To the handful of people looking forward to catching up on their "48 Hours Mystery" on Saturday night, this has to come as a devastating blow.
For everyone else not within broadcasting distance of Mike Lynch’s voice, yesterday’s NFL concession to air Saturday’s Patriots-Giants game on every American network save PBS and Soap Net had to come as a sigh of relief.
It is an unprecedented move indeed. By contrast, tonight’s Celtics-Sonics game will be seen on only one network (TNT). Where’s John Kerry?
Still, as thousands canceled their plans to spend the evening at the local sports pub with the Patriots’ potential of perfection on the evening menu, the only grievances the NFL might receive now could come from the babysitters union and WCVB-TV, which was to own exclusive network broadcast rights to the game in the Boston market. Now, WBZ-TV 4 (CBS) and WHDH-TV 7 (NBC) will also have the game in addition to the NFL Network, a simulcast of Presidential address proportions.
"[Yesterday's] action by the NFL was designed to let all of America see this potentially historic game," Ch. 5 president Bill Fine said in a statement yesterday. "WCVB-TV's contract with the NFL Network, for the Boston market exclusive broadcast rights to the Dec. 29 game vs. the New York Giants, was completed last summer and thus the Boston market was always going to be able to see the game via Channel 5. We are now awaiting word as to whether or not the NFL will abide by their contract with WCVB."
They’re similarly peeved in New York at the headquarters of WWOR, which had exclusive New York rights to the game until the landmark announcement put competing executives into a tizzy.
"The NFL is in clear violation of their agreement with WWOR/My9,” the station said in a statement. “We fully expect the league to honor their commitment to My9 as the exclusive free over-the-air broadcaster for Saturday's telecast."
Imagine selling yourself for months as the only home to watch the game in your market, only to find out days prior to the event that everything you touted was dead-wrong. That’s going to make for plenty of angry advertisers, which probably could have gotten a better rate had they known they had two other options in town.
As the Hollywood writers strike threatens to do to your favorite Scranton busy bees, the Darlings, and Coach Taylor’s season what it’s already done what nobody before has done to Jack Bauer, television has transformed itself into a wasteland of repeat efforts and reality shows, each dumber than the previous in a constant effort to give somebody any reason to advertise. Enter the New England Patriots, and the NFL Network had to realize the absurd level of foolishness it would have taken to not allow people to watch the game.
Consider that this month’s Patriots-Ravens game on ESPN wasn’t just the highest-rated cable game in history, it was the highest-rated cable program ever, besting the behemoth “High School Musical.” More people watched Randy Moss and the Patriots that night than have ever tuned in for any one catfight between LC and Heidi, Zane Lamprey’s latest shot of foreign spirit, or any of Bobby Flay’s staged throwdowns.
Why wouldn’t the NFL want as many people to see the game as possible? Even if that meant breaking a few rules, it was a no-brainer.
Sure, we can praise the NFL today for their generous presenting of their otherwise useless network on a national level, but the bottom line is, more eyeballs mean more potential subscribers. And it won’t hurt to go into next season touting the most-watched regular season game of all time. Jettisoning Bryant Gumbel would likely guarantee a few thousand more subscriptions.
I suppose the only fair way to do it in this case then was to give the game to both CBS and NBC (Fox never had any stake in the broadcast) lest we have to suffer through a bidding war between two league partners. But within Boston and New York city lines, the move actually raises more issues than Kerry would have you believe.
Will there be reimbursement on the NFL’s part for any ratings drop for WCVB and WWOR? Should the NFL impose blackouts of Chs. 4 and 7 in the Boston market, as well as the New York NBC and CBS affiliates in order to live up to its bargain with the aforementioned losers in this deal? Will Comcast staff extra customer service reps for the six lonely souls angry over missing out on “Dateline?”
WCVB still has an exclusive hour-long pregame beginning at 7, so don’t cry too hard for them. Odds are that after all the promotion and shoulder programming that they’ll still pull in the higher ratings. But it has to be a kick in the teeth to promote your exclusivity ad nauseum, then turn on the TV one night to see a grinning Steve Burton tell his audience to tune into Ch. 4 Saturday night, while over at Ch. 7…wait, do they still even have a sports department?
The good news is that everybody will be able to watch the game, coast-to-coast, and I can save a few bucks by not having to text friends weekending in the Sierras every five minutes with updates. Of course, that’s cash the NFL would suggest I simply siphon into their network for next season. But remember, prior to Saturday’s showdown, the best sale the league had going for them was last month’s Packers-Cowboys game. Fresher in our memories, unfortunately, is last week’s Bengals-49ers game. Now there’s something you want to pay extra for.
With that in mind, it’s not like this was simply a change of heart. The NFL needed to do this. Otherwise, it faced a certain semblance of irrelevancy in its most volatile battle for distribution.
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