Blogs > The Back Page

The musings of a Detroit-area sportswriter in the digital age.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cable customers going to great lengths to get sports

The dispute over carrying rights seems to have been resolved in the Dish Network-Fox situation, according to releases from the Fox. The news comes just two days prior to the blackout of Fox 2 in the local area, which was to take effect Nov. 1.
"After prolonged negotiations to reach a fair deal, we're pleased to enter into a long-term agreement with Fox and to assure our customers that they can continue to enjoy these channels," said Dave Shull, senior VP of programming for Dish Network.
More important than that, area DishNet subscribers can catch up on their Pistons and Red Wings seasons, which are only a couple weeks old. Glad for the fans it could be resolved. That's certainly something that could get me to switch providers. I change service whenever a better intro rate comes along, so you know I'd be gone if I couldn't get Pistons or Red Wings coverage. My current cable does lack Versus, though, but I'm thinking most Wings playoff games are good ol' CBC if they're on Versus anyway. I have to imagine the Wings are on Ch. 9 a couple times this season.
The DishNet resolution is good news for people in the metro Detroit area, but it can't bring the Lions to TV, as NFL blackout rules prevent Sunday's matchup against the Redskins from being shown in the region. It could be worse.
Baseball fans in the New York area are still trapped by provider Cablevision's now two-week old stalemate with Fox over retransmission fees. Michigan viewers were only slated to miss Games 5-7, arguably the most important games of the season, if they had lost Fox 2. Fans in NYC have missed every game, going to great lengths to find them.
Cablevision tried so hard to curry subscribers' favor as to purchase subscriptions, so affected viewers could stream the World Series online. The common reaction is "TV isn't the same on my computer," but beggars can't be choosers. That sounds like a damn good deal to me. But the customer interaction wasn't all on the up and up.
Recorded conversations reportedly caught Cablevision employees instructing customers to install over-the-air antennas to catch the Fox broadcast — or just search for a pirate site illegally streaming the games on the Internet, which has apparently become common practice. I'm sure plenty of Lions fans will try what they can Sunday.
But what about the displaced baseball Giants fans left in NYC? Sure, many still have their antennas from back in the day, but their older sets won't work without digital converters. And, as you may have heard, seniors aren't always in step with the latest in technology, meaning the illegal streams probably aren't their avenue for watching the World Series.
Hopefully this Cablevision deal gets resolved sometime before the NFL playoffs, there surely would be hell to pay if those games, or especially the Super Bowl weren't seen in New York. And another thing, isn't this going to affect November sweeps?

Update: Fox, Cablevision reach agreement on deal, avoid further World Series, NFL blackouts.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nike is ad it again

Fresh off its career resuscitation efforts with Tiger Woods, the ad staff at Nike was trying to revive LeBron James' image on the eve of his first tip-off as a member of the Miami Heat. I enjoy this long-form ad (which I still haven't seen on TV now that I think of it), especially the nod to one of my previous favorites, the "I am not a role model" spots Charles Barkley did in the early 90s. But it hardly even mentions Nike! It seems they're trying to disassociate the Swoosh with tarnished images? Either way, see for yourself.

We all remember the Woods video earlier this year. Produced as golf's No. 1 player was finalizing his highly-publicized divorce from his Swedish model wife by all appearances due to his also highly-publicized infidelity, the previous Nike ad was met by incredulous viewers. The ad was narrated by random, out-of-sequence clips of Woods' father speaking to his son. The orchestration of Earl Woods' voice was seen as damaging to the golf guru's legacy.

