The Nexus of Television and Sports in Transition, Part IV: Pricking the Bubble

The cable business model might be the greatest scam in history, and the best part is that it’s entirely legal. It’s not merely that cable networks get to collect money from the dual revenue streams of advertising and subscriber fees. It’s that they collect subscriber fees from every single person who subscribes to cable. ESPN and ESPN2 were in about 96.2 million homes each in March. ESPN2 collects about 70 cents a subscriber, so the two of them combined take $6.24 out of your cable bill. Do the math: 96.2 million homes times $6.24 means ESPN is raking in $600 million dollars every month before it sells a single advertisement. That adds up to $7.2 billion every year from subscriber fees alone, the vast majority of ESPN’s yearly revenue – and it’s going up so fast it crossed the $7 billion threshold just last year. Not a bad chunk of change if you can get it. By contrast, TNT – which is actually in more homes at 96.9 million – is only collecting $129 million a month or $1.5 billion a year, and it wouldn’t be collecting nearly that much if it didn’t have valuable NBA inventory. The amount ESPN pays each year for Monday Night Football or even the SEC would chew up most of that amount.

These subscriber fees aren’t determined strictly by popularity; in terms of total viewership, the USA Network is actually more popular than ESPN, thanks to a combination of WWE Monday Night Raw and a collection of critically-acclaimed and popular original series. But USA collects only 71 cents a subscriber, about sixth-most in cable and roughly neck-and-neck with ESPN2, because if you drop USA you’re only pissing off a few wrestling fans and fans of a few original series, but if you drop ESPN you’re pissing off fans of just about every popular sport under the sun, including the almighty NFL – and those fans can’t live without their sports. Even so, even by the most optimistic estimates, only about 80 million of that 96.2 million watch any ESPN at all that’s taking so much of their cable bill. Far fewer, probably less than a third, would decide ESPN is so indispensable they would pay six dollars a month for it. Yet ESPN is raking in the dough from every one of those 96 million. ESPN’s certainly happy with this state of affairs, and so are its rights partners, who get to count the money from the lavish rights fees ESPN pays them. No wonder everyone else wants in on the action. But if you’re an ordinary cable subscriber, especially if you’re not a sports fan, you’re not so happy.

For several years now, many have called for the government to step in and do something about the subsidization of sports networks, and media companies have resisted those efforts mightily. The most popular idea is to force cable companies to offer their wares a la carte, allowing you to only pay for the networks you want; Senator John McCain introduced an a la carte bill last year, and the effort has attracted the support of none other than Senator Richard Blumenthal, who represents ESPN’s own home state. Media companies claim that most channels are underpriced compared to what they would receive in an a la carte world, that cable is still a good value for the vast majority of customers who would gladly pay as much as what they do now for what they do watch, and that a la carte would actually end up hurting consumers in the long term: because each network would have far fewer customers, it would need to jack up rates considerably. On average, people would end up paying the same or more for their cable than they do now and getting less for it, although sports fans would likely pay more and non-sports fans would pay less. Media companies claim the effects would be so catastrophic that the vast majority of cable networks would go out of business, especially those targeted towards minorities and underserved communities; the number of networks that would be left might be in the single digits.

You could poke several holes in that logic and point to evidence that the eventual outcome might not be quite so dire. But even if things happened exactly as the media companies say, someone with a good grasp of the overall video landscape might find reason to say: “So?”

It’d be one thing if sports fans were merely passionate enough about their sports that if a cable operator were to drop a sports network they’d leave en masse. But it turns out sports fans are incredibly important to the other half of cable’s dual revenue stream, advertising, as well: as said before, they are disproportionately likely to be in the male 18-49 demo, which just so happens to be the most valuable demographic to advertisers, and they’re the one type of programming that’s DVR-proof, meaning sports fans are a captive audience to actually watch the advertisements. But these two things are connected in a way that casts a long shadow over the future of the entire television industry.

Concerns over time-shifting are nothing new; the television and movie industries attempted to kill the VCR when it came out, and once VCRs caught on, sports rights already became incredibly valuable for their immunity to time-shifting, to the point that many of the same points being made over the sports rights bubble, as Deadspin pointed out, were being made in 1989 in response to CBS’ multi-million dollar baseball deal. But these days, DVRs are, or at least should be, the least of television programmers’ worries, if not so much advertisers’. The biggest reason why those age 18-49 are so valuable these days is simply because they watch less television than older people, and while that has a number of reasons, the biggest is because of the rise of the Internet as a source of entertainment.

