Did I just spend all of March without a post?

Considering I’m trying to sell a book, that’s not necessarily the best thing to happen, is it? I think I needed a period of time to come down from the process of writing the book so I spent much of the month goofing off, and while you might think the oncoming start of the incentive auction process would serve as a trigger for writing more posts, what it actually served as the trigger of was a personal project of mine.

Not to worry. I have several ideas for relevant posts that I hope to bang out over the next few days, both on the incentive auction and plight of broadcast, and on the larger shifts sweeping over the video landscape. Stay tuned.

Does ESPN LIKE the “Competition” from Fox and NBC?

Before I left for Seattle for a week and a half, I had reason to start thinking about the possibility of our household becoming a cord-cutting household, because as we were wrapping up the book my Dad mentioned that he had thought about cutting the cord, and maybe that he should cut the cord, but something was keeping him from pulling the trigger. What immediately leapt to my mind (besides the fact that our “TV” is not only SD, but an old-fashioned tube with dials that’s older than me and has decayed enough to be really fuzzy, especially with our cable box letterboxing literally every channel) was the fact he’s a pretty decent-sized sports fan, and an absolute soccer fanatic. (This is one reason Chapter 3 of the book spends three sections on soccer.) His favorite team is Italian, his second favorite is the Seattle Sounders, and near as I can tell his third favorite is Barcelona. So you might think he’d be able to get by with a subscription to Sling TV, which carries beIN Sport for games from Italy and Spain and ESPN3 for any Sounders games that aren’t nationally televised. His second favorite sport is basketball, specifically the NBA, and Sling TV works very well for an NBA fan, since it carries both ESPN and TNT (but not, apparently, NBA TV, despite what I say in the book).

But in order to catch every Sounders game, namely a substantial percentage of the biggest ones (such as playoff games and games against rivals Los Angeles and Portland), he would also need access to MLS’ other English-language TV partner, FS1, which he would also need to catch most of his favorite European teams’ UEFA Champions League games, most of the World Cup, and half the baseball playoffs (which is another sport he follows). Since the Sonics left Seattle and he’s spent more time in LA, he’s become attracted to the Clippers as they’ve actually become good and lost their incompetent, racist owner, and regularly turns the TV on to their non-nationally-televised games on Fox Sports Prime Ticket, another Fox Sports outlet he would need access to. And while he’s not that big a fan of the Premier League, he has taken to watching a good number of their games given their wide availability under NBC’s contract, so he wouldn’t mind getting NBCSN as well.

While none of those channels are on Sling TV, all of them are on PlayStation Vue, the streaming service Sony introduced last year, and Los Angeles is one of PS Vue’s few launch markets (as the presence of Prime Ticket indicates). But a year ago, when Sling TV was announced, I mentioned that it was preserving the cable bundle, not breaking it up, and PS Vue is that much more so – once it adds the Disney networks, as it’s slated to do soon, it will have channels from all nine of the companies I mention in Chapter 7 as controlling most of your cable lineup – so it hardly represents breaking free of the cable bundle or in line with the real spirit of cord-cutting, as Cord-Cutters News recently pointed out. A package of channels containing beIN Sport and Prime Ticket would set him back $59.99 a month, $54.99 a month under a promo offer, assuming those prices don’t go up when the service adds ESPN, and he still wouldn’t be able to catch non-nationally-televised Galaxy or Laker games on Time Warner Cable SportsNet, let alone Dodger games on SportsNet LA. Time Warner Cable, by my calculation, will be charging him about $125 once their rate hikes take effect, while offering the Internet speed he’s currently getting standalone for $45 for the first 12 months; throw in a $10 fee for modem leasing, and under all promotional offers he’d be paying $110, the same price he pays now, to essentially switch television providers and lose access to any channel not programmed by the Big Nine (or the Epix he receives in a promotional deal), before even picking up any other streaming services he might want like Netflix, or any other fees he’d still be paying.

In October, Todd Juenger, an analyst for an investment firm, laid out the exact process for how a standalone ESPN would dismantle the cable bundle. It wouldn’t be because sports fans would dump cable en masse to sign up for ESPN – like my dad, they would want to watch their local team on regional sports networks and other sports on FS1, NBCSN, TNT, and numerous other networks. Rather, it would be because ESPN’s defection would trigger a massive move to similar streaming services by all the other networks in the bundle, making it that much easier for non-sports fans to cut the cord and break free of the cable bundle – without sending $100 a year to ESPN. It’s a delicate balance holding the cable bundle together: ESPN needs everyone who wants to watch The Walking Dead, The O’Reilly Factor, Naked and Afraid, or Adventure Time to take part in some sort of bundle that forces them to pay the ESPN tax, but in order to justify that bundle’s existence, they need sports fans to need the entire bloated cable bundle. Look at it this way: sports fans whose cable companies are members of the NCTC wouldn’t cut the cord if the NCTC and its members followed through on their threat to drop AMC and deprive them of The Walking Dead, but losing the NCTC as a distribution partner would make it much more attractive for AMC to launch some sort of standalone service that would make it a lot easier for Walking Dead fans to stop paying the ESPN tax (especially if they could team up with Viacom, which has been missing from Suddenlink for over a year, as mentioned in the book), while doing the same to Fox or some other outfit with valuable sports might just set off a chain of events that causes the cable bundle to collapse surprisingly rapidly. ESPN is effectively ransoming all the other members of the Big Nine to remain tied at the hip with them, and the more of them that are themselves invested in sports on cable, the better.

