Thursday, November 16, 2006

Your Inalienable Right to Watch Football

I'm in Pittsburgh through the end of the week, visiting my mother.

The article in yesterday's Sentinel regarding the Broncos game on Thanksgiving was interesting, but judging from the comments attached to the article and information available elsewhere, this article seemed to raise more questions than answers.

This is a big deal with football fans in the Grand Junction area. In following the 'growth' of our little media market over the years, the availability of Broncos games in any form has been kindling for the fire of controversy over the loss of a full-time Denver station over cable and translators in the GJ and Montrose areas.

Back in the late 90's, the loss of KUSA Channel 9 in favor of local startup KKCO deprived viewers of pre-season games and ancillary programming related to the Broncos, generating media coverage and a public outcry that eventually got all the players talking, including AT&T Cable, now Bresnan Communications. Eventually an arrangement was reached to air the pre-season games, but that arrangement has been sporadic as the network for Broncos games changed, and the NFL itself broadened the scope of its' own cable channel.

This year is the first that NFL Network will be airing games independent of an over-the-air broadcast network, or a basic cable channel like ESPN. In the Grand Junction area, NFL Network is only available on the Digital Cable 'tier' of Bresnan's service, which in and of itself is controversial because only a fraction of local subscribers choose to pay extra for this service.

What people have taken for granted, that being access to a Broncos game on TV without having to pay a premium of some sort or subscribe to a special service, is now threatened.
Welcome to the future of information and entertainment, especially if Net Neutrality becomes a thing of the past, and municipal cable franchises are also swept aside.

In another interesting story, Broadcasting and Cable also reported yesterday that NFL Network is suing Comcast Cable for assigning their programming to a digital tier instead of the more widely-viewed basic or expanded basic service. The network is demanding a pretty high per-subscriber fee from the cable company for its' programming, and like other cable operators in the Northeast there is an ongoing battle between them and popular networks such as Fox News and ESPN to keep fees down.

The comments in the Sentinel article have information regarding local phone numbers for Bresnan that will circumvent the call center in Billings. From a consumer vantage point with the above information in hand, it seems that Bresnan does have a lot of free space right now in the basic and expanded basic channel lineup, especially after shifting Starz and Encore to the digital tier, to accommodate the NFL Network if consumer demand requires it.

Channels 2, 14, 47, 48, and 62 are currently vacant, showing the same local information slides. While one of those channels will likely be another PEG (Public, Educational, Government access) channel (like Mesa County's Channel 12) whenever the city gets around to asking for it, one wonders what is up Bresnan's sleeve for the rest of them.

Now is probably a good time to ask questions, make suggestions, and insist on a response that is beneficial to local TV consumers. As for me, I'll be watching the Steelers this weekend. Now if only they played a little better...

Take care.

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