Well aware of the futility of attempting to fight piracy and the rise of YouTube, content providers have increasingly embraced the Internet as an alternative venue for their content, through sites such as Hulu and Netflix. But the Internet challenges some of the deepest assumptions of the television industry in a way few within it have recognized and, to the extent they have recognized it, they have resisted at all costs: if non-live programming can be watched any time you want it, why does it need a spot on a linear television schedule at all?

Before the Internet, the only way to consume content was to watch it when someone else told you it was on, unless you rented a video from the video store. You visited the movie theater when they decided the movie was going to start; you watched a program at the time the broadcast station or cable network scheduled it for. Each television station or network, even with the increased capacity of cable, had to be assigned a certain portion of spectrum, a channel, that could be used to show one piece of video and one stream of audio at a time, so any program that wanted an audience on television had to find a channel that would show it at a particular time. But once a video is on the Internet, you can pull it up any time you want. You don’t need someone else to schedule it for you. The traditional linear television schedule is an artifact of these pre-Internet days.

It’s entirely possible the prospect of hundreds of channels falling by the wayside may end up falling on deaf ears, because we may not need hundreds of channels anymore. It’s very possible that the vast majority of programming that would find itself without a home because of the collapse of so many cable channels would be able to find a home on the Internet without a problem, though admittedly the financial infrastructure that would support that may not be in place yet. It’s even tempting to wonder if the Internet could pick up the slack even of live programming, which would render television completely obsolete.

More is at stake here than just sports. As much as the likes of CBS, Fox, and NBC may want a powerful sports network for their own sake, they also want a popular network cable companies can’t afford to drop. That way, they can force those companies to carry a bunch of other, far less popular, channels.

Just six companies own the vast majority of channels on your cable lineup. Go down the list of cable networks with the most penetration. Once it’s properly ordered, at the top of the list is the Weather Channel, which is owned by Comcast, which also owns NBC, USA, Bravo, E!, Syfy, Oxygen, the Esquire Network (formerly Style), and G4, besides NBCSN and the Golf Channel. Next is the Food Network, a relative independent owned by the E.W. Scripps Company, which still owns thirteen ABC and NBC affiliates as well as HGTV, the Travel Channel, the Cooking Channel, and DIY Network. TBS is owned by Time Warner, which also owns TNT, Cartoon Network, CNN, HLN, HBO, Cinemax, truTV, and TCM. Discovery Channel is another relative independent owned by Discovery Communications, which also owns TLC, Animal Planet, and a host of smaller networks. Nickelodeon is owned by Viacom, which also owns Comedy Central, MTV, Spike, VH1, TV Land, BET, CMT, and numerous MTV and Nick spinoffs. A&E is owned by A+E Networks, a joint venture of Disney and Hearst (split 50-50 this time) that also owns Lifetime, History, and smaller networks like Bio and H2. The Disney Channel is, of course, also owned by Disney, which besides ESPN and ESPN2 also owns ABC Family, Disney XD, and others. AMC is another relative independent owned by AMC Networks, which also owns IFC, We, and Sundance. Fox News Channel is owned by Fox, which also owns FX, the National Geographic Channel, and spinoff networks Fox Business, Nat Geo Wild, FXX, and FXM, to say nothing of Fox Sports 1 and 2.

CBS is the last of the big conglomerates, owning Showtime, TVGN, and the CBS Sports Network. The broadly-distributed commercial networks not owned by one of these companies can be counted on one hand, and most are owned by formidable corporations themselves. A cable company that wants the popular channels – ESPN, TNT, USA, Fox News, MTV, Showtime, arguably even AMC, Discovery, and Food Network – has to carry the lesser ones. The result is a situation where a cable company’s hands are tied as much as the consumer’s are.

In the same breath that they stand side by side with media companies in opposition to a la carte, cable companies also push back against the increased price of sports networks that they’re stiffed with and left to pass on to consumers, thus either losing customers or taking less profits. They’ve been working to roll back the sports subsidy as much as they can. As far back in 2011 the president of Dish Network raised the prospect of some company deciding to go without sports programming entirely and market itself as a low-price service for non-sports fans. These days, DirecTV has started imposing a $3 fee to customers in markets with multiple regional sports networks, and multiple companies have experimented with offering sports-free packages to customers.