A while back, after wondering why ESPN kept helping Fox win sports rights in order to box out NBC when Fox was already looking like a more credible challenger to ESPN’s throne, I seized on a throwaway comment in a post on the Frank the Tank site to write a post of my own suggesting that, while ESPN may not have wanted competition, what they really didn’t want was for that competitor to be associated with one of their distribution partners, making it that much easier for Comcast to drive them a harder bargain on distribution fees, to the point of building FS1 as their own competitor in order to keep NBCSN down. In turn, Dave Warner, proprietor of the What You Pay For Sports website, seized on that post and made it an important piece of his own message, even as I became uncomfortable with building too much of a theory on a one-paragraph comment that may not even have reflected its author’s full thoughts on the issue, or even necessarily was held all that strongly by its original author (especially after NBC’s original Premier League deal, made shortly after my post, re-raised the spectre that Comcast just wasn’t that interested in running down ESPN). My post led Warner to believe that there was no way ESPN would let NBC re-up with the Premier League when that contract came up for renewal last year, that NBC had built the value of the property so much and had picked up enough momentum from it that ESPN would have to bring it to a screeching halt. Obviously, that didn’t happen; in fact, even before that ESPN decided it didn’t want to keep NASCAR any more, which combined with Turner’s own decision to that effect basically placed perhaps the most valuable property NBCSN has yet attained into their lap. Clearly, there’s more to the story of why ESPN would help out Fox so much than just “we need to keep NBC out at all costs”.

Part of the explanation, as suggested in the book, might be that companies are willing to team up to keep their own price down. But perhaps a more accurate explanation might be that ESPN doesn’t want to have a complete monopoly on sports on television – if it were, everyone else could team up to create a service without it (which, ultimately, is why ESPN and Disney signed up for PS Vue, a deal only announced in November). Instead, ESPN is willing to sprinkle just enough sports throughout the rest of the cable bundle to give sports fans a decent enough reason to keep giving money to as much of the Big Nine as possible, without giving up so much to actually allow anyone to challenge them (or raise their fees enough to accelerate cord-cutting, or dilute ESPN’s own value). ESPN is fine with staying out of the regional sports network business and letting Fox and Comcast be the dominant players there, and they’re willing to let Fox and Comcast have enough content to build their own national sports networks without getting anything truly valuable. It’s true they would rather have Fox be stronger than Comcast be strong enough to drive a hard bargain with them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want Comcast to have anything valuable, just that they’d rather have NBCSN remain a niche sports network (and in some very real senses, the Premier League and NASCAR are still niches) and help Fox get the stuff on the higher end of the value scale that ESPN is willing to give up. After all, as more sports (like, say, the half of the LCS that wasn’t there already) move to cable, regardless of the network that airs it, giving sports fans more of a reason to stay tied into the cable bundle, ESPN benefits more than anyone. As Awful Announcing’s Matt Yoder put it, “In what other industry can you still get 24 times as much money from a customer who chooses your competitor’s product over your own?”

This turns pretty much everything I’ve written about the sports TV wars – including the big book I just put out – upside down. I’ve framed the war as ESPN protecting their hegemony against insurgents, but cord-cutting is the real insurgency, and it may be that ESPN (maybe without even initially realizing it) has actually used Fox and Comcast to protect their hegemony by fortifying the resiliency of the cable bundle. The title of my book, The Game To Show The Games, may have been more accurate than I realized – for ESPN, it’s just another game for them to benefit from, perhaps even more so than college football or the NFL. The cable bundle truly is ESPN’s world, and everyone else is just paying the rent – literally.

Blog-day… and now Book-day!

This is just the 51st post in Year Nine of Da Blog, shattering the previous record low that I thought at the time would be unbreakable. A good chunk of that total consisted of the Flex Schedule Watch and the Broadcast Rat Race (which I still intend to take up again next year, though I probably won’t pick it back up again this year), with over a third of the year from April through August consisting of one post a month, and many of the posts in the early part of the year being ratings posts, so there wasn’t a lot of high-quality content on here this year. Looking at this, you may think this was a horribly unproductive year, and certainly not what was intended when I moved down to LA to be with my Dad a little over a year ago.

You’d be wrong. Well, you’d be half-right. Let me explain.

The main focus of my mental and creative energies this year was writing my book about the sports TV wars, which you may recall I mentioned in last year’s blog-day post as potentially “tak[ing] up a lot of my time in the first four months or so of the new year.” That… didn’t exactly happen. Had I stuck to that original four-month schedule, I might have been able to produce the finished product as early as September; instead we sent an incomplete draft to reviewers a few months ago with a stated release date of December 1, which at least would have made it a great gift for Christmas. Instead I’ve been working overtime to get the book ready before I fly up to Seattle on Christmas Eve again, all while new developments have been unfolding in the area the book is supposed to cover, and the later it falls the less relevant it becomes.

51j-YErfIiL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_With all that out of the way, I’m pleased to announce that the book, The Game to Show the Games, is now available for your reading pleasure on Kindle, with a paperback version slated to come out sometime in the new year. Here you’ll learn about the business model that has allowed ESPN to grow from a ramshackle operation in Bristol, Connecticut to an unstoppable juggernaut that seemingly dominates all areas of sports, about the efforts of media companies to copy that business model and how it’s both benefited and transformed sports great and small in ways good, bad, and neutral, how the importance of sports and ESPN’s business model to the television industry is affecting it on every level, and about the force that’s in the process of sending it all crashing down. Whether you’re a sports fan or sports hater, a cord-cutter or cable addict, you’ll learn something important from this book.

