I would love to be able to watch tonight’s Packers-Cowboys tilt. But right now, I’m happy that I can’t . See, I’m a Time Warner customer and … well, Gregg Eastebrook put it best:
In other football news, the NFL began putting Thursday and Saturday night late-season games on NFL Network last season. Since then, 280 Park Ave. — league headquarters — has been hoping for a monster game only NFLN subscribers would see. Why? So everyone else would ring up their cable carriers and complain about the lack of NFL Network. Finally, the league’s wish has come true, as Thursday’s monster Dallas-Green Bay pairing is an NFL Network game, meaning it will air in only roughly 35 million households. The NFL is quietly happy most Americans won’t see this fantastic pairing, and that represents a reversal of the league’s nearly 50-year policy of doing everything possible to put nationally televised games onto every American TV set. But the cable carriers have proved so resistant to the NFL’s demands regarding NFL Network that the league has come to the point of hoping for an unseen monster game that might force the issue by causing viewer outrage.
The problem is that the league is demanding too high a price for NFL Network. The league wants cable customers to pay for NFL Network, a seasonal product, almost twice what CNN charges for 24-hour, 365-day appeal. If the NFL simply cut its asking price, the rest of the pieces with the cable carriers would fall into place. There are egos involved, however. A couple of years ago, Comcast offered about $400 million annually for the slate of Thursday and Saturday late-season games. An owners’ faction led by Jerry Jones of Dallas contended the league could make more by keeping the games and marketing them to cable over NFLN. So far, though, NFL Network pulls in only about $250 million in cable payments. Jones and other owners who insisted the NFL would come out ahead by direct-marketing NFL Network don’t want to cut the asking price because that would be tantamount to admitting their original negotiating strategy was wrong. As we’ve learned, prominent people will pile fresh mistake atop fresh mistake to postpone the day when they admit their first mistake. The NFL’s insistence on asking too much for its channel is yet another example of how often big business, with zillions of dollars in executive-suite and economic-consultant spending, nevertheless acts as if it’s ignorant of basic economics. To increase revenues, cut prices; this raises demand. (A high price suppresses demand.) The modern globalized marketplace is relentlessly efficient at driving down prices, and has relentlessly, efficiently blocked the NFL’s attempt to charge too much for NFL Network. As soon as the NFL drops the NFLN asking price to the market-clearing level, the channel will air in all homes. Then the NFL can scramble nervously to make its money on advertising, just like everybody else in the broadcast business.
Right now, Austin radio is filled with ads from both sides. The NFL’s ads are so insulting and infuriating, however, that they have pushed me into Time Warner’s corner. They basically consist of some guy with a Texas hick accent complaining that he can’t watch his “fuut-bawl” while the know-it-all NFL lady patiently explains how evil Time Warner is. It ends with a clarion call to phone up the legislature and demand … something. Inspired by this, I e-mailed by legislator and told him to stay the hell out of it. They have no business telling a cable company what tier they will put an expensive network on.