumstances, where it is indeed possible for artists to profit from having their works online, often at terms more favorable to both them and the consumer than what the entertainment industry would impose, there is no longer any excuse to fear the Internet killing off the industry, rendering measures like SOPA the very definition of overkill. Yet the industry has shown no signs of learning in the past. Therefore, I am calling for a boycott by all consumers and producers of creative works of any entity that seeks in any way to restrict and kill off the Internet rather than embracing it. I also call on the entertainment industry, in order to be exempt from this boycott, to sign a statement indicating their embrace of the Internet and the cessation of any efforts to restrict it. Although I do not wish to encourage piracy, I will say that it is acceptable to consume work from an entity that is trying to restrict the Internet so long as they do not receive any money from it and so long as you do not buy any products because they were advertised therein.

There are plenty of people out there producing top-notch entertainment on the Web and through other channels, often without any help from the old entertainment industry, if you know where to look. In music, it can be as simple as being more discriminatory with your selections. Stopping support for the movie industry is substantially harder, but there are independent producers out there that don’t put up as many barriers to entry as they can and sometimes even make their movies freely available on the Internet, and if you really need the experience of a movie theater, there are smaller theaters, likely in your own backyard, that aren’t beholden to the big studios. No medium has not at least started to colonize the Internet, almost always without the help of the old corporate leaders in their industries. You may even find a new favorite work.

It is also high time to overhaul copyright law to bring it into the twenty-first century so it no longer reinforces the entertainment industry’s idea that creative works are just like any other physical object to be bought and sold. Many if not most of the producers publishing their work on the Internet have left our antiquated copyright laws behind and have sought to embrace more liberal alternatives more suited to the nature of the Internet, such as the Creative Commons concept.

I acknowledge that the entertainment industry probably cannot simply flip a switch and suddenly know everything they need to know about making money on the Internet and change their thinking to embrace it. But any smart entertainment company had better start reading the multitude of books about it, and/or hiring people who can ease them through the transition, right quick, or else they’re just another company who tried to fight a new development that would make their existing business model obsolete instead of adapting to move into the new field it created.

A key theme in this series is going to involve the effect of taking out the middleman. Our world is littered with remnants of the days when creative works were tied to physical objects and broadcast spectrum – middlemen that could publish and market the work and broadcast it to the masses. These middlemen are fossils now, an incongruous presence in our age that nonetheless have been working very hard to maintain their relevance. Not all of them are completely unnecessary – no “online strategy” would ever be sufficient to produce something like Avatar – but in an age with no “barriers to entry” for any creative work, a smart creator knows better than to sign the sort of “deal with the devil” they represent. Perhaps that’s the real reason why the entertainment industry seemingly wants to kill off the Internet: they know that even if their products will continue being made, they themselves may already be extinct.

Best friends ’till the end…

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized lactose intolerance.)

It wasn’t that long ago that Belkar and Vaarsuvius hated each other probably more than any other two members of the Order of the Stick. And by “it wasn’t that long ago”, I mean “back when V’s domination of Yukyuk started“.

It’s one thing for them to suddenly be chumming it out like pals; quite another for this not to be a result of Belkar’s character development. If anything, Vaarsuvius is the one who seems to be backsliding on his own character development and showing decidedly amoral tendencies when the opportunity presents itself.

While I could chalk this up to bad writing, exacerbated by Rich’s pledge to post a strip every day until the pledge drive ends, I prefer to look at it three ways. One, what movement in morality Belkar may be undergoing is still decidedly cat-centered (this particular kobold gag comes in defense of his cat) and doesn’t necessarily indicate a shift in alignment. Anyone hoping for Belkar to become a goody-two-shoes before his death is likely to be sorely disappointed, though I still think what happened in the gladiatorial arena will ultimately prove to be the start of some sort of change in him. Two, this may be as much of a reflection of V’s character development as a contradiction, as he’s allowing himself to be the conduit for someone else’s revenge. As with Belkar, his alignment hasn’t changed, but maybe how that alignment expresses itself has.

