ESPN’s master plan to slowly take over every televised sporting event is meeting some resistance in the form of the National Association of Broadcasters. It wasn’t such a big deal when ESPN announced it would show the entire British Open from now on, but the NAB is a bit concerned about ESPN’s deal with the BCS, which starts next season.
The NAB is saying that ESPN’s deal with the BCS disenfranchises about 20 million mostly poor and/or elderly TV viewers who don’t have cable or satellite service. And I guess the poor shouldn’t have to decide between paying the rent and watching Tim Tebow.
At this point, nearly everyone who would be considered a serious sports fan has cable or satellite because of the dominance of ESPN and its subsidiaries, as well as the wide variety of regional and specialty sports programming available.
“The question is whether college presidents and athletic directors at publicly funded institutions should be complicit in disenfranchising 20 percent of citizenry from access to the most popular college football games,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said.
ESPN is attempting to get as many marquee events as possible to be shown exclusively on cable to drive up the price it can charge providers for the channel. This is a fixed revenue that’s negotiated on a periodic basis. Advertising, on the other hand, is much more susceptible to be hurt by, say, a major economic downturn.
ESPN’s sports partner, ABC, would provide 100% access to the viewing public, but would rely just on ad revenue. The more can’t-miss events that ESPN collects, the more they can charge providers for the rights to the station. And it’s basically a hostage situation as no provider could afford to drop ESPN from its service. When ESPN took over Monday Night Football, it was attributed mostly to declining ratings on ABC. But now it looks like that was just the first step toward pushing all of the ABC Sports properties to the cable side.
Of course, those people who are more interested in watching E! and HGTV will have to pay extra on their cable bill as ESPN raises its demands. Which is why this idea might gain more traction (and ultimately drive some of the smaller cable channels of the air):
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin has pushed for a restructuring of cable pricing plans that would allow consumers to pick individual channels at lower costs, just as consumers are able to buy individual songs digitally off iTunes and other Web sites instead of spending more for a CD with several songs they don’t want.
You hear that, Noggin? I’m not paying 30 cents a month to keep your sorry a** on the air.