Those sports-free packages haven’t achieved much penetration, though, in large part because the contracts sports networks have with cable companies guarantee them a certain level of penetration, and cable companies can’t risk accidentally breaking those contracts. Moreover, the bundle works both ways: cable operators may be stuck taking lesser networks if they want ESPN, but they also can’t just drop ESPN without dropping other channels like the Disney Channel, and that means people who might not otherwise have an interest in sports suddenly have their kids pestering them to get the Disney Channel back. In turn, the contracts cable networks have with leagues and especially conferences require them to have a certain level of penetration.

And because of this, even the relatively modest advent of the sports-free package has the potential to completely pop the sports cable bubble. ESPN only has the rights to the new college football playoff because it happens to be in the vast majority of households. How many leagues and conferences would bail on ESPN once people start electing not to pay for it en masse, leaving only sports fans still getting it? How many sports would be willing to risk completely shutting out the casual fan? Considering how few sports went the way of boxing, with all the top-caliber fights on pay-per-view and the remaining fights of any consequence on premium networks like HBO, the answer may not be something any of the programmers of sports networks would like.

There is one way to collect ESPN-type money, at least on a per capita basis, in cable. That’s to run a regional sports network airing the games of local MLB, NBA, and NHL teams. $2.50 is the baseline subscriber fee in the regional sports business, and more than a few charge north of $3; some even dare to demand more than what the mighty ESPN charges. As a result, teams have benefitted from the sports rights bubble as much as larger leagues and conferences – especially in baseball.

When the New York Yankees founded the YES Network in 2002, it was a milestone in the history of baseball. Under Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner, baseball has attempted to even out the imbalance between the “haves” and the “have-nots” without instituting a salary cap by means of various revenue sharing schemes. The Yankees are indisputably one of the “haves”; in fact, after one luxury tax went into effect, the Yankees were the only team in all of baseball to be affected by it. The Yankees collected a rights fee from YES like from any other RSN, but it also owned a sizable chunk of the network itself – and the money it raked in from the network’s profits, unlike the rights fee, wasn’t subject to baseball’s revenue sharing. In a sport without a salary cap, that loophole was huge for the Yankees to maintain its spot atop the heap.

The rest of baseball took notice, and these days, it seems like if you pick a baseball team at random they probably own an RSN – even some of the more unlikely ones, like the Cleveland Indians who sold their SportsTime Ohio network to Fox last year. After purchasing the SportsChannel and Prime networks in the 1990s, Fox had attained a near-monopoly in the RSN business and attempted to mount a challenge to ESPN with them using the overall branding of “Fox Sports Net”; it failed, but Fox still had a lucrative revenue stream and a lofty position it would be hard to knock them off from. That is, until Comcast began offering teams equity stakes in its networks – the Cubs, White Sox, and other Chicago teams, the Mets in New York, various other MLB and NBA teams elsewhere. Fox had long resisted offering teams equity stakes in its networks, but eventually decided it had to offer such stakes to the Angels and Rangers to keep them in the family. Meanwhile, Time Warner Cable, after years of messy disputes with regional sports networks, decided to get in on the lucrative business themselves and launched new networks with the Lakers and Dodgers.

Yet it may also be here that the sports rights bubble is already starting to burst, specifically in the heart of Texas. Comcast recently convinced the Astros and Rockets to leave Fox and start a new regional sports network they would own a stake in, giving Comcast an effective monopoly over the Houston sports market. A year later, the network is largely considered a disaster and a laughingstock, failing to pick up carriage agreements with any cable companies other than Comcast, putting it in less than half of Houston-area households, not helped by the Astros being a laughingstock themselves as the worst team in baseball. The network has declared bankruptcy, and the Astros have accused the bankruptcy proceeding as a way for Comcast to keep the Astros from pulling out of the arrangement. If the Astros or Rockets can put good, attractive teams on the field things might start looking up for CSN Houston, as New York’s MSG learned in 2012 when Jeremy Lin caught fire for the Knicks as MSG was in the middle of a heated carriage dispute with Time Warner Cable, forcing TWC to abruptly end the dispute. That may help explain why the Rockets signed Lin that offseason. But a playoff Rockets team with multiple stars hasn’t been enough to boost its RSN, at least not yet.