Which brings me to the third angle: Belkar and Vaarsuvius were never all that different to begin with.  They are quite likely to be the only two non-Good members of the Order of the Stick, though Haley seems to have flirted with it. Both have shown their priorities to be to use their abilities and the situations they get into for personal gain, and both have been willing to do whatever it takes to get there, V more competently. Perhaps each of them saw a little bit of themselves reflected in the other, and utterly hated them for it. But all it ever needed to take was a slight shift in each of their viewpoints, a recognition of their teammates’ skills and how their own skills fit into that bigger picture, for them to become close, if somewhat warped, pals.

The flip side of that recognition, of course, is that when the OOTS is whole and not blindsided, at the moment they may be, more than at any other point in the comic, a force to be reckoned with.

CAA Shacks Up with NBC Sports Network

This is just a quick little post to make sure I continue The Streak into tomorrow. Normally I doubt this would deserve a post entirely its own.

However, I wanted to note that this is very good news for the CAA, which is one of the better mid-major conferences in basketball, if not quite on the level of the Big Three of the Missouri Valley, Mountain West, and Atlantic 10, boasting among others March Madness darling George Mason. Hooking up with NBC Sports Network greatly increases its exposure, as opposed to being a gap-filler on ESPN2 until the conference championship, and occords it a certain measure of respect beyond that of merely being a “miscellaneous” conference. It also shows that college basketball on NBC Sports Network isn’t merely shackled to the network’s desire to show Mountain West football.

It also exemplifies something I have long held about the sports TV wars: by creating a mass of sports networks, all hungry for programming, it frees up programming space on ESPN and others for more niche sports and leagues to get more exposure. Before, it was ESPN or bust; now, a league like the CAA can find a home on NBC Sports Network and not get lost in the shuffle. Not only that, but the CAA’s departure frees up space on ESPN to get more exposure there as well.

However, NBC may be running out of time to get a real, bona fide major conference. For reasons I’ll get to later this year, conference realignment and proposed changes to the BCS may make the Big East, already a relative football weakling, not much better if at all than the Mountain West at football, though it would still add greatly to NBC’s basketball bona fides. Coupled with ESPN and Fox locking up most of the other major conferences to long-term deals and teaming up to shut NBC out of the Pac-12, that could mean NBC’s only chance at nabbing a real major conference for a long time could be when the Big Ten’s rights come up in four years. NBC could claim some success if it won both the Big East and Big Ten – given how strong Fox has been, and the objections Notre Dame would raise to adding any more football to the broadcast network, a third of the Big Six conferences is doing about as well as could be expected – but anything less may well be unacceptable.

Sport-Specific Networks
6 7.5 4.5 2.5 0 1.5

The Future of Content: Prologue

This may be shaping up to be the Year of the Kickstarter.

The Elevation Dock is about to end its run with over 1.3 million dollars collected, 17.5 times what they initially set as their goal. No other project in Kickstarter history ever even broke a million. The Order of the Stick Reprint Drive demolished the previous record for the most-funded comics Kickstarter in about 48 hours and seems to be on track to at least threaten the record the Elevation Dock broke, if not break a million, by the time it ends.

And then Double Fine Adventure came along.

It’s remarkable enough that Tim Schafer and company set the bar as high as four hundred thousand dollars, a level only a handful of Kickstarters had ever achieved – when OOTS broke the top ten it was at less than $350,000. It’s even more remarkable that they doubled that goal and ran down the pre-2012 record in a day and zoomed past the Elevation Dock soon thereafter, becoming the most funded Kickstarter of all time in less than 48 hours.

Of course, you could say they represent the ultimate fulfillment of Rich Burlew’s advice, which may talk about being able to direct people to the site but can be generalized to “have a pre-existing audience”. But the fact that these projects can have this sort of astonishing success in this close proximity makes me wonder if this is just the beginning, especially if the independent video game community is paying close attention to Double Fine’s success, and especially if the fandoms of OOTS and Double Fine stick around in significant enough numbers to smash the horizons of what could be possible on Kickstarter.

