My dad and I had a Sunday afternoon ritual during football season to watch–well, suffer through–the Giants and the Jets–which, if you look back on how those teams performed during the 1970s, brought particular pain on most Sundays. But the results paled to the frustration and Tourette’s-like rants that would spew from him when he couldn’t figure out what channel a particular game was on. Prior to the AFL-NFL merger, it was sacrosanct that the NFL Giants were on Channel 2 and the AFL Jets were on Channel 4. But when that merger happened, the conference for the home team would determine the channel, so when the Giants would visit, say, Kansas City, that game would be on Channel 4. Dad never could quite figure that out, so I’d hear the title of today’s musing shouted at the top of his lungs to anyone within earshot, which was always me. Dad also insisted I change the channel for him, lest his devouring of his matzo and horseradish sandwich be disturbed.
For as much as I wish my Dad were still around to watch a game with–and this year, for a change, both the Giants and Jets seem remotely competitive–I shudder to think how he’d react to the challenge that lies ahead for millions of fans who will be trying to watch an NFL game this weekend, particularly those who, like he used to, subscribe to Charter Communications systems around the country.
We are now a week into what is quickly escalating into a holy war between Charter and Disney, one where both sides are under intense pressure from shareholders to win. As The LOS ANGELES TIMES’ media expert Stephen Battaglio attempted to explain to his remaining readers today:
Disney pulled ESPN and its other channels off of Charter Communications’ cable systems on Thursday, leaving millions of viewers in Los Angeles and New York without U.S. Open coverage and college football, as the company failed to reach an agreement on a new carriage deal.
While such disputes are not unusual, Charter executives held an investor call Friday where they said the standoff shows how the current pay-TV model is “broken.” Prices for cable subscriptions are going up while providers have to compete with cheaper video streaming services that offer the same programming.
Meanwhile, Disney is looking at ways to mitigate rising programming costs for ESPN. Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger said he would consider taking on a partner in ESPN to help ease the burden and has tapped former top Disney executives Tom Staggs and Kevin Mayer to help analyze strategic options for the unit.
I personally contributed to many such disputes of the past, which, like this one, were timed to expire to coincide with some high-demand evvent such as the eve of the start of a sports season or a particularly big game. The cable company was inevitably cast as the villain (perhaps the biggest reason these companies continue to score poorly in brand perception research), wars of words would be exchanged in the press, particularly as public outrage than initially was vented at the provider spilled into the media, crisis PR teams were often brought in to smooth the discord, and eventually the provider would cave to some extent, the programmer would make more money, and the world would go on.
In this case, Charter is drawing from a successful playbook already utilized, as SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL’s John Ourand detailed in his MARCHANT AND OURAND podcast via the NEW YORK POST this morning, by a smaller operator called Cable One, which all but eschewed the supply of video for a much more profit-centric and utility-based approach. And unlike in many past scenarios when it would be incumbent upon the customer to find a way to pacify folks like my Dad to find his game, Charter is actually pivoting its customers to over-the-top providers where ESPN networks are currently available, such as Sling, Fubo and, yes, Hulu Live Channels–a VMPVD that Disney actually owns. Reportedly, for the anticipated onslaught of confusion that they expect from a weekend filled with huge pro and college matchups, including Aaron Rodgers’ Jets debut on Monday Night Football, not to mention a bunch of FX premieres and, worst of all for many young parents, a new batch of Bluey episodes on The Disney Channel, Charter will provide a QR code for its subscribers to opt out of video and become a broadband-only customer. And yes, you could choose to still put money in Disney’s pockets by subscribing to Hulu while continuing to be a loyal subscriber to one of Charter’s ISp package, including the one melodiously warbled on almost every sports broadcast you can find these days.
So in many ways, we’re talking about a left pocket/right pocket issue between two massive corporations fighting for their existences. Who’s winning? So far, one could argue both. Charter’s stock is currently tracking bettwe than Disney’s, but, on the other hand, far and away the most-viewed TV event of Labor Day weekend was the Florida State-LSU showdown on ABC, which somehow reached over nine million viewers despite the lack of the game’s availability on leading cable company in the top two markets. (That can be also considered as much of an indictment of how and where Nielsen measures audiences, but let’s not digress at least now). Hence, the rhetoric and saber-rattling, one that has resulted in the news that Spectrum subscribers are filing a class-action lawsuit against Charter feeling so deprived, will likely evaporate into the ether of white noise. Because I suspect while my Dad may not have been able to figure out a QR code, the dads of today could, or at least have someone around to help.
Kinda like the likely end result of the laments that are now being reported as exemplary, such as the two that were described in this story from John Dunbar of the Daytona Beach News-Journal:
Bonnie Powell of Ormond Beach wrote in an email to the News-Journal that “ESPN was not that big of a deal for me although it was for football fans, including my 96-year-old father-in-law who could not watch the Alabama opener Saturday night.”
She was more impacted because she couldn’t watch “What We Do in the Shadows” on Disney-owned FX, a show about the lives of four vampires who are roommates.
“We DVR’d it and when we started to watch the recording we got the dreaded message about the dispute. It’s also removed from ‘on demand.’ I guess we were really unaware of how many entertainment options on TV are owned by Disney,” she wrote.
Note to anyone who might have access to poor Ms. Powell: Follow the instructions of Charter, or have a neighborhood kid set you up, and you’ll be able to pick up on your vampire friends’ storylines before nightfall.
Of greater concern should be those who have been SUNDAY TICKET subscribers, where this weekend that NFL out-of-town package finally leaves DIREC TV after helping to establish the very existence of satellite TV and will now be exclusively available via YouTubeTV (except, of course, in bars and restaurants, where, like the Thursday Night Football package on Amazon Prime Video will be distributed to businesses via (wait for it) DIREC TV. As the season-opening weekend approaches, YouTube’s marketing has kicked into high gear. There’s nary a sports podcast or website this weekend without some sort of call to action, the likes of Bill Simmons shamelessly touting how the appeal of a four-screen quad box right on his device, and, yes, a limited time-only $50 discount that will effectively bring the price back in the range of what it was last year via DIREC TV. I’ve even heard that there’s an installment plan potentially available, much as AT&T allowed in recent years, particularly after the SUNDAY TICKET price climbed to higher than a gently used IPad.
But for this, you won’t have the luxury of guidance from DIRECTV to help you navigate. If you’re looking to duplicate the previous year’s experience, you’ll need a SMART TV and the ability to set up an account. Ideally, a larger HDTV screen so that you can appreciate all the bells and whistles Simmons’ hype is promising. I suspect an awful lot of dads (and probably more than a few moms and grandmas) will be bellowing this musing’s title to one of their loved ones with such capabilities. Such is the allure of football.
As for me, I’m not rushing to do anything for now. A) money’s tight as always and b) my New York teams won’t be playing on Sunday afternoon, The Giants will be opening NBC’s SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL season at MetLife Stadium against Dallas, and you already know where the Jets can be seen as the Rodgers era opens up the next night at the same venue in the swamps. Week two and beyond, we’ll see. But believe me, I’ve booknoted the deal proposition and the expiration date.
For at least a week, at least one of my teams is back on Channel 4. Even my dad would have been able to find them at this point. We were able to at least teach him that much.
So if you do have to spend some time this weekend to handle your loved ones’ request, cut them some slack. You have no idea how badly I wish I could be showing my dad this YouTube thing.
Until next time…