In correspondence with the book, I’m going to be making a number of changes to Da Blog, and the rest of the Morgan Wick Online Universe, over the next couple weeks:

  • Part of the reason the book took so long is that I actually wrote more detail than was strictly necessary about some things. There are also some topics I didn’t quite have time to cover by the time I could have gotten around to them, or that didn’t fit in the structure of the book. So over the next two weeks, in addition to catching up on some developments in the cord-cutting and broadcasting worlds I was too busy working on the book to talk about, I’m going to post a number of outtakes from the book touching on topics insufficiently covered, or not at all, in the book itself. Those posts will go in the new Game to Show the Games subcategory of the Sports TV Business category, along with my past posts about the sports TV wars. I’ll also create a new landing page at morganwick.com/tgtstg with links to key past posts for further understanding each chapter, as well as the outtake posts.
  • I’m going to try to freshen up some elements of the site layout as well, things that haven’t aged well or don’t work at all (like the Twitter widget that was always a red-headed stepchild to begin with). In particular, the plugin I’m using for the Sports and Webcomics subsites should allow me to finally have a different left sidebar for them. I also hope to have the forum back up and running again before the new year. And while I’m not going to start dismissing or ignoring it entirely, I am going to tone down mentions of my… “condition” in places like the About Me page to not be quite so scary.
  • Oh, speaking of which, I have a new profile image I’m going to start rolling out on my various social media platforms and other Internet hangouts, especially those that are particularly important to my “professional” image, as opportunities arise to update them, starting with a new, less-outdated Twitter bio.

With the book out in the world, hopefully I can get back to a more regular posting frequency in the new year. More to the point, with the release of the book I’ve taken my first steps in truly expanding my brand out into the wider world. Time will tell what the reception to the book is, if there is any, and whether Year Ten is the year that sets the tone for the rest of the decade if not the rest of my life, the year that fulfills the purpose of moving down here to LA to begin with, or is just another year like the last nine that keeps me toiling away on another approach to getting ahead. But we’re going to be going as all-out as we can to make it the former, and that means no matter what, it’s going to be a wild ride.

Peeking my head back in the door…

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

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

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

A slightly belated blog-day.

A year ago, I said that Year Eight would have to be a big year for the future of Da Blog, and to some degree that happened. It certainly wasn’t the wasted year the previous year was; I wrote a lot more of what might be called “classic” posts, for lack of a better term, and got set up for the future when I moved to LA to be with my Dad.

But despite that, and much to my own surprise, this is only the 94th post since my last blog-day post, meaning in terms of number of posts, Year Eight on Da Blog was about on par with Year Seven. This despite ditching the Studio Show Scorecard posts and writing a bunch of posts about the future of television and video in general. Part of that has to do with the continued atrophying of webcomics posts (which I think I’m just about ready to abandon entirely, though I should have a review up by the end of the week), part of it has to do with me falling way behind on ratings for much of the year and only putting up a few weekly ratings posts in October and November. There also were long stretches without any posts for parts of the year.

Overall, however, I think this year was a lot bigger in terms of quality of content than last year. More of my posts this year made important points about television and the Internet, including the Nexus of Television and Sports in Transition series; the lack of webcomic and ratings posts meant there were fewer posts that were purely ephemeral, and more posts that had more thought put into it. It was a big year for net neutrality and cord-cutting, and while I can’t say I did a lot of reporting on it per se, I certainly think I introduced a new perspective on it, or at least would have if I had any audience whatsoever outside the Flex Schedule Watch posts. I had very few posts in 2014 that didn’t have something to do with TV in some way, and even fewer that didn’t have something to do with sports or TV. I may also be emphasizing Twitter more as a place to put interesting things, even if only for my own reference.

Next year may or may not see an increase in posting frequency. Right now I’m working on a book about the sports TV wars (a book I always thought should exist but never trusted myself to be the one to write it), partly an expansion of the Nexus of Television and Sports in Transition series, that could take up a lot of my time in the first four months or so of the new year. The hope is that this will provide a solid financial foundation and finally attract more people to the stuff I spew out here; even if that’s a pie-in-the-sky dream, at least it’d serve as an expansion of my #brand. I may try to get a lot of that written this coming week when I head back to Seattle for Christmas (as it turns out, I’m not writing this post from there because I’m not flying there until Christmas Eve and not coming back until New Year’s Eve); circumstances beyond our control have made the past few months less productive than I would have liked and put us in an apartment with no real escape from Dad’s cat, whose every lick and scratch is more than enough distraction for me. Dad and I have also talked about potentially trying to get stuff published in other venues, so look for that as well. What I do post here will probably be more of the same as in 2014: trying to convince people that broadcast television does have a role, however circumscribed, in the video landscape of the future if it’s willing to embrace it and doesn’t sacrifice itself at the altar of retransmission consent revenue, coupled with as much coverage of sports ratings as my sources will allow (to which I may be adding a new one to the list).

I may have said that Year Eight would be a big year for the future of Da Blog, but Year Nine looks to be the real deal. There are concrete plans in place, and this looks to be the year that sets the tone for the rest of Da Blog if not the rest of my life.

