Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Ca-Ca-Cable Took My Sports Teams Away

Watching the NBA All-Star Game online, via the NBA app/TNT Overtime, reminded me how much I miss watching sports on TV. Once upon a time, a local television station had the rights to broadcast the games of one or more local sports teams:

The Los Angeles Lakers were on Channel 9 for most of my life, through different call signs (KHJ, I believe, and KCAL). The Clippers were usually found on Channel 13. The Clippers were really awful for decades, and Channel 13 was the fuzziest broadcast station of all, with an unexplainable layer of static in both video and audio.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' broadcast games shifted among Channel 11, 5, 13, 9, and whatever else, depending on the year. The California/Anaheim/Los Angeles of Anaheim Angels also shifted amongst those stations, sometimes the same as the Dodgers, sometimes not.

When LA had NFL teams, they were on 5 or 9 or 11, but I don't quite remember.

Channel 56 had hockey and non-WWF pro wrestling, the ethnic channels -- 18, 22, 34, 52 -- had soccer (but usually the Spanish language channels). You'd have had to be a sports hipster at the time to be really into those sports, unlike today.

I'm taking the opportunity to essentially lament the loss of my favorite sports teams, due to their dealings with what seems to be a dying industry: Cable TV. (When I refer to "Cable TV" or similar, I mean pay TV providers -- cable, phone line, satellite, etc.) The easiest solution to my predicament is to subscribe, but it's just not in me to do so: I didn't grow up with a subscription to cable or satellite. I am well-acquainted with bunny-ear antennae and how the human body can either enhance or diminish the effectiveness of bunny ears. In any case, it's just not in me to spend $20? $50? $100? per month for channels I don't have the time to watch.

And that's just basic cable. From what I understand, a customer would have to pay for basic cable (or basic satellite or basic phone-line TV), and a sports package on top of basic ... for a chance to get the local team's individual station. Time Warner Cable, specifically, has the rights to the Lakers and Dodgers channels, and they may or may not lease those rights to competitors, like Verizon FiOS or AT&T U-verse.

Long story short, I haven't watched a Laker game or a Dodger game, other than a few special games broadcast on network TV or transmitted through the Internet or at a cable customer's house, for years. I guess I'm not much of a fan anymore. Whenever I am fortunate enough to be at the right place and right time for a game, I don't know who most of the players are.

In the past, fans got to watch the games on TV, in exchange for watching advertisements, and usually, those fans would pay to watch the games in person, and those same fans would pay to purchase team merchandise.  Nowadays, a fan would have to pay for everything in order to express their fandom.

I'd like to think the Lakers' current multi-season slump was caused by abandoning broadcast TV for their own Time Warner Cable channel, but that's just an odd coincidence. When they left "free" TV, their management made bad decisions (like leaving "free" TV), and their star player became prone to injury ... and is probably past his prime years. Sorry, Kobe.

And the Dodgers ... let's say that 1988 was a long time ago.

I have to suspect that these are business moves by a dying industry. Netflix and Amazon Prime (and maybe Hulu Plus) provide past content, as well as produce current content, without the need of cable providers. Therefore, the big umbrella media companies move their sports broadcasts from "free" TV to their cable subsidiaries, in order to double-dip their income from both advertisers and audiences. Outside of sports, if you missed a show on ABC, and would like to watch it streaming on their website/app, you would have to access these shows through your cable provider -- it's an unnecessary middleman! If you don't have a cable provider, you would have to wait a week before watching the episode online, or you'd have to purchase the show through iTunes/Amazon Instant Video/Google Play ... or piracy.

In the recent past, cable stations were useful -- they brought us Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Then again, Netflix binge-watching brought Breaking Bad to wider audiences, and piracy apparently did the same for Game of Thrones. To curb piracy, it seems that HBO wants to provide its HBO Go service outside of premium cable packages. Netflix and Amazon Prime have been producing their own shows, to varying degrees of critical and audience acclaim. Netflix, Amazon Prime, and PBS have cartoons for kids. Who needs cable anymore?

If and when sports are no longer part of pay TV, then cable/satellite providers will only have ... funny news (intentionally and unintentionally funny)?

For next time (maybe): Land-line phone companies, providers of pay TV (boo!) and relatively decent Internet (hooray!) and cellular phone service (neat-o!) and relatively useless landlines (seriously, why?).

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