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August 22, 2014

TV 101: The NFL Can Help the Internet Grow Up

by Jay Black, posted Apr 21st 2010 11:02AM
As American as Mom, Apple Pie, or convincing drunk girls at a Jets game to show you their boobs.Every culture has a coming-of-age ritual. The boys of the Amazon's Satere Mawe tribe aren't considered men until they've worn a glove filled with stinging ants. Among the American Nouveau-Riche tribe, you can't enter adulthood until a minor rap star comes to your sweet sixteen and performs for you in front of MTV cameras. Among my people, the Irish Americans, you can only achieve the full rights of adulthood after you've ruined a Thanksgiving dinner by getting drunk and fighting your father.

The internet is a teenager right now - you can tell because it's always angry and is totally obsessed with seeing Megan Fox naked. The internet needs to grow up with a coming-of-age ritual all its own. And, as much as I'd like to put a glove of stinging ants onto the hands of the people who call me a douche every week in the comments, there's only one real way for the internet to finally achieve adult status ...

... the NFL. Someone with More Money than God (MMtG) needs to pay for the exclusive rights to an NFL package and then only show the games on the internet.

Okay, even writing that made me worry for a moment that I ate some of the super pot from 'Transformers 2.' But it's a fact: the NFL gives legitimacy for any media outlet that buys it.

Before ESPN purchased the rights to air the NFL in 1987, it was mostly known for showing slow pitch softball and Australian rules football. ESPN was the butt of jokes - and not gentle, unfunny jokes like the kind Chris Berman makes. They were pointed, nasty jokes about the viability of a channel that only showed sports.

Once the NFL showed up, however, Americans stopped making jokes about the station and started naming their children after it.

The same thing happened to the fledgling FOX network. In 1994, the only three real hits that had come out of the Fox Network were 'The Simpsons', 'Married ... with Children' and 'The Luke Perry Sideburn Hour'. Those three hits aside, it was hard to think of it as a real network, especially considering that its misses had titles like 'Women in Prison', 'Werewolf', and 'Woops!'

That's when Rupert Murdoch did what he does best: amped up the crazy, spending a then-unheard of $1.58 billion for the NFC broadcast rights, outbidding CBS. CBS was sure that FOX would lose money on the deal, and they were probably right. $1.58 billion is a lot of money, and that didn't even factor in the cost of laser-etching Howie Long's hair to within five microns of perfect flatness.

But while the NFL might have lost the network money in the short run, it legitimized it in the long run. Now, when we talk about the networks, we say "Big Four" instead of the "Big Three" and the NFL is a big part of the reason that we do.

This brings us to TV on the internet. Like ESPN in the '80s and FOX in the '90s, the only really remarkable thing about TV on the internet is that it exists. No one takes it all that seriously.

Don't believe me? Try this thought experiment. Your best friend leaves for Hollywood to become rich and famous. A year later, he calls you with the news that he got his own TV show! You get excited for your friend (and hate him a little bit because who the hell does he think he is, Mr. Big Shot?) and ask him what channel. He tells you "Well, it's not really on TV, it's on the internet."

Do you a) stay excited (and a little spiteful) or b) say, "Oh, well, hey, that's great for you" and then wonder to yourself if your friend might have been better off starring in a snuff film?

The fact is that the internet, for all its power, is still an also-ran when it comes to broadcasting. Some of this is due to technical limitations, but far more limiting is the lack of imagination that the content providers have shown. As it stands now, you either create original content with the hope of getting picked up by "real" TV ('Funny or Die Presents') or you show on-demand digital versions of shows that have already aired on "real" TV (hulu.com).

We all know that the internet will soon become the primary means by which we get our video content, but despite this knowledge we still tend to think of broadcast TV content as "real" and internet TV content as "Awww, look how hard they're trying! I hope they make it!" Before online video content can achieve its potential, it needs something to legitimize it.

And that's where my NFL idea comes in.

Let's imagine that the MMtG owner of a website approached the NFL with a "Godfather" offer - say $5 billion for the rights to air one game per week exclusively on the internet. No TV simulcast, if you want to watch the game you have to visit the site on your laptop or, if you wanted to watch it on your TV, through your Boxee or XBOX Live account.

Overnight, that website would become "real". The NFL would create a halo effect around the rest of the content on the site; people would stop looking at it as internet programming, but rather just programming. Of course, there's no way in the world that they would ever make that money back, but $5 billion is cigar-lighting money for a some of the bigger big digital players: Google, Apple, Microsoft, Biffco, Weyland-Yutani, and a few others.