An important announcement on plans for Da Blog and my life going forward

Except for around Christmas (including the annual blog-day post), this is the last post I will make on Da Blog from the Seattle area for the foreseeable future.

In my last blog-day post, I mentioned the possibility that my work on Da Blog would be “directly supported and nurtured”; now I can say a bit more about what that was referring to. Over the Labor Day weekend, I will be moving down to live with my dad in Los Angeles. We’ve been talking for several years about this; the plan is for Dad to support me and allow me to work on Da Blog without being distracted by school, a job, the people I live with, or the school I’ve lived across the street from for the past three years, with Dad as my “boss” to keep me focused and try to actually get an audience going and increase exposure to my writings. (While this is going on, the “Da Blog in LA” category will only be used for LA-specific posts I couldn’t have made if I weren’t there, which is to say it probably won’t be used at all.) At one point we talked about us living together for about two years; I don’t know if that’s still the plan, but I have the site’s hosting locked down through June of 2016, and if we still don’t have anything going by then – if we’re at the same place we’ve always been throughout what will then be nine and a half years of Da Blog – it may be time to give up on actually making anything of Da Blog.

Some things have been settled already, but most of the details will be fleshed out on the drive down. I may have another post after the weekend is over detailing any substantial changes coming to Da Blog in the near term as a direct result of this move.

In the meantime, I’ve updated the lineal titles in preparation for football season. It seems I never actually updated the lineal titles before last year, despite what I said in last year’s post. Both of last year’s new college football lineal titles got merged with others; the BCS title was merged with 2006 Boise State pretty quickly, while Ohio State’s claim was merged with 2009 Boise State at the Rose Bowl. This year starts with three lineal titles; Alabama went undefeated until the Miracle at Jordan-Hare and Auburn went on to the BCS Title Game, so 2006 Boise State starts the year with national champion Florida State. You can see what happened to the NFL lineal title on the history page accessible from the category page.

The potential of the American Sports Network

The Sinclair Broadcast Group is representative of everything wrong with broadcasting in the new millennium. During the 00’s they became notorious for repeatedly airing “documentaries” on their stations that were hit pieces on Democratic figures and causes, most notoriously one on the Swift Boat accusations against John Kerry in 2004. Even before that they were a dirty word in media consolidation circles for their use of shell companies to circumvent FCC rules prohibiting owning more than one station in a market (and later, owning more than two in a large market). Recently, they’ve gone on an acquisition binge, including DC-based Allbritton and Seattle-based Fisher, that has them bumping up against another FCC limit: if the FCC goes forward with eliminating the “UHF discount” (counting UHF stations as only half their market value against the national cap) Sinclair will be bumping up against the limit in a way that the companies owning the stations in the largest markets – and who also own the very networks Sinclair is affiliated with – will not be.

But Sinclair’s market power also gives it considerable influence over the future direction of the broadcast industry. And in that light, today’s announcement of the American Sports Network, or ASN, fits so perfectly into the framework I laid out a year ago that I can’t help but wonder whether someone at Sinclair read the version of that post I put on RabbitEars.info. Assuming it’s not so dependent on retransmission consent revenue that it results in Sinclair undermining their own nominal means of distribution, it could well be the key to the broadcast industry’s turning around its fortunes. And though it launches with only five mid-to-low-tier college conferences on board (only one of which plays FBS football), it could well prove to have a better shot at running down ESPN than any other player that has come along so far.

ASN will initially be distributed primarily across Sinclair’s CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates, and on digital subchannels on Sinclair’s other stations. The press release also mentions that “other broadcasters” are interested in airing ASN content as well. This makes me wonder whether Sinclair’s long-term plan is to turn ASN into a potential replacement for the CW and/or MyNet, especially in light of yesterday’s news of Fox’s attempt to buy Time Warner, which would have given them half-control of the CW and likely resulted in either the CW turning into CBS’ version of MyNet or the closing of MyNet entirely (and especially if they throw in Ring of Honor wrestling). The press release also mentions the potential launch of “new cable networks and digital platforms” surrounding ASN content, pending securing agreements with cable providers – which could refer to an aspect of what I had in mind last year I didn’t dare mention or even hint at, which would allow ASN, were they to set their sights much, much higher than the likes of Conference USA, to avoid the pitfalls that were the downfall of Fox Sports Net.

Throughout the 90s, many people felt that the collection of regional sports networks across the country, including the majority of them operating under the SportsChannel and Prime names, were they to join together as a single force, could put together a sports empire rivaling ESPN, given their distribution advantages and the attractive programming from local teams they could offer. But when Rupert Murdoch bought the SportsChannel and Prime networks with an eye to doing just that, the very thing that looked like so much of an asset proved to be FSN’s undoing. Any national programming FSN had was prone to being pre-empted for local teams’ games, which meant any entity with a national programming arrangement with FSN automatically had a worse deal than if they were with anyone else (something then-Pac-10 fans especially chafed at in the early-to-mid-00’s), and any national studio shows couldn’t count on a consistent time slot or even consistently airing at all. (I remember how upset I was when the Mariners played an East Coast game that pre-empted “I, Max”, the show Max Kellerman got from FSN upon leaving ESPN, entirely.) Now the rise of the RSN owned by the team playing on it, coupled with the rise of Comcast as an RSN player and aided by Fox’s own actions, has taken Fox’s once-complete hegemony over the RSN marketplace and greatly dismantled it.

