Monday, September 14, 2009

Rant: Honestly, Regional Blackouts on pre-season Canucks games?

As a hockey starved canadian, I am once again reminded of how bureaucracy and greed are holding the national hockey leagues and likely other professional sporting leagues hostage. Yes, the "Regional Blackout."

For those unfamiliar, a blackout is a team or league controlled blocking of airing a sporting event on television. It could be that a game is covered only in its own city, and not nationally, or vice versa.

In practice, what it means is, though my digital cable television guide states that I will be able to watch the very first pre-game matchup between the islanders and the canucks, tonight at 10:30, the channel actually displays "regional blackout in effect" and remains unchanged for the duration of the game. Fun!

The purpose? Well, blackouts were invented to put bums in seats. If the game wasn't on, and you lived in or near the city in question, maybe you could go!

Where this system fails is with the FAN. The HOCKEY FAN. The guy who just wants to see a hockey game after months of hockey-starved living! This tradition of blacking out games, is as old as syndication itself.

Unfortunately, this type of failure to embrace technology (and we are not talking about a breakthrough technology here) is what has brought a similar industry to a grinding halt - the music industry. When confronted with a new distribution opportunity (the invention of highspeed internet and the mp3 audio compression format) their reaction was immediately one of defence. Putting encryption on cd's that not only failed to block the copying and distribution of media, but also caused millions of cd players to reject these "protected" disks, due to a gross miscalculation of the effect of the encryption vs. thousands of different brands of cd players. Sales inevitably suffered even as napster flourished and a golden opportunity to seize market position in a new distribution model was frittered away with outrageous lawsuits against downloaders (er, fans) and poorly encrypted content debacles; a total failure on the part of the bloated, out of touch content distribution majors.

Nowdays we see a total collapse in the overall quality of recorded product, a stagnant, bloated, and defeated music industry struggling to keep up, and a virtual monopoly on distributing content: itunes + ipod.

The point I'm randomly trying to illustrate is that audiences today demand content. Audiences today can get anything they want, whenever they want, using dvr/pvr's, timeshifting, on demand services, and of course on the internet (whether via grey-area legal sites like youtube, or pirate sites like the pirate bay).

What possible good could it do for your brand to restrict would-be fans from enjoying it at all? I live in woodstock. Am I, as a fan, really expected to fly to Vancouver or (an even more outrageous an expectation), Terrace BC to see a preseason game? Why can I not support your sponsors by fast forwarding through their commercials on the comfort of my own couch? Is there not a viable way to deliver this content to me without risk of losing valuable Woodstonian attendance at gm place? Really?

I guess I can thank the nhl for giving me a night with so little to do, I managed to freestyle this rant-essay right on to my blackberry. Thanks NHL.

Ben Sage, Sales Representative. Re/Max a-b Realty Ltd., Brokerage. 519-536-7535. 521 Dundas St., Woodstock, ON

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