That could allow creators to dream of making whatever they want and know there’s an army of people out their waiting to fund them to whatever extent necessary to get it off the ground, though for the moment it’s advisable to stay below five hundred grand and/unless you have an army of supporters already. (The Elevation Dock suggests it’ll blow away the usual model for venture capitalism as well.) The usual ways for such creative works to get funding, with all the barriers to entry and subsequent meddling that implies, could be rendered completely superfluous.

Now you know the real reason why those “usual ways” were so high on SOPA and PIPA. Their very survival is at stake.

Schedule update

Even though I finally got to the point where most of Part I of the Future of Content is written, in all likelihood I won’t be publishing it any earlier than Tuesday, and possibly a week later. If it happens a week later, it’ll be because I spend next week on a project I’m really excited about but would have much rather done last year. It’s anyone’s guess whether I do it at all, but my guess is probably not.

What do I do in the meantime? I’m thinking a Homestuck post is a possibility either tonight or tomorrow.

Also, I’ve confirmed the rules for the Morgan Wick Forum while leaving a mechanism for people to suggest changes in the future. I’ve also added a search function for the forum to the sidebar, and by the end of the week I’ll have a thread in the Movies forum recruiting people to join my 100 Greatest Movies Project.

The REAL calm before the storm. Hopefully.

I’ve already gotten tired of Da Countdown, and I think I was already starting to get tired while I was still setting it up. It works a lot better in Excel, not so much when I have to wade through a morass of meta tags, and change the ID on each one every time a countdown expires. So I’m probably not going to add many new countdowns to the Countdown Page from now on, nor am I necessarily going to transfer over every countdown on the page to the widget. I expect to start a new countdown on the widget about once a month from now on, with a bigger emphasis on site stuff.

I’m hoping I can get Part I of the Future of Content written tonight and up tomorrow (Thursday), but I’ve already dilly-dallied far longer than I ever intended…

Oh, and I’ve updated Da Countdown Page to reflect next year’s actual Thursday Night Football schedule.

I have something original and interesting to say about the OOTS Kickstarter for once!

You want to know what the most astounding thing is about the ongoing Order of the Stick Kickstarter? It’s not the sheer amount of money raised – over half a million and still going strong. It’s the fact that this is a reprint drive.

All six of the books being reprinted as part of this drive have seen print before; in fact, two of them weren’t even out of print before this drive spurred a run on copies. Most of the hardcore OOTS fans that would ever want copies of the books likely already got them when they originally came out, so they are likely to gain nothing as a result of this drive. The primary beneficiaries of this drive are probably people like me, who were late enough in coming to OOTS and/or in deciding to get books – perhaps people who hadn’t even heard of the comic, at least before all the attention this drive is getting – that some of those books were out of print by the time they decided to do so.

In my case, I almost wouldn’t have contributed because I’m lacking for money, I wasn’t interested at the start of the drive because I would rather get the second book before I ever get the third that was trying to be reprinted at the start, and (dirty little secret time) most of the books are more expensive if picked up through the drive than if they were just ordered through the Web site. The book I mentioned in my last post is an exception, as that pledge level is roughly equivalent to ordering the book through the Web site plus the $10 to get the PDF stories, and I eventually decided I could spare the expense to get that. If I’d had money a year ago (and I almost did) when about 75 copies of that book were found in the back of a warehouse and sold over 24 hours, I’d have picked up a copy then, then pledged to get the third book now (if I still had money). If I couldn’t get the second book then and had the money now, though, I’d just be pissed that Rich counted that 24-hour period as when the second book went out of print and waited to pledge anything until it was going towards reprinting the second book.

The point is, the majority of OOTS fans weren’t benefiting directly from this drive, and a portion of those who did probably wouldn’t be able to contribute meaningfully if their financial situation had something to do with their lack of the books. So how did Rich get them all on board to get those books back in print in such a way that it stunned even him?