Suppose Sinclair were to sign up a much bigger array of content for ASN – major professional sports and major college conferences, maybe some top mid-majors as well – and signed up affiliates from all over the country. And suppose they then launched a cable channel that amounted to an ASN national feed, taking content from their various rights deals and distributing them to a national audience. Sinclair could offer certain ASN programming “nationally” to various ASN stations, but even if that programming were to be rejected or pre-empted for something of local import, Sinclair could simply stick it on the ASN national feed, ensuring truly national distribution for the biggest content Sinclair has. Sinclair could then have an alternate feed to stick on other programming in markets where the main ASN game is airing on the local ASN station. In effect, rather than being inferior to any cable network with decent national distribution, being on the ASN national feed would be a sort of hybrid between being on a national broadcast network and being on an ESPN knockoff.

For ASN to really reach its potential, the FCC (and Congress) would need to fix the broken economics of the broadcast business, where broadcast stations and networks must either embrace the retransmission consent regime and thus see themselves as cable networks first and foremost, or inexorably lose programming to actual cable networks with their decided monetary advantages. Depending on how it’s done, and how the Internet shakes up the live video marketplace, it could completely upend the competitive landscape and destroy the potential of most of the ideas (not to mention the metaphors) in the previous paragraph. But if it happens, here’s the blueprint I would have for ASN to succeed where FSN failed and for the broadcast industry in general to bounce back from the point where its own nominal guardians have turned against it:

  • Convince teams, leagues, and conferences that between the FCC’s reforms and the impact of the Internet, the cable network market is badly oversaturated, and given the superiority of the technology of broadcasting (leaving aside the economics and regulatory landscape surrounding it), the regional sports network and league- and conference-owned network, though in better shape than most cable networks, is a bad way to go, especially considering the bitter carriage disputes surrounding them. Convince stations around the country of the same thing and that whatever obstacles they may face in the short term will be outweighed in the long term by eliminating one of the biggest barriers left to widespread cord-cutting.
  • Offer to negotiate on behalf of every English-language general-entertainment station not associated with one of the major networks (or a network seriously trying to be one of the major networks), not just ASN stations. Then make a deal with the leagues: so long as there are stations available, every game of a team that claims a given market will be televised, but any game there’s not enough stations for cannot be blacked out on the out-of-market package. This may take the form of an NFL-esque deal where ASN handles the distribution of every team’s game not on a non-ASN national platform. This is especially important for baseball, but allowing the ASN national feed to take content from any station allows the national feed to take content from any team or conference it wants without tipping the scale in negotiations towards ASN stations. (Some side notes: first, “digital subchannels” are a failure and I don’t see them surviving the upcoming FCC-mandated auction and repack; otherwise the ASN national feed might be one. Second, this would be largely dependent on CBS and Fox being open to aiding something that might take a bite out of their main networks in order to maximize the number of stations available in the largest markets; if they aren’t, the FCC might have to repeal or severely tighten the duopoly rules, which could leave Sinclair unable to run ASN. Third, the borders between conferences are blurry enough now that many areas may be within the sphere of influence of multiple conferences, so it may not be possible for ASN to handle them all alone; fortunately, more markets than you think have at least two stations of the type I discuss here even with a fifth network, especially if you count the enigmatic Ion network. And fourth, every game is more than any station has ever showed in a non-NFL professional sport, but in retrospect that practice merely opened the door for the RSN to walk in and undermine independent broadcasters, at least sooner than it could have.)
  • The existence of the ASN national feed and rise of the Internet may obviate the need for league-owned networks. Some college conferences (namely the SEC and Big Ten) may be confident of their ability to keep their conference networks going even under the new economics, given the passion of their fanbases. To counter this, export the conferences you do have to the entire country. You don’t have to give national distribution to every single conference, but if most of SEC and Big Ten territory can get ACC or Big 12 games for free (and hopefully, without needing a kludge to get them on a mobile device), and can’t do the same with the SEC and Big Ten, it could put a big scare into the both of them.
  • Don’t get involved with the NFL unless it falls in your lap, then snap it up in a heartbeat. Some of your stations are probably going to show NFL preseason games and cable-game simulcasts without your help.

The end result could be a landscape where only two cable sports networks are left: ESPN and the ASN national feed (assuming cable networks themselves still exist as we know them once the Internet is done with them). Things that don’t fit the local team-sports framework like NASCAR and golf would probably go to ESPN, and ESPN would probably still have important maj0r-league pro sports games, but events like the college football national championship game would abandon ship and return to major broadcast networks where they belong, and ASN’s combination of national distribution and local broadcast stations could give it a significant advantage in any negotiations, and they could find themselves in possession of important MLB, NBA, and – perhaps especially – NHL playoff games.

Is this a bit of a utopian pipe dream? Sure – this is the sort of idle imagining I spend way too much of my free time on and then am hesitant to put on the blog because it has so little relation to reality. This one, though, has just enough relation to reality to be an enticing vision for those that believe in broadcast television – and sometimes, a concrete yet distant vision is just what’s needed to be the impetus for change. If the future of broadcast television lies in live sports, this may be the first, halting acknowledgement of that fact – and the start of broadcast television’s comeback. The only problem is, is it too late?

A not-quite-so-belated blog-day.

