30 September 2009

Examining the DirecTV/Versus debacle

Subtitle: What the fuck is going on? Dog and pony show? I think so!

Here's what's on the Versus channel right now. Apparently this message was launched on 1 September (hi, I'm slow?)

Unfortunately, Versus is no longer available on this channel

Comcast, our largest competitor, has forced us to pull down this channel. Comcast charges us fees to air Versus, and they are now demanding an unfair and outrageous increase in those fees. In these difficult economic times, we do not want to pass this increase on to you, our valued customer, so we are standing firm in the negotiations on your behalf.

For more information, go to directv.com/versus
DirecTV claims Versus/Comcast raised their rates that they charge DirecTV to air the channel, to which DTV responded, "DirecTV ... already pays Versus more than any other independent distributor and that the 20% hike it is seeking 'for what is basically a paid programming and infomercial channel with occasional sporting events of interest is simply piggish.'"

However, Comcast fired back, stating that was not, in fact, the case, and that DirecTV wanted to have Versus taken out of the Total Choice Xtra Package (free, shown to 14 million subscribers) put into the Sports Package ($11.95/mo extra, with 6 million subscribers), causing a 107% loss in viewership. Caveat here is that number is not factoring in the people who would purchase the sports package simply by the virtue of being able to watch Versus.

DirecTV then returned fire, and claimed they wanted Versus included in an AT250 Tier similar to that which other satellite providers use to carry the network. Additionally, the AT250 Tier on DirecTV carries triple the viewership of Dish network (closest competitor), and offers 35% "penetration rate" (man that sounds dirty), which works out to a flat 3.5 share - considerably higher than the share Versus was getting previously. If my math is correct, as-was, Versus was only receiving a .7% share, give or take.

Let's delve a little further involved in this, shall we? I'll pick some random round numbers in order to make this easier on me.

14 million viewers @ .18c/viewer (previous cost) = $2,520,000 for Comcast
Vs on DTV Sports
6 million viewers @ .22c/viewer (previous + 20%) = $1,296,000 for Comcast
Vs on DTV AT250
~18* million viewers @ .18c/viewer (previous) = $3,240,000 for Comcast
Vs not on DTV
0 viewers @ .0c/viewer = $0.00 for Comcast
(*speculative number, based on a 30% increase over the TCX viewership)

Wait, what?  Either I'm skipping a vital fact here, such as a greater rate increase upon inclusion in the Sports package on DTV, or Comcast has lost their damned mind. Not only are they losing their Nielsen share, but they'd be losing money with in the new package. And by toeing the hard line, and letting DTV drop them, they've lost a minimum guarantee of $2.5m/year. I can think of about 300 hockey players who'd kill for $2.5m/year. OK maybe not KILL. You get my point.

Is anything being done about this anywhere? By anyone? Petitions won't work here, I'm talking like, has anyone stormed the NHL offices and demanded that NHL Network take over the showings of Versus games, realtime? No seriously.

We the people should be dropping emails to NHL Network, and the NHL, to request that they simulcast the Versus games. Given that NHL Network (USA) is required to be offered on any cable system that also offers Center Ice, it's almost a no-brainer to offer the otherwise blacked-out games to its subscribers, either via the NHL Network channel, or on Center Ice itself. You can contact NHL Network via this page - scroll to the bottom of the frame to their contact form. And you can contact the NHL directly via their contact page. Or if you're really one of those go-getter types, you can pick up the phone and call NHL HQ in New York - 212/789.2000, and ask for Adam McCullum (Senior VP of Broadcasting).

I'm quite certain there're a few million people out there to whom Versus has never been offered (Hello Central and Western Pennsylvania!) who this doesn't affect at all, however, this could be the opportunity they've needed to get Versus shown in their area.

All I know is, the B's/Caps game is on Versus tomorrow night, and I don't get to see it until either 3am or 2pm the next day, on NHL Network. And frankly, that's just WRONG. Because it's all about me, obviously.

Remember, people. This is America. We have a black president. We can do ANYTHING when we stand up for what we want. Well apparently we can't get the war to end, or get the government to direct more funding internally rather than internationally, or get out of a recession, but we can damned sure get some hockey games shown if a stand is made.

Who's wrong in this situation? I have no idea, but based on my (probably fictional) numbers, Comcast is coming out looking like the asshole (surprise!) and DirecTV has the upper hand.

In summary, here's all the contacts you'll need to express your outrage and disappointment, and demand Versus be shown to EVERYONE, or the games they broadcast be simulcast to those who have shelled out the money to see every NHL game:

DirecTV: versus@directv.com
Versus:  Demand Versus on DirecTV
Comcast: 215/463.1100 - request the Director of Sports Programming
NHL Network: Contact Page
NHL.com: Contact Page
NHL Offices: 212/789.2000 - request Adam McCullum

Someone, somewhere, at some point, needs to realise that hockey isn't a Big 4 sport in the United States because there is no consistency in programming or broadcasting, and having channels and networks and carriers change every year is helping insure the casual fans won't bother trying to find the games.

Will this be the year?


backup goalie said...

I called to cancel my directv service because of the whole Versus thing and they are giving me Center Ice free for the whole season.

Wayne stuck in AL said...

Granted you may miss the "Games of the Week", but you may be better off with the free/reduced Center Ice; I've never seen a worse TV production than VD, I mean, VS and the NHL...

Maali said...

BG: WHUT?! fuhrealz?! dude i might gotta try that....

Wayne: Oh, I know. But being that the Bruins are a pretty big ticket these days, I'll be missing some games I'm psyched for. Or at least seeing them like 8 horus later, which means not talking to people and avoiding the interwebs...

Ron said...

I agree totally that the NHL and Comcast are the losers here. The NHL should not be taking sides,on the nhl.com website there is a link to complain to Directv, but NOT Comcast. The NHL should allow the games to be seen for anyone who purchases the Center Ice Pkg. Other wise to me the NHL is taking Comcasts side.