I think an underrated aspect of the drive’s success is that, several weeks before it started, Rich hinted that getting the third book back in print would take “the full support of everyone who wants to have the book in their hands, and maybe even a little bit more than that.” Before anyone even knew what that was, it psyched everyone up to give their support to the drive if it was necessary. That got people who wouldn’t otherwise have cared in the mindset that they might want to contribute to the drive. Beyond that, however, much of the drive’s momentum at first probably didn’t stem from the prospect of getting the books reprinted, but by what else Rich was selling – namely, a brand new canonical story (for the low low price of $10!) starring one of the most memetic characters in the entire strip. Even if I had money but no second book, I might have begrudgingly pledged $10 to get that and hope that third-bookers getting their way would help me get my way. That suggestion is also raised in Rich’s recent interview with ComicAlliance, where Rich also indicates that people with a complete collection still wanted to contribute to the drive, but evidently, only once it started to pick up steam. (And Rich’s advice to comic creators looking to start a Kickstarter almost amounts to “start a webcomic”, which makes it a potentially ideal segue to my Future of Content series.)

Given the circumstances, I’m not sure I agree with whatever point El Santo is trying to make about what this means for webcomic creators trying to make money. He can’t be trying to say that you can simply start up a Kickstarter to get paid to work on your webcomic, because that seems to me to be akin to getting paid to goof off, or no different than setting up a PayPal donation box. If he means setting up a Kickstarter to pay for other merchandise, it’s unlikely he means any sort of merchandise that hasn’t been done by webcomic creators in the past – in fact, selling copies of his first book was what allowed Rich to call himself a full-time cartoonist. But if he means that a popular webcomic creator can fund some sort of project that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to make the numbers work out on before the fact? That’s a lesson I’d already taken to heart before I wrote my last post.

(And I still can’t get over all this happening while the actual comic is reaching a peak in the action, which has now gotten to the point of attracting the renewed attention of Tangents, giving newcomers an ideal jumping-on point to become addicted.)

2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Watch – The Top 50 Active Resumes

Surefire first-ballot players:

  1. QB Peyton Manning
  2. QB Tom Brady
  3. LB Ray Lewis

No one else has been quite as productive for so long as these three. I can’t imagine this is the end of the line for Manning, partly because he just has to play one game to reset the clock, partly because of who else would be up at the same time as him. More on this below.

Borderline first-ballot players:

  1. TE Tony Gonzalez
  2. RB LaDainian Tomlinson
  3. S Ed Reed
  4. CB Champ Bailey
  5. S Brian Dawkins
  6. QB Drew Brees
  7. DT Kevin Williams

Gonzalez would ordinarily be a surefire first-ballot guy, but tight ends getting in on the first ballot is rare to unprecedented, and he’s pretty close to the end of the surefire territory. More likely than not, LDT is going in on the first ballot as well; Reed and Bailey are far iffier and probably depends on who else is out there their first ballot. It’s kind of hard to believe the lofty territory Brees is climbing into, where he’s arguably the fourth-best quarterback of the past decade behind Brady, Manning, and Favre. He probably needs to stick around a few more years to really threaten the first ballot, though.

Surefire Hall of Famers:

  1. TE Antonio Gates
  2. CB Charles Woodson
  3. DT Richard Seymour
  4. S Troy Polamalu
  5. LB Brian Urlacher
  6. DT Jason Taylor
  7. TE Jason Witten
  8. DE Julius Peppers
  9. DE Dwight Freeney
  10. CB Ronde Barber
  11. G Steve Hutchison
  12. LB DeMarcus Ware

Realistically, given his position, Gates’ chances of getting in on the first ballot are basically nil at this point. Getting to the Pro Bowl this year improves his case, but he didn’t really deserve it. Charles Woodson had an All-Pro year that gets him much closer to the first-ballot conversation. Jason Taylor is retiring, and while some people may only know him from Dancing with the Stars, he has a resume to make it into Canton pretty quickly. Ware isn’t higher because he hasn’t actually been doing this for all that long; who knows what his ceiling is?