In many ways, Year Seven of Da Blog was a wasted year for me. This is the 91st post since my last blog-day post, when I didn’t think I would ever have less than 100 again, considering the circumstances when I last had that few. The reasons I’ve had low post output in the past don’t seem to apply this year – for example, neither this post nor last year’s blog-day post were made cowering in a bus stop shelter.

Part of the reason is that, after making a commitment to more webcomic reviews in my first post of the new year, I wound up not doing a single full review this year, in part because the comics I chose to start with on Comic Rocket were uniformly uninspiring at best (though I hope to get one in by the end of 2013). I also haven’t managed to get completely caught up on Homestuck all year, which would have been good for a substantial number of webcomics posts, and OOTS has gotten even slower at post frequency since Rich’s thumb injury. But even webcomics posts are only part of the story. I’ve tried to put more focus on schoolwork (passing one of the two incredibly difficult classes I had to pass), but even that only goes so far towards explaining things.

No, a bigger issue is the thing that has increasingly taken over Da Blog over the past six months-plus, causing me to be ridiculously late on a number of things, including a sports graphics roundup I should have put up by the end of August: the sports ratings posts. The Studio Show Scorecard has been an especially nasty culprit. The only responses I got on the semi-recent Da Blog Poll were supportive of keeping the Scorecard going, but I’m serious, without it going through each week’s ratings would take only 40% of the time it does and it would still come out to over an hour and a half; as it stands it takes almost four hours, and much of the SSS work is really tedious. (And I’m going to add something else to the SSS that’ll make it take even longer when we get to the November 18 post.) Other than the SNF Flex Schedule Watch, which is pretty short and easy for me to do and attracts a considerable amount of traffic to Da Blog, virtually all other posts disappeared once the SSS started, and neither type of ratings post has been all that successful at attracting traffic to Da Blog. Among other things, the final year of the college football rankings ended up being nonexistent as a result.

In some way, shape or form, Year Eight is going to be a big year for Da Blog, whether good or bad. I’ve said that before, but in this case it kind of has to be. I believe I have one class remaining before graduation, meaning I would be effectively taking the spring off, and the way that class is set up for me I might be effectively taking the winter off. I’m probably going to have to get a real job fairly quickly, and by the end of the year I’ll either be working that job – and probably will have figured out how much time I can devote to Da Blog long-term – or in a situation where my work on Da Blog is being directly supported and nurtured.

I’m going to be making some effort to make something of Da Blog over the first few months of 2014. I’m working on a series of posts taking a big-picture view of the sports TV wars that should go up in the first few weeks of the new year, I’m going to try and do some bigger things around the sports TV ratings posts, and I have a few more ideas I’m going to try to make something of. 2014 is going to be a transition year for me, one unmatched since the year that saw the launch of Da Blog. Only time will tell if it’s going to be a transition that’s good or bad for Da Blog.

How Windows 8 Changes Everything, Part V: The Reinvention of E-Mail (And How Another Blast from the Past Could Be Your Google Reader Replacement)

If you follow my tweeter, you know that I finally got on board the smartphone bandwagon a few months ago, shortly after completing (or so I thought) this series. I’d lost my cell phone back in February and for all her reticence, Mom wanted me to have a cell phone while she took a vacation in Phoenix over my spring break, so she gave me her old iPhone. As you might expect, it has proceeded to become a massive time-suck, not helped by my laptop being unusable during the break and falling apart now (I honestly fully expected to have a Windows 8 tablet by now, but Mom actually seems to be holding out for the more expensive tablet with cellular access).

Confession time: the e-mail address I’ve given on Da Blog in the past, the mwmailsea at yahoo dot com one? I’ve actually checked it very seldomly for years. For the most part, it’s filled up with a bunch of newsletters I signed up for many years ago, some not even intentionally, most of them before I got IE7 and its accompanying RSS reader, that I never really intended to even read, so the signal to noise ratio has been low and I’ve generally used another e-mail address to actually communicate with my family, therapists, and school personnel. Even that address I’ve never checked as obsessively as some people check their e-mail.

Now, however, I’ve hooked up both e-mail accounts to the iPhone’s e-mail app, meaning I now find myself checking both accounts regularly throughout the day. In the process, a funny thing has happened. Those newsletters that I signed up for lo those many years ago, that I’ve never given a second thought to in years? I’ve actually bothered to look at some of them, and some have managed to link me to rather interesting articles, some of which I’ve even gone on to link elsewhere.

For years, e-mail has sort of been the quiet, unsung backing of Internet communication. As Google, Facebook, Twitter, and more have continued to seize the headlines, e-mail has remained the same, quietly plugging away and serving as the backbone of everything else. Almost every time you’ve set up an account on a new site, or submitted a blog comment, you’ve had to provide a valid e-mail address, but e-mail itself has remained under the radar, with most people using it either for one-on-one communication or as a dummy to throw at those sites asking for one. But with e-mail now taking a newly central role on smartphones and tablets, it’s possible it could be the key to understanding the future of the Internet.

Earlier in this series, I mentioned that there may soon be a new syndication mechanism geared towards blogs, one that doesn’t simply collect text the way RSS does but allows blog creators to optimally place ads and other content. Could the e-mail newsletter be that mechanism? E-mail allows for the addition of images to such an extent that you can make it look like your actual website in a way RSS doesn’t allow, and most blogs already have the ability to subscribe via e-mail tucked away somewhere. Even the structure is more in your control; many big sites offer a daily roundup of relevant stories in one complete package. It does have a number of drawbacks; besides the susceptibility to spam and viruses, which leads many e-mail providers to put up filters that break images, signing up for too many newsletters could overwhelm you without filters to move them into folders, which doesn’t always work. (This is the case with RSS as well, but folders are easier and more reliable there.)

