Contract negotiations between cable companies and content providers can be as dicey as negotiations between professional teams and star athletes who are about to become eligible for free agency.
On one hand, the team (or cable company) needs the big star (or cable channel) to keep fans (or customers) satisfied. But the team (or cable company) doesn’t want to blow a hole in the budget to do so.
Negotiations between cable companies and content providers can sometimes drag out or get particularly nasty. Just ask Southern California’s Los Angeles Dodgers fans, who can’t see their team because the team’s owners created their own cable channel, SportsNet LA, which has yet to be picked up by a majority of the cable providers in Southern California. Or ask anyone who has lost access to a broadcast network for an extended length of time because the owner of the network’s affiliate station wants to play economic hardball with the cable company.
That’s why the deal Cox -- the primary cable provider in Macon and Warner Robins -- struck with ESPN this month to pick up the SEC Network when it launches in August is a refreshing piece of news.
The SEC Network, which launches Aug. 14, will be the main broadcaster for just about everything that happens in the conference. That includes nearly every conference football game that isn’t picked up by CBS or another ESPN channel.
The weekly SEC syndication deal, formerly known as the Raycom/Jefferson Pilot package? Gone. No more having to hunt down which channel those games would appear on from week to week -- if the Macon broadcast stations would carry them at all. (There will, however, still be syndicated ACC games).
Pay-per-view for lesser opponents? No need to pay extra anymore, other than the monthly bill for the channel package that contains the SEC Network, of course.
The CSS cable channel that was available in several markets in the Southeast -- but not on Cox? Out of business, having lost a good chunk of its programming to the SEC Network.
Granted, this deal is going to put pressure on Cox -- and other cable providers who pick up the SEC Network -- to increase subscriber rates. That is a downside, but it’s also the reality of the cable landscape. Cable providers and content providers aren’t going to give us a la carte pricing without government intervention, as having a broad base of subscribers to certain channels -- willingly or otherwise -- inflates the bottom line.
On the other hand, cable companies have monopolies in most communities, and it’s up to those monopolies to provide the broadest carriage possible. If that means paying a little more in order to see the games we want to see, then that’s just a price that is going to have to be paid. It’s that or a mad dash to the sports bar.
Sure, there are two robust satellite providers in Dish Network and DirecTV, but not everyone can subscribe to satellite. Apartment dwellers whose windows face the wrong way and can’t install a dish on the roof are out of luck. There’s also competition from telephone companies, namely AT&T and Verizon, in some markets, but that competition (inexplicably) has yet to come to Macon.
Even though cable can be an expensive proposition in Cox’s Middle Georgia markets (or, in reality, with any provider in most of the country these days), the company has done a fairly good job of making sports content available in recent years. Just about all of the major sports channels are carried here in Middle Georgia, with the lack of the CBS Sports Network and the Longhorn Network (A channel for one school? Really?) being the only real holes in Cox’s sports offerings. And those aren’t big players in terms of national sports channels, although the CBS Sports Network is slated to carry Mercer’s appearances in the Great Alaskan Shootout come basketball season.
So rest assured that Georgia’s Sept. 20 game against Troy -- the Bulldogs’ SEC Network debut -- will be available on Cox Cable. That should save a lot of phone calls to the cable company.
Contact Ron Seibel at 744-4222 or firstname.lastname@example.org