Borderline Hall of Famers:

  1. WR Chad Johnson
  2. QB Donovan McNabb
  3. RB Adrian Peterson
  4. C Olin Kreutz
  5. WR Andre Johnson
  6. WR Larry Fitzgerald
  7. WR Steve Smith
  8. QB Aaron Rodgers
  9. DE Jared Allen
  10. WR Wes Welker
  11. QB Michael Vick
  12. P Shane Lechler
  13. WR Reggie Wayne
  14. DE John Abraham
  15. DT Kris Jenkins
  16. CB Darrelle Revis
  17. QB Ben Roethlisberger
  18. KR Devin Hester
  19. QB Eli Manning
  20. K Adam Vinatieri
  21. RB Maurice Jones-Drew

Will the HOF voters bring themselves to vote for someone who named himself “Chad Ochocinco”, resume aside? McNabb’s career appears to be over with some pretty good quality production for a number of years, but never quite great, with no All-Pro team appearances and no rings; he’s going to be hotly debated. Peterson is getting pretty close to punching his ticket to Canton already, despite playing for a number of bad Vikings teams; ditto Fitzgerald and his only good Cardinals teams coming with Kurt Warner at the helm.

Rodgers is interesting, as he’s shockingly elevated himself in just a few years into one of the best QBs in the league and a surefire first-ballot HOFer if he keeps it up… but that’s a pretty big “if”. If he somehow falls off the face of the Earth next year and never gets it back, he’ll be remembered as a flash-in-the-pan who was, for a brief time, one of the best QBs in the entire league, a figure on par with Brady and Manning who picked up a ring along the way, and one of the great what-could-have-been stories. Would that be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame? Maybe… but it’d be a pretty long wait. Even more interesting would be Vinatieri: very few non-quarterbacks have been propelled into the Hall of Fame on the strength of their Super Bowls… but Vinatieri could be one of them, despite being a kicker, a position with only one other representative in the Hall at all. And while every quarterback with multiple Super Bowl wins is in the Hall of Fame except Jim Plunkett, they all have substantially better resumes than Roethlisberger and Manning (only two Pro Bowl selections apiece), which is why those two are so low.

Devin Hester has stated his intent to become the first kick returner in the Hall, but his already long-shot candidacy may have actually taken a hit this year, as Patrick Peterson beat him out for the Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. Worse, Peterson’s a rookie; what if Hester isn’t even the best kick returner of the next decade? Dante Hall already beat him out for first-team honors on the all-decade team for the last decade. What Hester may have going against him, no matter how gaudy the numbers he puts up, is that he came in an era where more people than ever were returning more kicks for more yards and more touchdowns than ever, at least before the NFL moved up kickoffs this season. If he’s returning kicks in an era more like past eras, he probably still stands out, but he’s probably not breaking records left and right.

Need work:

  • S Adrian Wilson
  • DE Haloti Ngata
  • LB Lance Briggs
  • QB Phillip Rivers
  • CB Nnamdi Asomugha

G Brian Waters would be next. Not long after this comes a lot of offensive linemen with mediocre resumes all bunched up, including some potentially surprising names, Jeff Saturday and Flozell Adams, the latter of whom has never made an All-Pro team. Saturday’s only been a class lineman since 2005 or so, not quite long enough for a HOF career. Considering his late start, could this lost season for the Colts prove to be poison for his Hall of Fame chances?

