With the rollout of the SEC Network tomorrow, I wonder if one of Slive’s underlings has shown the boss man this timely piece in the New York Times about threats to the current television broadcast model.
Television has thrived on this kind of systematic stacking, but though bundles may be a handy way of protecting things, they also tend to obscure the weaknesses within. Those flaws are becoming more apparent as the practice of bundling comes under attack.
Things aren’t breaking down tomorrow. And the SEC isn’t in bad shape per se, because it’s got product that lots of people want to watch.
Producers of content can put distributors and programmers over a barrel because the public has an expectation of what will be there when they turn on their televisions. Programming like the Olympics, the Oscars and the National Football League are all seen as almost inalienable viewing rights.
But fissures are appearing and the status quo isn’t sustainable over the medium-term.
Susan Crawford, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and the author of “Captive Audience,” says she thinks television bundles will be with us for a while — six to eight years — regardless of what the consumer wants.
“It’s like the picked-on kid who tries to get home to his front porch; he has to make it past all the bullies first,” she said. “We have a heavily defended, heavily concentrated programming industry and a monopoly in distribution, with none of the big players willing to act like a maverick. No one wants to break ranks because the current system has been so lucrative.”
What you don’t want is to be locked into an arrangement that eventually reflects a defunct marketing strategy. SEC football may be just as valuable ten years from now, but in a universe where consumers can skip advertising during games, TV broadcast rights/revenue generation may not turn out to be what you expect in the present. David Carr uses the Masters as an example of how that might play out.
Then again, some of the big attractions on network television are becoming content providers themselves. Like many Americans, I spent this weekend watching the fight to wear a green jacket at the Masters. But a funny thing happened on the way to the clubhouse at Augusta, Ga.: I took a detour. The Masters app, which let me omnisciently check the leader board, scan for my own highlights and toggle between specific groups or holes, sucked me in.
The second screen experience slowly replaced the first — I barely looked up at the television. CBS’s reverent, almost whispered coverage took a back seat as I programmed my version of the Masters. The function that would have allowed me to throw the Internet coverage to my big-screen television was not enabled, but that’s only a matter of time. Change often comes very slowly, but then happens all at once.
CBS paid dearly for rights to the Masters, marketers ponied up to advertise in limited spots and my cable provider paid a hefty toll in terms of retransmission fees, but there I was, staring at the device on my lap, looking at a bright future — no cable, no commercials, no bundle required.
Sounds promising. Except there’s one difference between the Masters and the SEC.
The conference also gained control of its digital and sponsorship rights that will be rolled over to ESPN as well. That will enable ESPN to have TV, digital and sponsorship rights for the conference under one umbrella. Being able to package TV and digital advertising in corporate sponsorship deals is considered a vital revenue component, and neither the conference nor ESPN wanted multiple partners selling those rights in the marketplace.
It’s hard to say that hitching the SEC’s wagon to ESPN is a bad strategy. But nobody knows how smart that will look ten years from now, either.