28 August 2008

Parsing the AN interview: Television

Let's get started.

First, on the television situation. The possible move to Comcast SportsNet West is definitely positive, but not without its downsides. The main issues here are the number of games and on which tier CSNW will be carried in the Bay Area. To illustrate the first issue, I've dragged out the table from the May post on RSN's:

The obvious inequity is that CSNW is carried on the extended basic tier in the Central Valley, while it's on the digital channel 400 in the Bay Area. It really comes down to the number of televisions that can view the channel. Not every household uses the digital converter box offered by Comcast, and for those that do, not every television will be mated to a box. So if you want to watch a game while working on a car in the garage (where there's likely no box), you won't catch the game. Or if you're a kid that wants to watch the game in his/her room but your parents don't feel you need a box, you'll have to watch elsewhere in the house. For some it will be inconvenient. For some it won't.

Then there's the matter of CSNW being on 400. 400 has always been a placeholder as there's little content to put onto the channel at this point other than second-tier college sports. However, there's a unique feature to 400 that many aren't aware of: it's not encrypted. That means even though it's digital, a converter box isn't needed as long as you have a digital TV. The rate of adoption isn't high and there's a level of frustration regarding digital TV tuners, but at least for now the box isn't needed for a digital TV. That said, once the A's are on CSNW could easily become encrypted. The bottom line is that CSNW could be encrypted or not, or it could be moved around the channel lineup.

With the MLB Network launching next year, one fewer channel slot will be available on the analog tier. The Hallmark Channel is typically one of the first to get bumped to digital. In your area this may have already occurred. There are also a number of shopping-oriented channels. QVC is considered untouchable. Jewelry Television, which is typically on Comcast systems on a leased basis, is probably the next candidate. This channel is usually on channel 410 (CSNBA+) when a game isn't being broadcast. Complicating matters are a number of community access stations on a given city's analog tier, which could vary from city to city. Comcast could even end up competing against itself, as it has equity stakes in several other channels, such as Versus and The Golf Channel. (If you want to get an idea how inconsistent the systems are in the channel lineups, go to this Comcast form and put in some valid addresses around the Bay Area. You might be surprised.)

In the end, I think Comcast will figure out a way to put CSNW on the analog tier. They might have to put it high up, say in the upper-70's along with Versus and Golf. It's not in the "sports pocket" with the ESPN's and CSNBA, but at least it would be available. The motivating factor is Comcast's stake. They want to make as much from the network as possible, and that would be an order of magnitude more difficult to do from a digital-only slot.

Two other factors have real impact. A switch like this usually carries with it a massive schedule change. The Giants inked a deal with NBC 11 to broadcast 20 games, whereas 140 went to CSNBA. It's likely a similar split would happen with the A's on CSNW. They might even go to the extreme like the Florida Marlins, eschewing over-the-air broadcasts completely. High definition also will become paramount in the coming years. KICU doesn't do HD broadcasts. I'm pretty sure the other affiliates don't either. Blame that on either the A's or the affliates, it's still pretty costly. By moving over to CSNW, broadcasting expenses become more of a sunk cost as the partners become more interested in promoting the brand. There will be some figuring of what digital space is available to carry CSNW-HD, but that's only an issue in the Bay Area and can be easily accomplished with compression techniques and additional channel movement from analog to digital.

Behind the scenes, there will be an issue of talent and staffing. CSNBA hired a bunch more people and embarked on building a local studio. Would personnel and facilities be shared among the teams despite the split?

Who loses? Well, if this were five years ago, I'd say over-the-air-only viewers. Unfortunately for them, the digital switch is already going to make their experience difficult. Many people in the Bay Area will come out of the switch getting only 6-8 channels, and KICU probably won't be one of them.

5:16 p.m.: A couple more thoughts. There shouldn't be more than a handful of scheduling conflicts each year between the A's and the Kings because the MLB and NBA regular seasons only overlap during the first two weeks of April. That translates to 6-7 possible date conflicts per year. Those games could be easily accommodated by either team's affiliate networks. Also, weekday afternoon games should be available once the deal goes through. I'm guessing that the existing broadcast deal with CSNBA, which runs through the end of the decade, would be torn up and replaced by a long term deal. The Giants supposedly were paid $100 million over 25 years in addition to their equity stake in the channel.

Later today, I'll talk about the ballpark situation.


Anonymous said...

Here's Lowell Cohn's take on the a's brilliant cable plan ... read it and chuckle ...

Inept Oakland A's
The Cohn Zohn read in the paper today that the A's -- that Triple-A franchise operating out of Oakland -- is considering moving its TV broadcasts from Comcast SportsNet Bay Area to CSN West in Sacramento. We here at the Zohn are dying laughing.

We know the A's are cheesy and second-rate but this seals the deal. Sacra-freaking-mento? Are they kidding? Comcast you can find on Channel 40. For CSN West you have to get Channel 400, if you can find it. Good luck. How many sports bar in the Bay Area have Channel 400? "Oh, Chuck, give me a Bud and while you're at it can you locate Channel 400?"

The A's are mismanaging their product on the field and now they're doing it in the TV booth. And if they're considering a chump move to Sacto, a move out of the big time, why in the world would they tell anyone before they absolutely have to?

We at the Zohn will tell you how the A's could get a better TV deal. Put a better team on the field. Play to win. Stop pretending they're a major-league club. Make people interested.

We at the Zohn understand the true logic of going with a Sacto station -- all the A's good players are in Sacto. They sure aren't in Oakland.

- Steve B.

jesse said...

One of the A's requirements will be to have to have the channel appear near ESPN in the 30 to 40 range according to the SJ Merc.

Marine Layer said...

Lowell Cohn has about as much foresight as a piece of lint.

Zonis said...

To me it seems obvious that the channel will be moved to the Basic Cable or Extended Basic tier once the deal is inked. The reason its not on now is because there was really no reason for them to put it out there.

If they make the deal, I could see a couple things happening.

Comcast could decide to do one of their channel shuffles, and just redo where each channel is on the lineup all over again as they have done in the past. This could be done to take advantage of channels such as Versus, Golf and MLB Channel to clump them together with ESPN/2 and CSNBA. They can also stick TBS and WGN, home of Sunday Baseball, and the Cubs and WhiteSox, on top of the whole lineup and then continue with their sitcom/comedy/whatever channel lineup like they do now.

The second and simpler one might be to simply remove one of the low 30's channels, stick CSNWest under CSNBA, and then move the subsequent channels down one till the hole is filled. This would move ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, FX, Food, QVC, etc down 1 channel. I know there are some weird spanish channels with bad quality feeds as you get down the lineup, would one of them be removed?

reztips said...

The Chronicle fired Lowell Cohn long before their economic cut-backs. The paper jettisoned him because he was a poor reporter who just spouted rhetoric w/o substance. Like Ray Ratto, Cohn dislikes the A's because Billy Beane won't give him the time of day. Cohn has zero credibility, even exiled to the hinterlands.

Now if the Chron could only dispatch the vomitous Ratto to join Cohn preaching to hicks in Santa Rosa, the ville of Peanuts...