Across the state, the University of Texas’ attempt to bring the RSN to college sports, the Longhorn Network, has similarly struggled to pick up carriage agreements and has also been considered a laughingstock. Pushback may be spreading outside of the Lone Star State: Time Warner Cable’s LA-area networks have struggled to pick up distribution, with the Dodgers network basically unavailable to any providers that aren’t Time Warner, to the point that the Dodgers’ own legendary announcer, DirecTV customer Vin Scully, can’t get the network in his own home. For teams across the country, the money train may be running out, and cases like these may increasingly become a cautionary tale.

There is an unassuming warehouse in Brooklyn housing something that media companies are completely panicked over: thousands of teeny-tiny little television antennas. These antennas belong to a startup called Aereo, founded by mogul Barry Diller, who once helped the Fox network get off the ground and who is now – so the broadcasters, including the network he helped launch, claim – completely destroying the foundation of their business. Aereo charges customers in the New York area, and a growing list of other places, $8 a month to rent one of its tiny antennas. With those antennas, you can watch any broadcast channel you like over the Internet and even record up to 20 hours of programming using Aereo’s DVRs. And broadcasters are apoplectic about it.

They’re apoplectic because the once-fledgling retransmission consent program, created to level the playing field and allow broadcasters their own piece of cable networks’ dual revenue stream so that broadcasting could survive the rise of cable, has now completely warped their incentives and made it so that broadcasters would be first to destroy it themselves in order to save it, so they could place all their programming on cable and collect retransmission consent fees from all their customers. Literally: multiple national networks, including CBS, Fox, and Univision, have floated the possibility of pulling their programming off the free airwaves if they don’t win their court challenges against Aereo. The courts have so far yet to make any actual ruling on the matter, but for the most part have refused to grant the broadcasters’ requests for injunctions against the service. That in itself is too much for broadcasters to bear: they’ve gone so far as to ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter, again before any lower court has actually come down with an actual answer.

To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Aereo ultimately loses the court challenges against it, and I’m not even sure it should prevail even if it might be on the right side legally; Aereo’s claim that they’re simply making it easier for consumers to use an antenna to pick up the free over-the-air broadcast signals they’re entitled to anyway seems somewhat chintzy and getting off on a technicality, and even if they do ultimately prevail in the courts I wouldn’t be surprised if Congress closed the loophole shortly thereafter. In fact, Diller may not actually be interested in Aereo’s success in and of itself so much as pushing broadcasters to change their business model to one more based around the Internet, if his comments to the Wall Street Journal are anything to go on. But even if we took Aereo’s claims at face value, there seems to be a question that has been insufficiently explored: why is Aereo necessary to begin with? Why would someone sign up for Aereo instead of simply putting up an antenna themselves and watching TV that way?

There are several answers to that question, starting with the fairly basic one regarding the hassle of putting up an antenna at one’s house – especially when they often need to be oriented towards wherever the signals are coming from, which ordinary people can’t be expected to know, and beyond a fairly short distance away retrieving said signal requires more than just rabbit ears, but a huge rooftop antenna, which unlike satellite dishes with a similar footprint and restriction you probably won’t find anyone who’ll install it for you. Then there’s the DVR access you get with the Aereo fee, which can be especially important when most cable and satellite subscribers get their DVR service from their cable or satellite provider. But perhaps the one that is, if not most important, certainly the most telling, is mobility: the ability to connect to your Aereo antenna from any device, including your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

The DVR question is not prohibitive – it certainly is possible to get a DVR that will record straight from an antenna, though the options are limited – but the other two raise questions about the nature of the digital transition that America’s broadcasters went through in 2009. Digital signals are all-or-nothing – no ghostly, static-filled images anymore – and many areas that could have once gotten at least the latter from a set of rabbit-ears now appear to be out of luck. But the more serious issue is the lack of mobility – and it goes beyond the new digital standard failing to anticipate technologies that didn’t exist yet at the time it was adopted.

The digital transition may have actually killed off the existing market for battery-powered portable TVs – interference makes it impossible to watch an unmodified digital signal while on the move. The digital standard is thus ill-suited to be watched on anything other than a typical, stationary TV – thus not merely failing to anticipate, but actually becoming less well-prepared for, mobility becoming the new watchword among consumers. It is actually harder to watch digital television “anytime, anywhere” than it was to watch an analog signal.

