On Thursday night, I had the chance to watch my alma mater UCLA open the 2012 college football season in a game at Rice. The game was shown on the CBS Sports Network, which not many people (including the press box at Rice according to T.J. Simers of the Times.) have access to. However, my provider, DirecTV, does have it.
The same day, the Pac-12 Network (or as they prefer Pac-12 Networks since there are multiple channels) got into action showing Utah's home opener against Northern Colorado as well as Stanford's opening game against San Jose State. I couldn't see these because DirecTV and the Pac-12 are nowhere near a deal to put on DirecTV's service.
Now, if I had wanted to watch the Pac-12 Network games, I could have easily gotten in my car, driven five minutes to my in-laws' house and watched the game on their TV. They are Time-Warner customers and they get the Pac-12 Network. However, they don't get CBS Sports. They seemed to get by without it.
Thursday was just an example of the continuing wars between cable (and satellite) providers versus content providers, especially for sports programming. New channels are popping up, like the Pac-12 Network and the Time-Warner channel that will show Lakers games later this year. And there could be yet another channel started up by the Dodgers in a couple years.
In San Diego, the Padres moved their telecasts to a new Fox RSN (regional sports network). I can actually get this network on my DirecTV system at home (although it doesn't show Padres games because of contractual agreements), but San Diegans who have Time-Warner can't get it because there is no agreement between the two sides.
In the case of the Pac-12 Network, the battle lines are being drawn. The Pac-12 advises fans who can't get their network to change providers. Cal's athletic director, Sandy Barbour, even posted a YouTube video showing Comcast coming to her home to replace her DirecTV with cable.
(Today, she also admitted that the university sold tickets for Cal's home opener at the renovated Memorial Stadium for seats that didn't actually exist.)
A discussion on a satellite TV bulletin board about the Pac-12 Network drew over 1,600 replies, many of them heated, before moderators shut the thread down.
When UCLA plays Houston at the Rose Bowl on September 15, the game will be shown only on the Pac-12 Network. Will I switch my entire TV service or drive five minutes and watch it with my father-in-law? I think the latter is a much more sensible option. (I would listen on the radio, except the station that carries UCLA games doesn't come in reliably where I live. That is a factor of terrain, not contracts.)
As someone who has been a customer of both Time-Warner (a company whose idea of customer service is saying, "Hmm, not sure why that's happening.") and DirecTV, I've been told by different channels at different times that I need to change my service so I can get their channel. The problem with all of this is that I really don't care that much to go to all of the trouble to switch all the time. It's like I'm being repeatedly threatened by someone holding a water pistol to my head. It's not an effective threat.
And what about people who are very serious football fans, especially of the NFL. The Sunday Ticket service, which shows every NFL game, is only available through DirecTV. If you switch to cable, then you lose out on your NFL viewing. The intersection of college and pro football fans is not an empty set.
I will admit to being a big sports fan. I watch a lot of it on TV. I watch far too much sports on TV. But, I also know that I can probably find some way to watch a game that isn't on my TV if I don't receive it at home. These problems are not insurmountable. If it turns out that I can't see Lakers games at home because DirecTV and Time-Warner don't reach an agreement, oh well. I'm not going to spend my life chasing the perfect TV service. No such thing will ever exist.