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

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).


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