IN PERSPECTIVE: Lonely tier drops

Mon, 12/31/2007 - 7:20pm
Brian Santo, Editor

Is Kevin Martin going to win the war over a la carte, without even realizing how?

Brian Santo

Watching the NFL refusing
to let go of the basic tier
reminded me of the
monkey refusing to let
go of the food?

My brother was telling me about this nature program that showed how one tribe in Africa finds water. They dig a narrow hole and drop food in. A monkey comes along and grabs the food. The monkey’s hand is small enough to get in, but his fist is too big to come out. It never occurs to the monkey to let go of the food. The tribe easily captures the monkey, feeds him salt, and lets him go. The monkey heads straight to the nearest water.

Last year, the NFL decided to show eight games exclusively on the NFL Network. Comcast agreed to carry the NFL Network, and assigned it to a tier for which subscribers must pay extra. Comcast wanted to cover costs – you know, capitalism and all that? The NFL sued to get its network on Comcast’s basic tier – wider distribution and more money – but lost.

So comes December, and the Patriots are bidding to become the first team in 35 years to post a perfect regular season, and the Pats’ last regular-season game was scheduled to be shown exclusively on the NFL Network – which Time Warner Cable does not carry. TWC offered to put the game on an extra-fee tier. The NFL countered with an offer to have an arbitrator decide how TWC could carry the game on its basic tier. Of course TWC rejected the offer.

Watching the NFL refusing to let go of the basic tier reminded me of the monkey refusing to let go of the food. He knows the food is there, but he can’t figure out that he’s never going to get it, nor that his predicament is entirely his own fault.

Watching this silly argument, it occurred to me to wonder: will there be any justification for tiers with unicast? In fact, what’s the justification for the entire current business model once the industry gets to unicast? From an operational standpoint, unicast is a la carte, isn’t it? With everyone beginning to adopt switched digital video, isn’t it about time to start thinking about all that? Or are we all going to keep quiet and pray that subscribers don’t figure that out by themselves and start asking questions?


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