Thursday, October 11, 2012
Coming soon?: All-You-Can-Watch Local Sports (whether you want it or not)
I teach antitrust and communications law--both filled with meaty, topical issues that can generate complex questions--but a perennial student favorite is "Why can't I watch my hometown team on TV?" This question typically elicits a dry recital of specific league rules, FCC blackout regulations and a varied assortment of broadcast deals. But I've been pleasantly surprised that recent developments are changing that answer--and may soon even eliminate the question. For example the NFL has relaxed its blackout rules, designed primarily to bolster gate receipts, in an apparent nod to evolving league economics. The FCC's sports blackout rules, are also up for reconsideration, as changing economics and video delivery preferences have arguably undercut the underlying rationale for the rules. Finally, there has been a flurry of new contracts, new channels and new methods of bringing you your local team--at a price; sometimes a price paid whether or not you're interested.
The latest deal to hit my area is a new Laker/Time Warner Cable contract. Now if you live in official, Laker Nation territory, all regular season Laker games that are not nationally broadcast (that's about 53 out of 82, although reports vary) will be brought to you on Time Warner SportsNet. Not a Time Warner Cable customer? (There are about 3.1 million Angelenos who aren't.) No problem! Go to iwantmylakers.com, type in your zip code and Time Warner will show you which provider can bring you SportsNet (spoiler alert: in all zip codes you can get the channel from only one operator: Time Warner Cable). The site also allows you to email/tweet your provider directly to demand that they add the new channel for only $3.95 per month, per subscriber--yes, even you non-Laker watching subscribers will pay (at least some of) that fee. Compare that to the most expensive national channel, ESPN--rumored to command $4.69 per subscriber--and, depending on your persepective, it either looks like ESPN has paved the way for competition or some cable/satellite customers are being highjacked. Either way, the Pac-12 asking price of $0.90 suddenly looks like a bargain basement sale.
Later I'll take a closer look at some intriguing antitrust and regulatory implications of these new trends--and I would love to hear your comments--but for now, since I don't have Time Warner Cable, I guess I'll just go watch some Los Angeles professional football . . . oh . . ..
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