To some extent, the broadcasting industry has recognized this, adopting an addendum to the digital standard that allows them to send a second signal that achieves an interference-free mobile picture by sacrificing picture quality, resulting in an image suited for smaller smartphone screens. (The portable TV market is still thriving in Europe in part because their DVB standard included a similar addendum from the start.) But even this shows the relative neglect America’s broadcast television infrastructure has fallen into without the general public making use of it and without anyone having much of a financial interest in promoting and maintaining it; not only have you not heard of it, the vast majority of devices don’t support it natively, requiring you to plug in an antenna dongle, and of the largest network stations in the New York area – the epicenter of the Aereo controversy – only three transmit mobile feeds: the NBC, Telemundo, and surprisingly, Fox stations.

If a la carte isn’t coming down the pike and a sports-free package isn’t coming to a cable system near you, there is still another way for consumers to take control of all the money being siphoned off their cable bill to pay for ESPN: cut the cord entirely. Services like Netflix and Hulu make it increasingly easy to watch the shows you want whenever you want, regardless of whether you have a cable subscription. Long feared by media and cable companies, it’s becoming a growing reality: nearly 900,000 people cut the cord in the past year, more than doubling the number the previous year, according to one analysis – and for all their problems, deals like the recent one between Comcast and Netflix could help build a network robust enough to make buffering a thing of the past and make the online streaming experience closer to on par with cable TV, which could accelerate cord-cutting (or at least “cord-shaving”) even further. And media companies are putting as many roadblocks in its way as they can.

Media companies want the Internet to work for them, not against them, but the way they tend to do so is to keep people tethered to their cable company – and thus, to the cable bundle and their millions in subscriber fees – as much as possible. The future they see is termed “TV Everywhere”, and it allows you to watch the shows you want to watch not just on your TV, but on your computer, tablet, or smartphone – so long as you “authenticate” with a participating cable provider. In the case of services such as HBO GO, this includes the ability to watch popular shows like Game of Thrones and True Blood anytime you want to. HBO already operates on the a la carte business model, but so far has refused to offer HBO GO standalone to people who don’t want to subscribe to cable, although Comcast has begun offering it to customers who sign up just for its Internet service. A considerable amount of Internet-delivered video is being restricted to maintain a structure that by all rights should be becoming obsolete – and not even everyone has the future yet: until very recently only about 20 million subscribers could get ESPN’s TV Everywhere offering, WatchESPN, which ESPN president John Skipper admits is in large part “a significant measure to preserve the current system.”

Yet cord-cutting doesn’t seem to have had an associated increase in antenna viewership, at least outside of areas where Aereo has set up shop; most coverage of cord-cutting has limited its implications to Internet viewership, to the point that most cord-cutters may not even consider putting up an antenna – in fact, some might even be eagerly awaiting the demise of broadcasting, even as they benefit from it. Cord-cutting should be a boon for broadcasters who can find themselves a willfully captive audience limited to their wares and whatever is offered online, yet not only is broadcasting woefully unprepared for the demands of the modern consumer (whether cord-cutting or no), the companies with the biggest pockets in the industry are more worried about losing their retransmission consent revenue – not to mention the revenue from their lucrative cable networks – than in any way excited over what must seem like a hollow “opportunity” presented to them by cord-cutting. As a result, the general public doesn’t even understand the modern broadcast landscape very well, to the extent it’s even aware it still exists.

These are tough times for the broadcasting industry, under attack from multiple fronts to the point of seeming to be on life support, and it’s not even clear how many people would miss it if it went away. Wireless providers covet their spectrum, cable operators would love to eliminate the free competition provided by an antenna, even broadcasters themselves would love to ensure every one of their potential viewers is paying retransmission consent fees. Those that do watch broadcast television on an antenna tend to be older and poorer, pretty much the antithesis of the people those in the television industry care about.

With the traditional linear television channel seeming to be obsolete in the age of the Internet, it’s easy for even an idealist to assume broadcasters are a relic of a bygone age, hogging spectrum that could be put to more productive use. Already the federal government has set up a two-way auction, currently scheduled for 2015, allowing stations to voluntarily give up their spectrum, either going off the air entirely or sharing spectrum with another station, to auction off to the wireless carriers and take a cut of the proceeds – seemingly just a waypoint to the complete liquidation of over-the-air television spectrum. What purpose could it possibly serve that couldn’t be served by the Internet? The answer requires a good technical understanding of how the Internet works – and there is a supreme irony about the whole debate over sports and cable television waiting at the end.

