by Mike Chen on 12/01/08 at 03:00 PM ET
Some months ago, the Center Ice package opened up the Holy Grail of out-of-market hockey games. Previously, if your home team’s broadcast network wasn’t showing a game, the away team’s feed would still be blacked out. Why? Because even though there wasn’t a game to be shown on the local network, they still technically owned the rights to the game, and giving those away to the other network would be, in theory, bad for business.
Well, those hurdles were cleared and now fans could watch their home teams even if the game wasn’t scheduled to be televised on their local broadcaster. For example, the Sharks/Coyotes game over the weekend wasn’t broadcast on Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area but it was on FSN Arizona. In years past, Sharks fans couldn’t have seen the game at all, but thanks to the lift on blackouts, they could watch the game on Center Ice. Sharks broadcasts and advertising even mention this now when talking about game availability.
Sounds great, right? Well, sure, if you’re on DirecTV or Dish Network. But it turns out that some folks in California simply aren’t getting what they’re paying for with their Comcast cable subscription. Are you only getting half of the Center Ice channels you paid for? Then you’re not the only one.
A Bay Area reader alerted me to this thread on the Sharks message board. To summarize:
-Fans on Comcast who’ve paid for Center Ice aren’t necessarily getting all of the available channels. Comcast claims this is because of bandwidth issues.
-Bandwidth issues stem from Comcast purchasing many of the small cable companies in the area (when I was growing up, the local company was Heritage Cablevision) but failing to upgrade the hardware. Thus, while the channel world exploded into the hundreds, the overall capability did not.
-Instead of 20 channels for Center Ice and other sports packages, some hockey fans in the Bay Area only get 10.
-Center Ice’s schedule makers are doing two things that aren’t helping: 1) channels aren’t being re-used from early games to late games (that’s poor optimization of bandwidth 2) both home and away feed are usually being shown these days (that’s good in theory but it unfortunately winds up hurting what’s going on here)
Because of this, Sharks fans would have normally tuned in the game on the upper portion of the Center Ice channels like I did on DirecTV. However, these folks simply couldn’t because their Center Ice capacity didn’t go up to what was advertised.
This isn’t the fault of Center Ice. It’s the fault of Comcast for falsely advertising for the complete Center Ice package, then failing to deliver. According to the message board, people who demanded a refund credit of some kind got one. Still, that doesn’t help out the hockey fan that wants to have a complete selection of games on busy Saturdays.
If you’re experiencing this, whether in the Bay Area or beyond, there are a few things you can do:
1) First off, contact your cable provider and demand a credit. If you’re only getting 50% of potential Center Ice games, you should only have to pay for half of it.
2) Check out other services. I’ve had DirecTV since 2001 and I’ve never had a problem with it.
3) Complain to Comcast’s upper management about upgrading areas that don’t have the capacity for modern broadcast streams and threaten to jump ship to satellite. This won’t provide immediate results, but it will create a groundswell of demand which will hopefully point to a bigger-picture solution (don’t underestimate the threat of losing subscribers in today’s economy) and it might get you some credit on your account or free HBO or something.
4) Let other hockey fans in your area know about this. The more people that know, the better.
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