Players to watch for the future (exclamation marks indicate players with resumes already strong enough to be among the top 50):

  • LB Patrick Willis (5th year)!
  • OT Joe Thomas (5th year)!
  • OT Jake Long (4th year)
  • RB Chris Johnson (4th year)
  • LB Clay Matthews (3rd year)
  • RB Arian Foster (3rd year)
  • DT Ndamukong Suh (2nd year)
  • C Maurkice Pouncey (2nd year)
  • TE Rob Gronkowski (2nd year)
  • TE Jimmy Graham (2nd year)
  • QB Cam Newton (Rookie)
  • LB Von Miller (Rookie)
  • QB Andy Dalton (Rookie)
  • WR A.J. Green (Rookie)

Cam Newton set the single-season record for touchdowns by a QB, as a rookie, three-fourths of the way through the season. He may do more than any other single quarterback, more than Vick, Young, or Tebow, to redefine the position.

Players to watch for the Class of 2016:

  • QB Brett Favre
  • WR Randy Moss
  • WR Terrell Owens
  • G Alan Faneca
  • S Darren Sharper

Why are we looking at the list for 2016 instead of 2017? Because if we looked at players who retired after the just-completed season, we wouldn’t have looked at Moss or Owens last year, and we’d have looked at Favre the last four seasons at least.

Despite how he’s acted in recent years, Favre is going in on the first ballot unless Peyton Manning is done. That would make it interesting: two all-time first-ballot quarterbacks, seemingly from different eras, set to go in at the same time. Would one go first-ballot at the expense of the other (probably Manning at the expense of Favre), or would a huge rarity happen and two players at the same position go in in the same year? It once seemed unthinkable that Favre or Manning wouldn’t go in first ballot, but unless Manning can play again it could happen solely because of timing. Some might consider it karma that Favre’s constant retirement-delaying could cost him first-ballot status.

Moss is borderline and his attitude issues, combined with going in the year after both Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt (only one of whom at most is going in in 2015), could cost him, although Moss is considered one of the best wide receivers of his era, which you can’t quite say about Bruce and Holt. Everyone else is going to have to wait. Although both Moss and Owens have attitude issues, Owens’ issues are perceived to be worse and he generally isn’t considered as good a player, so Moss is going in first. Faneca will more than likely get in, but expect him to wait a while. Sharper’s chances I’m really skeptical of. Five Pro Bowls in a fourteen-year career doesn’t really cut it; if he gets in it’ll be because his All-Decade team membership saves him.

What does the NFL Network’s expanded schedule mean for the NFL’s efforts to sell some of it?

Roger Goodell’s announcement at his Super Bowl press conference that the NFL Network would get an expanded slate of primetime games isn’t really new news by itself. But when the NFL first announced that the NFLN would get this slate, it sounded like they would get 10-12 games, which allowed for speculation that the NFL was expanding NFLN’s slate as a short-term move to ease people into a full-season Thursday Night slate and goose NFLN distribution for one last time before the NFL sold half of that full-season slate to another entity.

So to hear that NFLN will have a 13-game slate, starting the second week of the season, taking only Week 16 off among weeks NBC doesn’t already have and that the NFL would be willing to schedule a Thursday night game on, effectively going to a full-season slate already… should that shock us into realizing that the plan the NFL seemed to be floating during the lockout is off the table?

When you combine it with NBC’s Thanksgiving night game, and NFLN seemingly abandoning Saturdays, which would mean that there are now, at most, 14 games to go around where before there were 16, it certainly should look like a distinct possibility. The NFL could very conceivably maintain this schedule indefinitely if they really wanted to. If you really wanted to engage in wishful thinking, you could say that NFLN is only serving as a placeholder because the NFL didn’t sell the Thursday night package this year, and they’ll have a package in place for next year… but there’s only so long you can maintain that notion. (And I don’t even want to dignify the notion of selling a Saturday night package.) The best chance for the NFL to eventually sell half of its Thursday night slate is if they administer an even bigger poison pill: an 18-game schedule, which the owners clearly still want.

