This past Saturday night, lots (perhaps millions) of Americans had the opportunity to see the New England Patriots defeat the New York Giants and become the first NFL team in history to end a season with a 16-0 record. For football fans like myself the game was awfully entertaining.
For Senators John Kerry, Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter the game represented a threat to the United States Constitution and our way of life.
The NFL owns each football game and the right to broadcast them. During the last round of contract negotiations the league kept eight games to broadcast on its embryonic NFL Network. The historic “Giants vs. Patriots” match-up was one of the games selected in the off-season.
The 24/7 NFL Network needs original programming (re: games) to make its network viable. The business model is a combination of commercial ad revenue and cable networks paying a small amount per subscriber for the right to “carry” the NFL Network on their cable system.
I subscribe to the Dish Network, so I get the channel and the games they broadcast. I believe that DirectTV subscribers would get the game as well. Some cable monopolies, including Time Warner and Comcast, refuse to deal with the NFL Network. Therefore, their subscribers would not get to see the football game.
That’s when the august group of Senators stepped in to save the day by threatening anti-trust hearings against the NFL if they did not buckle to their strong-arm tactics and broadcast the game over free TV.
It’s worth remembering that this is the same Senate Judiciary Committee that cannot subpoena Scooter Libby, Karl Rove or VP Cheney for the role their role in the outing of a CIA operative; the same Committee that cannot find out who destroyed the video tapes of torture at Guantanamo Bay; the Committee that can’t stop Presidential signing statements circumventing Congress; the same Committee that can’t protect Americans from the Patriot Act, etc… You get the point.
I live in Southern California. That means that every Fall Sunday morning, I have to haul my lazy butt out of bed and go to a local sports bar to watch my mighty New York Jets lose to a more talented football team. If I’m lucky, the Jets game is on the broken TV in the corner where they make me sit with the other loser or two (never more than two) who root for the Jets. The food is mediocre, but the service is even worse. Three times this season I sat through an entire game without being waited on. (Travel tip: Avoid the National Sports Bar and Grill in Torrance, CA) Sometimes the Jets game isn’t on any of the bar TVs or the place is full of feces-flinging Raiders fans and I need to drive around for 30 minutes in order to find an alternative venue.
Why do I go to an unclean sports bar at 10 AM for bad food, worse service and no audio to accompany the game? Simple, because I want to watch the New York Jets play football. It’s a minor inconvenience and gigantic caloric sacrifice I make to watch my team lose week after week. It costs about $20 per game.
Guess what? Fans without home access to the NFL Network could have gotten out of their Lovesac couch and gone somewhere to watch the Patriots go undefeated. Great boxing matches have been “pay-per-view” since the 1970s. Leaving your house to watch a game with others is actually fun. It’s social and good for the economy too!
Digital technology and lifestyle changes make such occasions for large communal experiences increasingly rare. Do you honestly think that fans in Boston, Vermont or Philadelphia would have objected to spending a few hours in a bar watching a great football game?
The Senator’s beef should not be with the NFL, but with the cable companies who are denying their customers access to the football game. Forcing the NFL Network to provide their feed of the game to both CBS and NBC screwed a 3rd party – the local television channels who PAY the NFL for the exclusive right to broadcast games. In other words, NY-area and New England viewers get every Giants and Pats game anyway, paid for by the commercials the local affiliates are able to sell. Those stations are now suing the NFL because they were cheated by the NFL due to the Senatorial intervention.
Like in most matters involving media and networked digital content you can’t have partial access or partial choice. Either all content is pay-per-view, time-shiftable and subject to viewer choice or the system fails.
Why can’t everyone select which game they wish to watch every week? Why are Southern Californians forced to watch the Raiders or Rams play years after the teams abandoned our media market? Those games still appear on Fox and CBS nearly every week. Who makes that decision?
The technology exists to ensure that there is NO reason I cannot watch the Jets play in my pajamas at home. I could get a different satellite receiver and pay a couple hundred bucks for the DirectTV Sunday Home Ticket package. Congress doesn’t object to that option. When I first subscribed to the Dish Network in the late 90s, I paid $5/month to receive the local channels from my ancestral homeland of New York. That allowed me to keep up on local NY news and current affairs AND watch NY teams play. I can no longer due so because the United States Congress intervened on behalf of cable companies with some sort of Orwellian nod to “consumer choice” that ultimately eliminated access to what I choose to pay to watch.
Get your hands off my damned remote!
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.