The Tiger video spawned funny spoofs and the furor quickly dulled. From an artistic standpoint, I enjoyed the Woods spot, as I always have liked his Nike promos. I've always enjoyed Nike's commercials, dating back to Mars Blackmon, and they're sure to keep going. Who's the next athlete the swooshed ones can assuage?
... In other news, Dan Gilbert really meant what he said about LeBron in that nasty, childish-looking letter he penned typed last year. ... Also, the Free Press has been running exerpts from a new book about Bob Probert the past three days. "Tough Guy" takes you behind the scenes of one of the league's best skilled players/bruiser, you're there for his first beer, his initial cocaine snort and the time he lost his virginity on leave from a hockey tournament. The book is available from Triumph Books, a noted publisher of athletic biographies.
Part I
Part II
Part III

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Another cable fight with a wicked twist

What some Cablevision subscribers in New York tuned into last Sunday on Fox was not the Lions-Giants game, but rather a blacked out screen. The network had been blacked out by the provider due to a contract dispute with the network for more than 24 hours at that point.
Sure, there are ways around this ...
1. Switch providers
2. Break out the digital converter and rabbit ears (they still work to get over-the-air digital broadcasts BTW)
3. Find some pirate site online to stream the game
Sunday crisis averted. But what about Sunday night? And Monday night? And, you get the picture.
Well, as DVRs, OnDemand services and the popular Internet site Hulu have advanced "time shifted" TV viewing way beyond what VCR owners could have imagined 25 years ago, we've grown accustomed to getting what we want, when we want it.
But what if that was gone? I don't know that you can hook up a DVR to an over-the-air signal. And in this specific case, News Corporation (Fox's parent company) disabled precious Fox content on the Fox website - and wide-reaching catch-all site Hulu - for Cablevision Internet users. The move calls into question ethics and the principles of net neutrality. Obviously Fox decided to pull its trump card, online content, which it has since put back in its hand. Just had to show Cablevision who's boss, right?
The bigger issue is that disabling content on the Internet, where things are supposed to be unfettered and for use by everyone, sets a bad precedent. There are issues with cable negotiations all the time. Are networks and their handlers simply going to pick up their ball and go home every time a dispute arise? This is bad news, and I'm curious what the fallout will bring. I bet there's a few Lions fans who would have traded places with Cablevision subscribers for a couple hours Sunday afternoon, though.
..... At top is the first version of the Cablevision-Fox story I read on a New York Times blog Sunday, during the Lions-Giants game on Fox. The red circles indicate something I found interesting: The Times published this story about a half-hour, according to the timestamp, before kickoff. Not a huge deal, except the story goes into intricate detail about what viewers saw, past tense, when they tuned into the game at 1 p.m. "How can you write about something that hasn't happened yet?" I fired back in a tweet to @NYTimes, to no avail. It's fine for print, where readers wouldn't be the wiser, but when there's a timestamp at the top, you're caught. They could have simply rewritten the story to account for that, but they didn't. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, though, maybe their timestamping algorithm is off, much like the stamp on Blogger posts (they're off by three hours or so).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bill Simmons Twitter fiasco a lesson in humility

Say what you will about the tweet/DM by Bill Simmons which accidentally leaked the news of the Randy Moss to Minnesota trade, although this is just another example of new media goofs, what is best to take away from this is the manner in which Simmons handled the event.
After tweeting "Moss Vikings?" when he meant to direct message a colleague at ESPN, Simmons, who was taping an episode of "E: 60," ESPN's investigate series, at the time, immediately owned up to the mistake.
First, in a panic, he deleted the message. He followed that up with a couple tweets to clarify what he'd said, because the nearly 1.3 million followers of his @SportsGuy33 account on Twitter would surely notice the gaffe. He lost a scoop because of it, but he handled the best way possible in his position. (He has since written, at great length, an explanation of the events surrounding the tweet).
Perhaps his admission had to do with the fact he's followed by so many people, myself included, but I'd like to think his integrity led him to own up.
This is going to happen in some fashion from time to time because the demand for immediacy creates a fierce pace to dole out news. Consistently one-upping the competition has gone to the millisecond. Now, Simmons' error might not directly apply to this scenario, but he was using new media on the job, something that's commonplace these days, and he didn't double-check his work. I understand the circumstances surrounding his mistake, and he picked up the pieces the best he could and it's another chance for us to learn.
This is much bigger than the average beat writer or TV sportscaster misspelling players' names on Twitter, which I see on an all-too-frequent basis, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not the end of the world. And he still broke one of the biggest stories of the season thus far. It can't be that bad of a mistake, right?
I've seen social media humble some long-time writers, and Simmons is taking his own healthy dose of medicine right now. Hopefully, it cures us all.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Datsyuk fight

I searched high and low following Friday's season-opening Red Wings victory for video of Pavel Datsyuk's fight to no avail. A clip turned up in the late-night hours, however. The fight is about 2:23 into the video.