Webcomics tend not to support e-mail delivery. There seems to be a philosophy around the webcomics community these days that says that the design of your site is as much a part of your comic as the comic itself. There’s something to be said for that, but only insofar as the design of your site serves to define your site. As Part IV should have made clear, site design becomes less important in a mobile world, unless you’re talking about the design of your app, which is pretty much the same thing. Besides the ability to customize e-mail to look more like your site, two elements are really the only ones important enough to be included in an e-mail, assuming you don’t just ape what you’re putting in RSS feeds already (for comics that put their comic images in their RSS feeds): an ad and perhaps a link to the store. This could be another place where “comics page” services could come in handy, if not with delivering comic images alongside ads the revenue from which gets passed on to creators, then at least with links to comics that have updated since the last e-mail.

Perhaps the revival of e-mail could be the key to bringing everything together into the decentralized social network I put forward at the end of Part III. It won’t be able to do everything, since e-mail is still geared more towards one-to-one communication, and other things will need to take the role currently filled by the social networks of today – although Tumblr and Twitter might cover most of what’s needed, especially since most e-mail clients allow you to sort your contacts into groups that you can then contact all of with the push of a button, serving a similar function to Google+’s circles. Regardless of anything else, it seems clear to me that e-mail is a critical cog in understanding the Internet of the future.

Webcomic reviews! That’s a completely original idea!

Back in 2009, during my previous webcomic-reviewing life, I discovered Komix! after that site made multiple appearances in the ads for Da Blog. Though my initial main concern was the ability to add RSS feeds for comics that didn’t have RSS feeds at the time, I got the sense that the real core of the site was its interface for browsing comics’ archives and tracking your progress, which I ended up making use of for my Scary Go Round review. On the other hand, it was essentially run by a single person who gave it a weird gimmick of adding exactly one new comic to the service a day. Eventually, several comics (including Order of the Stick) lost the ability to use Komix to browse their archives (which, since Komix’ browser loaded the full content of each page without stripping out or adding ads, I didn’t quite understand), and the site as a whole inevitably fell by the wayside as its proprietor became busy with real life.

When David Morgan-Mar and his friends started mezzacotta, one of the “half-baked” ideas they trotted out on it was Archive Binge, Morgan-Mar’s attempt at creating a Ryan North-esque webcomic tool. The idea was to make it easier to catch up on webcomics with massive archives by allowing people to create their own custom RSS feeds to read them in chunks of up to ten comics a day. Somewhat paradoxically, the entire point of it was not to “binge” on a webcomic’s archives in a short amount of time, but rather to consume the comic in more sane portions spread out over a period of time. Perhaps something like “Archive Diet” or “Archive Tour” would have been more appropriate. Regardless, I got the sense that the project eventually stalled with a somewhat disappointing number of strips supported.

Fast-forward to about a month ago, when I learn from Fleen that Morgan-Mar has handed over control of Archive Binge to some outfit called Comic Rocket that I’m hearing of for the first time. Comic Rocket turns out to be something akin to a better-supported, more-professional version of Komix. It, too, seems to have as its main feature the ability to bookmark your place in any comic and move it as you go along, which (in theory) makes it a great home for Archive Binge, but it also seems to have considerably more support from the webcomic community, more people working on it than just one, and way more comics in its system than Komix has ever had. (It also recently finished a crowdfunding operation to create a mobile app that ended up surprisingly disappointing, only making its $5000 goal fairly late and barely cracking its $7000 stretch goal for Android support; I wonder if it would have gotten more support if it were on Kickstarter rather than the more obscure, Matthew “The Oatmeal” Inman’s success notwithstanding, Indiegogo?)

One of the things that has long held me back as a webcomic reviewer is my desire to hold some sort of archive binge for all but the most continuity-free strips. Even complete gag comics with zero returning characters or continuity still get archive-binged to a limited extent, because it’s not just having a proper appreciation of the events leading up to the present, it’s also about having a large enough sample of work fresh enough in memory to form an opinion of a comic as a whole. And archive binges are time-consuming things; even Gunnerkrigg Court, which struck me by the speediness of its archive binge, damn near monopolized a weekend, and that’s time I don’t actually have. So I can sympathize with Morgan-Mar’s desire to make it easier to catch up on a long-running strip. Hell, I’ve done it; on at least two different strips (Doonesbury and Sluggy Freelance) I’ve stared a thousands-of-comics-long archive in the face and told myself that just by reading two comics each day I’m already doubling the comic’s update rate and so will have to catch up eventually, no matter how long that takes.

So I’m going to try an experiment. I’ve identified four or five comics I’ve been meaning to review and started Archive Binge feeds for all of them (as well as a few other comics I want to catch up on). Once those feeds are all caught up, I’ll move them to my tryout space for reading as it comes out for however long it takes to get an impression of it in that state, at which point it’ll be time to write the review. I hope this will allow me to write reviews significantly faster than the snail’s pace I seem to have always worked on them at without getting too much in the way of other obligations. That said, I’m a little worried about how this will change the reading experience; I’ll be getting a comic in little dribbles at a time, dribbles that will have to compete with several other dribbles for my attention, and the process of archive binging will be stretched out over a substantially longer period of time. I may be moving substantially faster than the comic’s own update pace, but catching up this way may impede my ability to get that sense of a comic as a whole.

