23 October 2008

A's leaving KICU?

Towards the end of Susan Slusser's Chronicle article about the A's hiring Mike Gallego as third base coach is a blurb about the A's opting out of their current deal with KICU. This appears to be another step towards the rumored deal with Comcast SportsNet California (formerly CSN West). KICU had been broadcasting A's game for over a decade, and while the team is leaving the door open to returning to KICU, the writing's on the wall.

In 2008, 45 games were on the KICU part of the schedule, supplemented by 66 on CSNBA. All signs point to an exclusive deal with CSNCA, which will hopefully lead to at least 140 games, perhaps 150. No, that's not the complete schedule, but it creates allowances for national broadcasts (Fox, ESPN, TBS, and the fledgling MLB Network). Depending on how the CSNCA deal is done, the A's may have more control over advertising revenue.

The unspoken rationale for such a move is the digital TV transition, which is scheduled to occur next February 17. As it stands, only 6% of the Bay Area audience watches analog TV only via an antenna. The rest watch primarily through cable, satellite, or broadband connections. That 6% is almost guaranteed to drop once the digital switch occurs. The FCC's traveling band of commissioners visited Oakland last month to educate and survey area residents. The live demo didn't exactly go smoothly.

Many over-the-air viewers will get fewer channels due to their locations, which brings up two issues. The Bay Area is pretty well spread out thanks to some big body of water in the middle, and here OTA transmissions start to peter out after a few dozen miles. That means if you're in San Jose and want to watch a digital World Series broadcast from KTVU, you'll have trouble unless you use a well-powered outdoor antenna that is properly aimed at San Francisco. Ironically, some residents in the various valley neighborhoods of SF have complained of not being able to get OTA digital reception even though they geographically in the transmitter's backyard.

KICU, which has long been a San Jose-based station, moved their transmitter a few years back from Loma Prieta to Monument Peak near the Milpitas-Fremont border. It's not a terrible location, but there have been complaints from North Bay A's fans about the signal. Moreover, the A's and KICU chose not to do HD broadcasts due to cost. That won't be such an issue on a regional sports network. With uncertainty about OTA digital coverage on the horizon, it's not hard to see why the A's might look at something more predictable.

The flipside of a change to CSNCA is CSNCA's own carriage. CSNBA has a long legacy of being carried on local cable systems, going back to its days as Fox Sports Net Bay Area and previously SportsChannel Bay Area. That, and the broadcasts of both baseball teams, Warriors, Sharks, and Pac-10 sports, made carriage of CSNBA throughout Northern California/Nevada and Southern Oregon a no-brainer. On the other hand, CSNCA is a relative newcomer. CSNCA only has the Kings right now, and they're blacked out in the Bay Area. CSNCA has struggled to get carried on non-Comcast cable systems throughout Northern California. While inking the A's would make CSNCA a more compelling channel, having the A's would also boost the channel's subscriber fee, especially if the channel were on basic cable as the A's are requesting.

Follow-up: ars technica has an article this week citing a survey by ABI Research. According to the survey, 20% of antenna-only viewers will cease to watch TV altogether. Additionally:
70 percent of the surveyed TV watchers plan to hook a digital converter box up to their over the air antennas, while another 10 percent plan to switch over to cable or satellite pay-TV. According to analyst Steve Wilson, though, the rest of the current over the air households will simply stop watching traditional television altogether.
That translates to only 3% of American viewers that will stop watching TV come February. That's not a bad percentage considering the kind of upheaval the transition is being hyped to be.


transic said...

As I don't live in the Bay Area, it reads to me that the only way a person living out there can get all the broadcast channels is by either purchasing a cable or satellite service, or am I wrong in that reading?

Along the same subject, as it has been a long, long time since I had to use rabbit ears to watch television here in the NY area, I have no idea what the reception would be like if I were to depend on the antennae again. I could ask someone who does but I don't know anyone who uses only the rabbit ears to watch television. However, I doubt it would be as bad as you seem to have over there. I even get the low-power stations (the ones that show ethnic programming, with infomercials, as the only viable way these stay in business) on my digital cable service. Nothing to brag about but just an observation.

Is over-the-air TV really dead in terms of relevance to the current state of American culture?

Marine Layer said...

It's a distance-related issue, compounded by topography. There's no other market where a city of nearly 1 million people sits 40 miles away from the main transmitter site yet is still serviced by the site. It's hard to advocate for an alternate siting because the population is so spread out.

And there are people who do just fine here with over-the-air. I have a friend who lives in Fremont, a few miles from the Cisco Field site. For reference, his house is on a hill facing San Francisco, 35 miles from the transmitter. The antenna placement is obstruction-free. He can get all OTA channels with no difficulty including HD.

OTA in NYC has to be horrible in most of the five boroughs because of the buildings, maybe not so bad in the burbs or NJ. FWIW the NY OTA forum on the avsforum message board is 5th busiest among the NY metro forums, eclipsed by those for TW, Verizon, Cablevision, and RCN.

Anonymous said...

I heard that Fremont Mayor Wasserman got caught doing some illegal campaign tactics (rounding up some school students free of charge to help him campaign) ... I'm concerned that this will open up the door for Morrison, who I've heard is gaining momentum. Has anyone heard from Fremont on who's expected to win based on the latest polls?

Marine Layer said...

Here's the article. Polls are quite expensive to run and to date there haven't been any published polls on the mayoral race. One or more of the candidates may have done some internal polling, but it hasn't gotten out.

I don't have my finger on the pulse of Fremont but the idea that Cho could win while Wasserman and Morrison split the Democratic vote (even though the election is non-partisan) sounds plausible.

Oakland Sí said...

I've heard a good number of people in the East Bay with cable or dish tell me they plan to discontinue it (for reasons of cost mainly, though some also mention service issues), in order to return to the antenna (mostly outdoors, a couple indoors) combined with increased internet TV viewing. I don't know if this is a growing trend, but it may bear watching.

I myself live in Oakland and use the rabbit ears. I get more than enough TV channels for my needs. I have enjoyed watching A's games on KICU when they were on. Much as I like watching games (I'm a season ticket holder as well), I'm not going to pay Comcast $60+ a month just to watch baseball games.

Jeffrey said...

The trend is actually in the other direction. More people are getting their television from Cable and Satellite then ever before and the growth is expected to continue.

For instance... Cable TV subscriptions have grown from 69 million in 2005 and are around 72 million as we head into 2009.

This is a slowing of growth from previous years, but it is still growth.

Anonymous said...

Damn... I canceled full cable for cost reasons and only get the package that goes up to channel 35, anticipating the ability to watch the new and improved (here's hoping) A's on KICU, which in the Santa Cruz Mountains is channel 13. So now, if all the games are on channel 40, I'm left out. I'm not paying an extra $20 per month to see the A's, so that sucks.