South Park takes on NASCAR

NASCAR did something several religions and celebrities haven’t done so well the past 15 years: laugh off a skewering on the Comedy Central adult-themed cartoon “South Park.”
In the midseason premiere Wednesday night, one of the show’s characters insinuated NASCAR drivers are both poor and stupid, while the rest of his friends try to tell him he’s wrong for stereotyping.

Drivers interviewed by The Associated Press seemed to be OK with the satirical nature in which their sport was portrayed.

“I think any time somebody takes the time to make fun of you is a compliment. I don’t think anybody takes offense to that,” said Danica Patrick, who will also appear on “The Simpsons” later this year. “I think we all made history being on ‘South Park.’ It’s pretty cool.”
Not even four-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson took offense when Cartman, a character on the show, had this to say about him: “I’m a little worried about that Johnson guy — he seems dumber than spit.”
“I’ve had multiple text messages saying that I was on ‘South Park,’ really, from all of my friends’ kids,” he said. “I’ve got to check it out. I haven’t seen it, but I heard that Cartman’s in a very entertaining sponsored car. I haven’t seen it yet and I can’t wait to.”
Patrick was run over by another car and killed at the end of the show, but didn’t seem to mind.
“I got killed, I was told,” she said. “Well, you know, some days I feel like that might be the easy road.”

The show’s creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, also the creators of cult-classic comedy “BASEketball,” came under fire from Islamic leaders recently for their depiction of the prophet Muhammad on the cartoon featuring elementary-aged friends in Rocky Mountain Colorado.

(For current NASCAR news and notes, read "Beyond the Track" by Oakland Press NASCAR blogger Matt Myftiu.)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Red Wings preview section Thursday

Find a special Red Wings preview section, letter 'D,' in your Thursday Oakland Press designed by yours truly featuring content from columnist Pat Caputo and beat writer Chuck Pleiness.

Monday, October 04, 2010

An unfortunate position for colleagues

It was surely not the first "not-for-print" joke between colleagues to make print, but the fabricated quotes in Saturday's Detroit Free Press notebook about Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch caused enough of a stir as to have the digital edition page B2 removed by early Sunday afternoon. (Subsequent attempts to recover the page by downloading the entire Saturday edition also failed.)
A correction for the error appeared in Sunday's edition on B1, thoroughly apologizing to the Lions organization, Vanden Bosch and coach Jim Schwartz.
Also, Lions beat writer David Birkett, a former beat writer for The Oakland Press, did not travel to Green Bay for the game. All Lions copy in the Sunday edition was attributed to "From staff reports."
Copy from the Green Bay game written by backup writer Shawn Windsor.
The story in question titled "Driven Vanden Bosch sits out practice to rest back," was a shared byline between Birkett and Carlos Monarrez.
The story read: (This is a reproduction of the Saturday print edition)

It was a tough week for Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.
First, he was spotted Thursday driving out of the Lions’ Allen Park practice facility — in a Ford Taurus with a dealer’s license plate. Why would a $28 million free agent drive a Taurus?
“Because he’s bankrupt,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “No. Really. His Porsche was in the shop for service.”
Schwartz decided to put Vanden Bosch himself up on blocks by holding him out of practice with a tight back that limited him Thursday. Vanden Bosch was listed as probable on Friday’s injury report.
“It’s just been something and a little bit more of a coach’s decision there also,” Schwartz said of his reason for holing out Vanden Bosch. “He can practice, but sometimes you just want to rest guys and things like that and let them save it till Sunday.”
Vanden Bosch s famous for his relentless work ethic and has resisted previous attempts to sit out practice.
“Anytime you want to cut his reps, it’s going to be a fight,” Schwartz said. “But also, he’s a veteran player. He understands it’s not about going on a Thursday. It’s about going on a Sunday. Vanden Bosch admitted it was for his own good.
“Yeah, I hate missing practice,” he said. “I enjoy practice. But the teams, what we want to do on Sunday comes first, and we want to win. I think in the long run and the short term just resting a little bit will help.”
But Vanden Bosch said he didn’t fight Schwartz over the decision.
“Nah, I don’t argue with him,” Vanden Bosch said. “Not the head man.”

