As a DirecTV subscriber, I was all set to see the Wings Swedish opener this Friday on Versus. But, because of the cut-throat, in-bred telecommunications world, I have to make other plans.
So I miss my team's opener. Too bad for me. Too bad for Wings fans. Really too bad for hockey. However, I have no intention of calling up DirecTV to complain or rearrange my life by switching to another service.
I find it extraordinary that NHL and Versus (owned by Comcast) are urging DirecTV subscribers to call up and demand that DirecTV pay whatever is being demanded of them - pronto - so I can see my hockey game. Sorry, I can't participate in this type of corporate hypocrisy.
Recall the Comcast / NFL case that was finally settled in May of this year after three years of legal wrangling when Comcast made the unilateral decision to move the NFL programming to a higher subscription tier. Sound familiar? It is also interesting to note that during this dispute Comcast sent a cease and desist letter to the NFL when the NFL encouraged its fans to drop Comcast. Guess it all depends on which side of the argument one is on at any particular time. Furthermore, during the course of all those legal machinations the NFL went before the FCC and accused Comcast of trying to shake them down for part ownership of the NFL network as a condition of carriage.
Well, it has worked before. Not necessarily as a condition of carriage, but it is my understanding that Comcast owns part of the NHL Network. But, the NHL is NOT the NFL. And it becomes increasing clear that the NHL - and Versus - need the 16 million subscribers of DirecTV more than DirecTV needs Versus. Yeah, there are supposedly 6 million DirecTV viewers who get Versus, but that doesn't necessarily translate to 6 million hockey fans. Some of those folks tune in for the cage fighting, not hockey.
I happen to be a real born-and-bred hockey fan. I love my Red Wings. But, I don't play fantasy hockey, I keep up with other teams mostly through the internet, and I have other things to do with my life if a game is not on for me to view on any particular day. My life doesn't end if I don't go to extraordinary lengths to view the game. And if the NHL wants to continue to abuse the loyal fans and be stuck on Versus exclusively, I may just decide to watch basketball, or baseball, or football (after all, the Lions won last week!), or go to a dog show. Versus is not a top priority with me - or a lot of other people.
Though Versus is trying to paint this issue as DirecTV saying they are not interested in current hockey fans, that is just the window-dressing puffery in the type of hardball negotiations telecom companies publicly engage in. The real issue is the absolute disaster this presents to the NHL in its quest to attract the so-called casual fan - especially if that fan is a subscriber to DirecTV. You can't build a fanbase if you don't have access to millions of potential viewers. The casual fan can't find Hockeytown if the NHL is in Nowheresville. Especially during the Stanley Cup playoffs and finals.
DirecTV isn't pure as the driven snow, either, and these competitive telecommunications companies all buy and sell media holdings and sue each other in a never-ending battle for more ratings and more money. There is now so much vertical integration of media that looking at the corporate pedigrees is like looking at a spider web. But, I do agree with the DirecTV assessment that Versus is overrating its value in the marketplace. To brag that the ratings for Stanley Cup playoffs and finals were great presumes that it had more to do with Versus than it did with the fact that it was the Wings and the Penguins.
Come back when the finals are between what the American networks dread the most - two Canadian teams - and tell us about the ratings in the USA, outside of the northern states that actually watch "ice" hockey on a regular basis and actually know the rules of the game.
Or, better yet, when the finals are between say - the Florida Panthers and the Phoenix Coyotes (n.b. - I am not dissing these teams. Rather, this is just an assessment of national viewship potential).
On the other hand, if nothing can get done in court and the NHL has to buy the Coyotes, Versus can perhaps get exclusive coverage for all the Yotes games. Stay tuned.