Thursday, August 8, 2013

How the "Lone Ranger" Could Free Us From The NBA On ESPN

Somehow, This Didn't Make Money
Today in the Grey Lady and the various newsletters that I read for the day job, Disney CEO Bob Iger indicated that he expects ESPN to renew its deal to carry NBA games as the current agreement runs through the 2015-16 season. “I think it would be safe to assume that we’re reasonably confident that we’ll be able to extend that relationship,” he said. He added that while the league is crucial to ESPN, it also offers an “important platform” for the NBA.

Right, because if the games were on, say, NBC, that would just be freakish and weird, and no one would ever go to that channel. (Note to the young'uns: the NBA was on NBC all throughout the Jordan Years. Sarcasm is easier with the olds.)

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone -- in real life or on Twitter, where I follow way too many of my fellow NBA marks -- who prefers the Lemur's coverage of the Association to Turner Sports. Part of that is the miraculously strong NBA on TNT studio show, but it also stretches to the live games, where you get Marv Albert (I don't care about his personal proclivities, he calls a great game), Kevin Harlan, Dick Stockton and Kenny Albert doing the play by play. TNT's crews are not perfect -- Reggie Miller exists and makes decent people spit -- but he'd be among the best at ESPN, and that doesn't even get into the worst. You can generally count on a TNT crew to do the adorably old-fashioned thing of caring about the game they are watching. It's nice! Not so nice that I refuse to watch game if it's on ESPN, and only watch if it's on Turner, but certainly true for the post and halftime shows. Anyway.

ESPN, for the record, is profitable and helped Disney deal with the weak year posted by their cinema district... but not so much that they haven't, well, thrown a lot of people overboard to cut costs just a few months ago. They also stuck a fork in the notion of 3-D telecasts after a lot of R&D work. So it's not all skittles and beer in Bristol.

So... is it conceivable that continued bonehead moves like putting Johnny Depp in red and ash face and thinking it's a tentpole franchise, or green-lighting sci-fi epics around books that no one has ever heard of (that'd be last year's "John Carter")... or the continued neutering of everything great and good that was Pixar or the Muppets, now both just increasingly similar tentacles of the Mouse...

Or that they might get priced out of things, what with NBC and Fox more or less setting their sites on them with new 24 hour sportsnetworks that, one assumes, have to luck into some part of an audience that's probably very, very finite...

Or that the ever-rising prices of cable retransmission costs will eventually lead to an a la carte model where the apathetic public says, um, spending $60 to $100 a year for a channel that I never watch is just plain crazy.

So, to sum up.

ESPN thinks they are going to keep the NBA, despite layoffs and softness in their overall business, and a steadily increasing drumbeat of actual competition in a mature market.

Is it so wrong to hope for otherwise? And, well, root for it?

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