Let's keep this in perspective, not confusing this with fellow Freeper Mitch Albom's fictionalized account of a night at the Final Four with Michigan State alums (which served as a case study in my college copy editing class led by Freep staffers). The encounter in his column never materialized, but ran in the Sunday edition anyway, because Albom was forced to make his Friday deadline for a Sunday column.
This is what it is: a goofy anecdote in a short notebook item. Nothing more. It's an exhaustive attempt to ensure readers knew Vanden Bosch, a multi-million dollar athlete commandeered a blue collar (and very well respected sedan) Taurus, one of the best-selling cars of all-time.
Having worked with Birkett for a couple years, I can say this never happened in his time with The Oakland Press. Hopefully, this scares fellow reporters from "joking" with content that could find its way into the paper. It's like dummying pretend headlines, or even better, dummying headlines with curse words. My pages typically read like this until I write a headline "asdfadsf asdfadsfadfsa" to get the spacing correct.
As with any big error, there's an opportunity to learn and move forward.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Dish getting ditched

(Full page ad in Sunday's Detroit Free Press)
What the heck is going on with Dish Network? Apparently, as of Oct. 1, Dish subscribers lost FSN, FX and National Geographic channel. But let's be honest, the one that really matters is FSN.
Fox Sports Detroit is one of 18 regional Fox Sports networks removed. Ouch. Don't get between a fan and their regional sports coverage.
I've never had satellite TV, but I've seen these types of disputes before, as recently as 2007 and the introduction of the Big Ten Network. Cable networks want providers to dole out more money for their product. If Dish was smart, it wouldn't go down this road. Just like BTN, which later became a "normal" channel when cable systems wanted it to be on a special sports tier, fans will flock to get their sports.
This debate doesn't seem to be the same, but Dish has yet to accept multiple offers from Fox, according to Fox. The network says negotiations have been ongoing for the past six months. Fox says Dish's accusations that Fox is seeking a 50-percent increase are "flat-out wrong," noting it has made offers it deems "fair, reasonable and consistent with the agreements we have with other cable and satellite operators."
One element remains the same from the cable TV debate of '07: the providers have to take a stand against networks so subscribers don't think they're getting taken advantage of. It's that simple.
Fox and its negotiators clearly has the upper-hand in this one, what with the Pistons AND Red Wings season about to commence. No FSN, sure. You'll get a handful of Red Wings games a year on CBC "Hockey Night in Canada" or Versus, but more or less, FSD is the primary network to watch the Wings. And how often are the Pistons on another channel? Once or twice a year ABC Sunday basketball a couple times on ESPN?
The coalition "Get What I Paid For" is also reporting Dish is going to lose Fox 2 as of Nov. 1. The site belongs to Fox. Service providers were given an opportunity to be mentioned as other provider options.
Now, I'm not a 'Gleek' or anything, but that show is immensely popular. Oh, and not to mention, Fox still has the rights to the World Series AND the Super Bowl (this year, as part of a three-network rotation). I hope the Series isn't a good one, for Dishers, because Games 5-7 are scheduled from Nov. 1-4. And to kick viewers while they're down, you can forget about Sunday NFL coverage on Fox. Hope you weren't too attached to the Lions and the rest of your NFC teams.
I hope for Dish subscribers' sake, they didn't sign a long contract, or they can otherwise wiggle their way out, because Fox is going to get what it wants and Dish and its customers are going to end up eating the cost.
Bars, friends' houses or Internet streams, fans are going to find a way to get what they want. And ultimately, if that means "ditching the Dish," as the cable ads go, then so be it.