by Mike Chen on 09/21/09 at 11:46 PM ET
(Apologies for being MIA over the last little while. We’ve had a family medical situation, which causes priorities to shift quite a bit. Fortunately, things look much better this week. Don’t worry, I won’t go all Dwayne on you with soap-operaish details about my life other than that things are probably gonna be ok.)
The NHL season is two weeks away. I still don’t have Versus on my DirecTV, and it looks like I probably won’t have it anytime soon.
According to Puck Daddy, folks with Time Warner Cable may not be able to enjoy Center Ice at the season’s start.
Great time to be a hockey fan with all this technology, right? Fortunately, there are other options, such as online streaming (both the official Center Ice Online and…uh…other not-so-official means, but you didn’t hear that from me).
Still, this whole mess just seems to be a game of chicken that doesn’t really need to be happening. While the collateral damage here is a bunch of big companies pissing off fans, Versus has the most to lose here. Sorry guys, but you’re just not important enough to most people to cause a seismic shift in how a broadcast provider measures its performers.
Take my situation, which I’m sure plenty of you are in. I have DirecTV, always enjoyed its service, and will be upgrading to an HD receiver soon to enjoy the Center Ice in HD. They give me nice perks like free movie channels every now and then and I’ve never had any problems with their transmissions.
In other words, I’m happy with their service.
Now let’s look at Versus. While I’ve contributed to their website, I actually don’t watch the weekly broadcast that much until the playoffs because of Center Ice. I don’t care about the All-Star Game, and I’ve got enough friends with different providers that I can always go there to watch a game if this drags into the playoffs.
So missing Versus doesn’t really affect me, the hardcore fan. It’s frustrating, but I’m not going to ditch a service I like out of spite, despite what Versus is trying to subliminally convince all of us to do.
Let’s pretend there’s a worst-case scenario with Time Warner. Even though they say that negotiations are ongoing, let’s just imagine what would happen if Center Ice disappeared permanently over there. Subscribers may get Versus but for hockey fans who aren’t in a local market, that means that they can only get 1-2 games per week (and whatever the NHL Netwokr channel shows). If that were my situation, I’d be much more inclined to drop carriers and go somewhere where I can get Center Ice, because that’s really the lifeblood of the die-hard fan.
Of course, if you try to get a Venn diagram of 1) die-hard hockey fans who 2) have Time Warner cable and 3) order Center Ice, it’s probably just a tiny sliver of their overall revenue. For a very small cross-section of people, it’s the critical reason for why they have a TV. For most people, it’s just another one of those sports packages. Time Warner could continue to be stubborn about it, and they’ll probably barely notice it on their balance sheets (though that obviously doesn’t bode well for their customer service). And for the Center Ice producers that grab revenue from subscriptions? I think they don’t have to feel too bad because if you’re paying that money to get it in the first place, you’re probably die-hard enough to deal with switching providers (and hopefully you’re not stuck in an apartment complex that only has one provider).
In short, DirecTV doesn’t have much to lose. Time Warner doesn’t have much to lose (and seems to understand that customer satisfaction and negotiating are more important than pissing contests). Center Ice doesn’t even have that much to lose…but Versus is up to their ankles in dog poop if they get booted from DirecTV. Whatever traction they may have gained in the sports landscape over the past two years pretty much instantly goes away when 1/4 of your distribution disappears. It also affects their advertiser rates and any statistics they can tout in what an impressive “growing” network they are..
I might be in the minority here, but I really don’t mind having the NHL be the anchor for a new network like Versus. Yes, it’d be nice to be on ESPN, but the Worldwide Leader treats our favorite game like crap; I’d rather have dedicated blocks of time during the playoffs than just passing glances on ESPN2.
(Short aside: The ideal solution, which I’ve advocated for plenty of times, is joint distribution with a weekly game on both ESPN2 and Versus. That way, the NHL can get promoted more on ESPN while still getting big-fish treatment on Versus.)
However, if nothing gets worked out with DirecTV, not only will I jump into the anti-Versus group, I see it as such a immense FAIL that it’ll do serious damage to the network’s aspirations. I know they’ve got Comcast money backing them up but it’s really like starting over from square one. In today’s media landscape, who can afford that?
So, higher ups at Versus: Please stop shooting yourselves in the foot and try negotiating for once. Your bound-to-fail bravado hurts your standing with hockey fans, makes you look foolish, and doesn’t do any good at the negotiating table.
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