When you call up a video on Netflix, or any other video service, the device you use to access it sends a message asking for the video and sends it to the ISP or wireless provider, which sends it on its way through the network to Netflix. Netflix receives the message and sends the video on its way back through the network to you. If someone else wants to watch the same video, they go through the same process, even if they’re on the same ISP. Streaming a live event works the same way: your device tells the streaming provider it wants to watch the stream, and the streaming provider sends the content of the stream back through the network to you. It does this for each and every person that wants to access the stream, again regardless of whether or not they’re on the same ISP, even though they’re watching the exact same thing at the same time, with each new person joining the stream joining at the exact same point, yet each of them watching, in effect, on their own individual “channels”.

You can imagine what the effect is when a huge number of people want to watch the same thing at the same time, and indeed NBC’s streaming coverage of the 2012 London Olympics was notorious for running into massive issues as as many as a million people tried to access it at the same time. No one has ever heard of a television channel, whether broadcast or cable, regularly freezing while it buffers or fluctuating in picture quality, or even being completely inaccessible, without thinking something was wrong with their signal or connection, yet such is often the norm when it comes to watching things online, at least in the case of a live stream. Broadcast stations send out one signal, and that signal can be received by anyone with an antenna; similarly most cable companies send out their offerings in one burst, and anyone can tune in to the sliver they want while leaving everything else for everyone else. It is infinitely scalable in a way the Internet, at least as described here, can never be.

Video puts a massive strain on the Internet; Netflix alone can make up 30 percent of an ISP’s traffic despite a very small minority of consumers actually using it, and video traffic as a whole make up a majority of all traffic on the Internet. A disproportionate amount of bandwidth is being used by visitors to a few video sites, many of which are now paying ISPs for faster transit through the network, as with the recent Comcast/Netflix deal. The amount of video people consume may well pose the single most serious threat to net neutrality, the backbone of the free and open Internet, and it will only get worse as more and more people discover the selection of video available online and as more and more video currently being consumed on linear television channels moves to the Internet. Deals like Comcast/Netflix may help capacity keep pace, but at the expense of allowing ISPs to be gatekeepers by forcing video providers to pay a tax, exactly the antithesis of what has built the Internet – including Netflix itself – into what it is today.

Considering all this, it should be apparent that anything that can take some of the video load off of the Internet as we know it today should not be dismissed out of hand, and there are some within the industry that have at least started to recognize as such. Of course this argument could apply equally to either broadcast or cable channels, but there are a couple reasons to expect broadcast to be the more important; for one, broadcasting is pretty much the only option for reaching mobile devices that can’t be connected to (or at least can’t be expected to be connected to) a cable connection (and mobile devices are no small matter; already, according to one study, people are now spending more time in front of their phones than in front of the television). Further, as was hinted at earlier when talking about how many teams and leagues would desert ESPN if it no longer reached the vast majority of homes, content providers will always seek to reach the widest possible audience, and that means reducing the amount they’ll have to pay to be part of that audience as much as possible. At the very least, there will always be demand for a YouTube of linear television as opposed to a Netflix.

Considering what advantages the Internet brings to the table to begin with, what sort of content would people be willing to watch at a particular time set by someone else? Certainly people may still want to simply turn on the TV (or whatever would fill that role) and have something on in the background while they do other things or watch a parade of thematically connected programming without having to think too much about actually picking out anything specific, but this question really boils down to, what sort of programming would benefit from the linear television model, in that it inspires a large number of people to tune in to the same thing at the exact same time? Certainly anything, including scripted programming that theoretically can be seen at any time, can inspire people to want to see it as soon as it’s available if they wish to avoid being spoiled about it on social media (or conversely if they want to take part in the conversation surrounding it), but what really inspires this sort of behavior is live programming.

And it is here that we come upon the supreme irony in all of this, because while live events can encompass a number of things such as awards shows or breaking news, the vast majority of this sort of live programming, the exact sort of programming that broadcast television is best suited for, is the same exact sports that it is increasingly being deprived of. Indeed maybe this isn’t so surprising; perhaps, for all the talk about captive audiences and DVRs and money demos, what ultimately underlies the entire rush to pour so much money into sports, all the skyrocketing contracts and subscriber fees, all the multimillion dollar contracts and abandonment of tradition and principles, all the rush to build new sports networks, is the simple, largely unacknowledged fact that sports is one of the last few things holding people to traditional linear television at all, and the fact that so much of it has benefitted cable networks is a simple reflection of the fact that cable has so far enjoyed a decided monetary advantage without much in the way of substantial audience loss.

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