At this late stage, it’s not as though losing that contract would be a disaster, at least not for the media companies. This year will see a number of high-stakes rights battles go down, including MLB, NASCAR, and the BCS, and I wonder if part of the reason the NFL is doing this is because several media companies have lost interest and intend on scaling back their bids in the near term. As much as Comcast, the company with probably the most interest, would love to use NFL programming to grow its NBC Sports Network, they could do the same thing with an MLB or NASCAR contract, possibly (I haven’t looked up the numbers) for cheaper, and attract a smaller but broader audience more days of the year and possibly get some big events on top of it. ESPN, which I had ranked third-most likely, was probably only really in it to keep Comcast from getting it. That leaves Turner and Fox; as much as Turner would love to get back into the NFL, they’re in a strong enough position as it is that they don’t really need it (unless they intended to put games on truTV), while Fox continues to be hamstrung by its inability to raise subscriber fees for FX.

The NFL would be leaving a lot of money on the table if they didn’t sell off those games, but they already extorted a lot more money out of their broadcast partners, and it’s apparent they’re more pissed that there are still some big-time holdouts for NFLN distribution even after the RedZone offer – although color me skeptical that throwing more third-tier primetime games on the pile is really going to bring Time Warner Cable around at this point if they weren’t brought around already. (This may be why Roger Goodell talks about putting every team in primetime… but the games will be shown on broadcast in the local markets, so those people won’t be motivated to call their cable provider, and showing every team means you’re going to be putting on some pretty crappy teams with apathetic fanbases, which may underline the cable companies’ point and, considering apparently every team will play a Thursday game following a Sunday game, might even further devalue the half of the package you sell because the scheduling ends up being so restrictive.)

On another note, did the NFL just kill Thursday as a viable college football night?

I think I know what birthday money I get that’s left over after school books will be spent on.

As a relatively recent but what I would still consider “longtime” fan of The Order of the Stick (four years, since a little after the 500th comic), I wish I had something new to say about the astonishing success of Rich’s Kickstarter effort to reprint his compilation and prequel books, which has, within two weeks (with another three still to go), cracked the top ten of all projects in Kickstarter history, and become, by Rich’s reckoning, the most-funded non-tech-gizmo in Kickstarter history, let alone the top-funded comic project (that record was smashed over a week ago), funding the reprinting of every single one of the books, even those that weren’t out of print. (I will say that, while Kickstarter has attracted the attention of the webcomic community in the past for its potential to fund various projects, this drive has really snapped my attention to its potential.)

More than that success (which I’m pretty much numb to at this point), I’m dumbfounded at the level of media attention the whole thing has gotten – catching the attention of freaking Boing Boing, for Pete’s sake! Of course, beyond the added fuel it’s presumably giving the drive itself, it has the added effect of introducing people to the fascinating world of The Order of the Stick; I hope Rich can reward them by producing material on par with that that attracted me to the comic, and the start of the Kickstarter does seem to have coincided with events picking up considerably.

There is one interesting side effect, however. Last year, Rich decided to release a book reprinting the material he created for Dragon magazine back in the day, plus a few bonus side-stories. He announced that it would be a limited print run and would only be available through his online store. Which made sense, since after all, a lot of his longer-standing fans had already read the Dragon strips when they originally came out, and it wasn’t like any of it was canon anyway. Fast forward to now: Some people are clamoring for Rich to commit to reprinting this special book as well, but Rich has shut the door on that, since he did say this was going to be a one-time limited-edition printing, and he’s not going to go back on that promise because of a site that’s all about promises (you don’t want your pledges to be going towards, say, goofing off and working on a blog while blowing off actual schoolwork).

Just one problem: Most of the people who pledge towards the drive will be receiving a follow-up story to one of the new stories in that special book. Along with about five other new stories that will be canon. So, if you’re interested in collecting all of the canonical material, you’re also going to get a story you’d probably like the original context for, which would require picking up this special book.

Not that it’s a big deal, since apparently Rich feels confident there are enough copies to survive this drive and for some time thereafter (which proves the original reasoning right up to this point, though the special book seems to have gotten the short end of the stick in terms of its availability with other books among the pledge rewards), but it’s certainly food for thought.