The way Archive Binge itself is set up doesn’t help; although it’s tied in with Comic Rocket’s own interface and now supports every single one of its comics (including more than a few newspaper comics), beyond that it probably hasn’t been modified much from its mezzacotta incarnation, not even affecting the bookmark under any circumstances (while there were times I wished I could decline to advance Komix’s bookmark, not having the option to start moving it when I’m on the same page as it is a major pain with Comic Rocket). To me, the most glaring issue is that there seems to be no way to increase the rate of update beyond 10 comics a day, which seems low. It’s nowhere near sufficient for Homestuck, but even beyond that it seems to cause older webcomics’ archives to take a disturbingly long time to get through (expect me to review a lot more low-continuity gag-a-day comics and meme factories) and doesn’t provide that good sense of a webcomic as a whole I’m looking for, which could exacerbate the reading-experience issues I worry about. 20-25 would seem to be a more realistic cap; I originally intended to set the update rate for each strip at whatever would take no more than 15 minutes to get through, but quickly decided to set them all at 10.

Personally, I have to scratch my head at Archive Binge’s very structure, which dumps whatever number of links you set into your RSS reader. Regardless of the comic, they’re all links, so you have to click on them to bring them up, but you’re not going to be clicking on each link to bring up each comic; you’re going to click on the first link and then you’re going to want to use whatever interface that page presents to move to the others. Naturally, most RSS readers sort entries in reverse chronological order by default, which means the link you’re presented is the opposite of the one you want, and while Google Reader (for example) allows you to sort each feed oldest first, a) setting it for a folder’s full view doesn’t set it for the child feeds, despite the reverse appearing to be true, and b) it only allows you to set whether or not to show read items on a global basis, despite this seemingly being a prerequisite for the oldest-first view to be of any use at all (aside from, well, archive-binging) and thus defeating the point of making the latter something that can be set feed-by-feed (a lingering general issue I have with Reader).

(To be fair, the issues with Archive Binge’s implementation are multiplied by a) two false starts on getting started with this experiment causing unread entries to pile up in Reader and, more importantly, b) other things about Reader that interfere with Archive Binge’s apparent intended workings, namely, the fact that all entries are marked as read automatically as you scroll down, with entries taking a ton of space in a small window. If I were working in Internet Explorer’s RSS reader, all entries would be marked as read as soon as I left the page, and the sort order would, ideally, be completely irrelevant.)

If I were designing it, I would tie it in much more closely with the other functionality of the site, and indeed make it something that was less of an RSS feed and more something that applied to your Comic Rocket account directly, essentially providing a direct reminder (or something) to stop once you reached the end of your allotted pages for the day, and tracking pages still to be read for the day as a subset of the entire unread portion of the archive.

But then, I’m not sure Comic Rocket understands what the point of bookmarks are when it comes to webcomics, because they seem to be trying to give their site a “social” dimension, allowing you to “share” what comics you’re reading (and not allowing you to choose which ones to share except indirectly by content rating), despite the fact that the bookmark function (which is how “reading” is defined) is primarily useful for catching up on webcomics, not reading them as they come out, or in other words, when you’re trying out a new webcomic as opposed to already knowing you like it. As it stands, Comic Rocket is of limited usefulness for tracking comics you’re already reading, especially if you have an RSS reader (which, you know, you kinda need to use the whole Archive Binge thing); if anything, without Archive Binge being more integrated into the main Comic Rocket interface, trying to use it to read comics as they come out just gets annoying because it gets in the way of the comics you’re trying to catch up on.

As such, I’m not sure I know what Comic Rocket is actually trying to do, and I’m not sure they know either. I think they have potential as a “comics page” to keep up with your favorite webcomics as well as those comics you’re trying to catch up on (without losing the aspect of linking to the original site as opposed to simply stealing images from it), but right now they seem to be trying to serve several masters at once and serving none of them well. It is in “beta”, as meaningless as that can seem on the Internet, but there are definitely enough signs of unfinished business, especially where Archive Binge is concerned (besides the above, clicking to set up a new Archive Binge feed doesn’t take you directly to actually set it up; you have to click again to “edit” your new feed to do so, which seems to violate User Interface Design 101) but also in other areas (the site and Archive Binge in particular is damn near useless when it comes to Girls with Slingshots, where its crawler picks up old, outdated news posts along with actual comics, which probably afflicts other comics as well), that maybe it can improve over time.

Regardless, I’m going to give Comic Rocket and Archive Binge a go, and I’m going to press on with this experiment for the time being, so look forward to more webcomic reviews sometime in April; I’ve added a tentative schedule to the Webcomic Review Index that I reserve the right to change at any time (and incidentally, with ArtPatient not updating in ages, I’m running low on ideas for future webcomic blog reviews; any other good webcomic blogs you know of, preferably not podcasts or behind a paywall?). But I do hope the proprietors of Comic Rocket try to figure out why some webcomics had Komix access shut down and avoid those same mistakes; fortunately, their robust system of bookmarklets, partly designed as a way to avoid using the interface, seems like a potentially viable backup plan if they can continue to collect archive links (not to mention being the only competent way to read comics like Girls with Slingshots).