Even if It’s Just Two Games, NBC Shuts GameCenter/Center Ice Subscribers Out of Hockey Day
February 20, 2012 6 Comments
Here’s the thing: I’m well aware that streaming on websites and on tablets will be more what we are accustomed to in the future. It’s coming, if not in the immediate future, than in five to ten years. Streaming hockey games online is going to change the landscape of media rights deals by the time the NHL is renegotiating it’s television contract in the early 2020’s, and perhaps even by the time the NBA renegotiates their deal in 2015. Companies like Google and Apple have made hints about bidding for sports rights, including the NFL.
I also understand that fans of other sport have it much worse. The NFL has given DIRECTV a monopoly over all the cable companies, preventing cable customers from seeing their teams if they live outside the regional broadcast territory. Major League Baseball fans have cried foul for years that FOX broadcasts are not available on the MLB streaming app, or on the Extra Innings package. FOX will air as many as 5-6 regional games a week during the summer, and if you don’t live in the broadcast territory of the game you want to see, you will not be allowed to watch it.
So let’s enter this discussion with these two caveats accepted: internet/tablet streaming of sporting events is going to be more common as we get further along in this decade and into the coming years, and other sports fans have it a lot worse than hockey fans do when it comes to watching out of market games.
But the fact that NBC prevented Center Ice and GameCenter Live subscribers, who pay hundreds of dollars a year to see all the games, by only allowing out-of-market games to air on their NBCSports.com streaming service – which was very suspect for many viewers – is nonsense. How can it be Hockey Day in America if all the games are available on television in Canada (via NHL Network, TSN2 and Center Ice) but not in America? Total bunk.
It’s hard to think that the NHL really wanted this. The NHL tends to be the most progressive league when it comes to getting it’s content to anyone who’s willing to watch it. Game highlights (both league-sanctioned and fan made) are available all over YouTube. The league is easily the most web savvy, and on trade deadline day will stream over 10 hours of coverage on NHL.com just in case the folks without NHL Network can’t see it. So, why would they agree to do this?
The whole thing seems like it has been made to help promote NBC’s various web ventures, like the very good Pro Hockey Talk, whose writers held a Q&A livechat to accompany the streaming, among other various bells and whistles (starcams were available for each game). I’ll have more on NBC’s coverage, which I mostly found quite good, tomorrow. But what happened today is unacceptable.
Say you’re a Penguins fan who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Now, Cleveland is two hours away from Pittsburgh, but you’re out of the viewing territory. The NBC station, in it’s infinite wisdom, has been chosen to air Sharks/Red Wings. No problem, you’re used to not seeing the Pens on TV, that’s why you spent $150 on Center Ice or GameCenter Live. You flip over to Center Ice, or click over to GameCenter. The game isn’t available there. Well, that sucks. Then, you find out that NBCSports.com is streaming the game. Well, I guess it’s not great that my money’s going to waste here, but at least I can still see it. But the stream is choppy and kept rebuffering (a complaint many people had yesterday), and you kind of just want to give up on the whole thing.
Funny or not, this is very likely the experience of many people (if Twitter can be believed) yesterday. Now, one day a year, it’s hard to take all of this seriously for people who aren’t able to see the game of their favorite team. But how much further will this go? Will NBC add more regional games next year? Would NBC ever consider regionalizing Stanley Cup Playoff games again? Will NHL Center Ice/GameCenter in the US essentially be shut out with the net television deal putting every game on “national” television (including the premium channel NHL Network)? It’s a minor issue for now, but it makes you wonder how far NBC will take this.
What could have been done to prevent this? Well, that’s quite simple, compared to all this. NBC could have just, you know, allowed the games to air on Center Ice or GameCenter. Allowing regional games to air on Center Ice was the standard practice during the ABC (1999-2004) and NBC (2005-06) regionalizing years. They could have allowed the streams to go live on NHL.com, similar to how the network and league share the streams of star-cams during Game of the Week coverage.
NBC could’ve thought a little bit outside the box too. They could’ve aired the games on their future playoff overload channels, NBC Sports Network, CNBC and NHL Network. CNBC had very little going on, NBC Sports Network was airing a lacrosse tournament, and NHL Network was running a special on Mike Modano. Hardly stuff that couldn’t be run instead of live hockey. Hockey Day in America could be an event similar to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, with multiple networks running games. I assume this would be the situation we’ll get in the playoffs, it would have been nice to see it tried out today.
However, NBC didn’t do this, and held out the games for the benefit of drawing traffic to NBCSports.com. Hard to blame them for doing this, unless you’re someone who spends hundreds of dollars on streaming services that promise you, with the exception of nationally televised contests on NBC, NBC Sports Network and NHL Network, every game for your money. Those people felt let down by the league and the network today, and NBC should make every effort to rectify their mistake by the time Hockey Day rolls around next year. The NHL should listen to the complaints of their customers and demand it. The future is coming, but we’re just not quite there yet. NBC Sports turned the clock a little too far forward today.