Further, if you don't think that those companies are willing to pay for legitimacy, consider that Microsoft made a serious bid to bring Conan to Xbox Live. It's going to happen sooner or later.

The main argument you could make against this idea is that NFL would never give up an exclusive game to an internet company. There's three reasons why they would:

1. The NFL has shown a historical willingness to branch out into new places, as witnessed by the ESPN and FOX examples above.

2. Recent evidence suggests that they're already moving in this direction. Earlier this year, they made deals with Yahoo and Hulu to start broadcasting highlights packages, sortable by team and the NFL and ESPN are already exploring an expansion of digital rights.

And, most importantly:

3. You could convince the NFL to beat up a fourth grade girl if you paid it enough money. And certainly, the internet's top dogs have money.

So, what's stopping you internet billionaires? Get out there and start negotiating. It's already a foregone conclusion that the internet is the future of television, we just need someone with enough money to actually get the future here already.

(Jay Black is a comedian and writer who really hopes you like this column. For more information about Jay or to check out one of his live shows, you can visit his website at www.jayblackcomedy.net).

[Follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]

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YouFaceTheTick

No mention of MLB because it's just not watched in the numbers the NFL gets. Hell the big slap came with the new schedule...no more free pass for MLB during the world series. The NFL will go head to head with the world series this year...

As a longtime Sunday Ticket purchaser I'm cutting the cord this year. We simply don't watch many games, instead turning on the Red Zone channel for the day. Also, I'm sick of paying an extra $100 for HD as if all games aren't in HD anyway.

Oh and if the NFL had any mercy they'd do a second language broadcast during MNF/SNF so real fans of the game can listen to intelligent commentary instead of the crap we get instead.

April 21 2010 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bernie Guisti

Made a mistake: Google Tv is available on http://www.google.com if you search it, no real site yet. And WhiteHatt is online at http://www.whitehatt.com, All the best.

April 21 2010 at 2:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bernie Guisti

Jay you are right on with this, MLB is leading the technology but not the ratings. You can already purchase the NBA league pass online and now with Google TV coming soon and WhiteHatt http;//www.whitehatt.com coming this Fall, at least from their website. It would look like there will be a method of delivery for the NFL to take a look at. I would not be surprised to something in the coming year from the NFL on this. They could offer it like the NFL Sunday ticket, $100-150 a season and people would be happy to pay it without the additional cost of Satellite service.

April 21 2010 at 2:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Andrew Schweikher

It will never, ever happen in the way that you describe it. Look at the debacle caused by the NFL wanting to air one game a week exclusively on their OWN network.

NBC already simulcasts their Sunday night games online. The only way the NFL is coming to the Internet in a big way is if ESPN, FOX, and CBS get on board, but I think DirecTV would have a thing or two to say about that.

April 21 2010 at 11:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Andrew Schweikher's comment
Jay Black

The thing about the exclusive game on the NFL Network was that it was seen as a power grab by the NFL to get their network out of the "sports tier" package and onto regular, basic cable. Airing that eight game package cut out a lot of people from being able to see those games.

I think you could make the argument that an exclusive online package of games is _more_ open than the NFL package. (Of course, this is assuming that more people have high bandwidth internet connections than have the NFL network, an assumption I'm currently yanking out of my butt).

You raise a good point when it comes to Direct TV. That's a cash cow for the NFL and one that they've maintained even in the face of widespread criticism of that deal (I'm thinking here of Gregg Easterbrook's scathing columns on ESPN about how the NFL needs to open up the Sunday Ticket).

April 21 2010 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Shawn Harstad

While this article makes sense why is there no mention of what Major League Baseball has done online? The have set the standard for what sports leagues should do. I can watch every out of market game on my iPhone, iPod touch, Roku, Laptop, Desktop or get a 100 out of market games a week with Extra Innings on my TV. I can listen to every single game on my computer or XM radio. MLB has blown past the NFL in coverage.
If they can do something like this they would be able to print money.

April 21 2010 at 11:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Shawn Harstad's comment
Jay Black

You're 100% right, Shawn - MLB is at the cutting edge when it comes to exploiting digital resources to expand their brand.

That said, the reason I didn't include them in the article is because I just don't think that MLB has the same "halo" effect as the NFL. It's a matter of perception. Getting a "game of the week" package for MLB isn't going to make people sit up and take notice. The NFL, on the other hand, still makes bigger waves.

But, again, you're right - MLB is the best exploiter of the internet. It'd be interesting to see in 10 years whether the aggressive move into the online space will pay off with a younger set of viewers...

April 21 2010 at 11:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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