Originally, the comment below was just a simple retort to another blogger's commentary about the merger of ESPN Classic and the NFL (as reported in this weekend's Wall Street Journal) and what that relationship potentially means for both parties and the viewers/fans.
But in super-fast, 30-second retrospect, I think there is a waaaaaaay bigger picture here that will need to be addressed more fully. Essentially, in my response, I wrote:
At first glance, I think the problem for ESPN/NFL will come when they realize they no longer have anyone to push either of them to be better. NFL Network's debut a couple of years ago had them striving to be the "ESPN" of singular sports coverage (and personally I do not think have yet achieved it, though their product is improving).
In a weird way, it's what happened to the WWE (WWF) when they bought WCW. Monopolies generate a substandard product.
I find that's the case already with ESPN broadcasts- like the pros they cover, too often their talent takes plays off.
And I think it is all irrelevant anyway- mid to long-term, it's all going to be open distribution via Internet anyway. You can't stop it, the "Bigs" (ESPN, NFL, MLB, etc.) are just playing tug-o-war until high speed connectivity is as broad as cable access (and as affordable as cable alone).
Until then, they will just keep playing with each other to keep busy.
The global broadcast ping pong game that happens now is all irrelevant in the big picture that is sports television, television and entertainment in general. You see it now in the way sports is reported and the dissemination of news and in the way we take in our information and piece it together in fast ADD-like snippets (like this blog). It's what the major "broadcast" studios, and film studios, and writers' unions and actors' guilds and anyone who is anyone who has a stake in the future of public viewing consumption knows- the future for your eyeballs rests online, NOT in your cable box.
Distribution rights of digital media is the name of the game. Not this baby-step play-nicely-in-the-sandbox innuendo in which juggernauts like ESPN and the NFL are currently partaking. It all leads to the bigger footprint that is Digital Rights Management (DRM). The music industry is already entrenched in it. Hell, thank Steve Jobs for what the TV guys are pandering about now. They saw the future and it is iTunes-or more specifically, the idea behind iTunes.
It's why NBC Universal and the other TV giants are no longer playing the "Fall Premiere" card to the Nth degree and have decided fresh content 365 days a year to is better than pouring all your eggs in 1 basket and futilely driving the same "loyal" eyeballs (read: target demographic) to that basket over and over again. It's why 24 hours after you watch the latest episode of your favorite weekly shows that you can download them or stream them to your laptop, desktop, and mobile device.
People want access on demand to content they desire. That's it. It's simple. iTunes? Nah... iCandy. Mental/emotional brain fodder. It's the psychologically driven search for stimulation and satisfaction that keeps network execs up at night trying to create the next "ghost in the machine" that can successfully (i.e., financially) tap into our individual consumption epicenter.
It's why there are downloads and streaming and push for DRM-free content. People want what they want. The "Bigs" will give it to them (eventually). But they need something in return too. It's why radio succumbed to TV commercials which gave way to banner ads that gave way to click-before-you-watch/read/buy ads, the "Googling" of the Internet search engines and now streaming ads before you download pretty much anything. It's what they always have wanted. Your hard-earned dollar. We have less of them, for sure, to spend indiscriminately. Which makes those dollars you do spend on entertainment all the more valuable to the powers-that-be.
Ask yourself, "If I had just $50 left to spend this month for my own personal satisfaction, how do I choose to spend it?". It is no longer a bottomless pit, where the consumer could keep upping their consumption of goods and services and the entertainment industry could just take take take. Now the pie is finite. The share of voice that has always been measurable, but it is no longer expanding. It is more like hypertrophy- where the market is growing in on itself.
In marketing there are principles that preach essentially 2 ways to gain market share- grow the market and create new opportunity, or steal the other guys' share. Well, now it's almost as if the pie stopped expanding, but there are more slices to the pie (read: more networks, more portals, more games, etc.). And because your discretionary dollars are shrinking, even if the number of consumers expands there is no growth, but rather a slowing of sorts as inflation of the same dollar values stagnates the entertainment industry (hypertrophy), but also diversifies it.
So everything is cutthroat. But in a good way, because if you go back to my earliest point- regarding ESPN and the NFL- a monopoly creates an inferior product. Plato's quote that "necessity is the mother of invention" scarily still rings true. Today, competition breeds the necessity to be better- to build a better mousetrap- in order to secure the consumer's financial choices. That necessity is breeding online into media distribution that will astonish us, but in the end, require us to choose how we give up our last 50 bucks.
I know there are a lot of points mashed into one post here, but I think that also helps illuminate the point... SO much is going on in digital media that it has created this clog that will take time to filter. And probably there will be more than 1 sieve to successfully pan all the gold out of consumers, but the point is still the same. Somebody in the entertainment industry wants your discretionary dollar and the ones that are the most enterprising to accomodate you, will win it.