HELLO EVERYBODY AND WELCOME TO THIS HORRIBLE LEDE. I’M TOM MCCARTHY ALONG WITH CHRIS WHEELER AND I’M SCREAMING AT YOU ON THE MYTHICAL NEW PHILLIES TV NETWORK THAT IS THE SUBJECT OF AN ARTICLE BY MATT GELB IN TODAY’S INQUIRER.
Sorry for that. I’ll turn down the volume for the rest.
This week, Phillies beat writer Matt Gelb broached the subject of the Phillies launching their own TV network in 2015, when their current contract with CSN expires. Gelb, citing a non-revealing answer and a smirk from Phillies president David Montgomery during an interview which ran this weekend, brought up the topic when the two discussed negotiations between the Phillies and Comcast: [Philly.com]
"We will see," David Montgomery said recently. "Right now, we're enjoying tremendous popularity. We would hope our friends at Comcast would see that as well. I'm sure they will."
The present deal with Comcast ends in 2015.
The Phillies' president smirked, a rare moment of candor for the public face of a silent ownership group that has it all going right now.
That’s hardly a revealing answer from Montgomery. So there’s one of two things going on here:
1) Gelb knows more than he’s allowed to say, and writing a 1,000-word article about a seemingly unknown concept is his way of letting us know that. Or…
2) He needs to fill space before heading to Clearwater.
I’m inclined to go with option 1, even though known curmudgeon and Gelb’s colleague, Frank Fitzpatrick, tackled this subject in 2010 by quoting Phillies senior VP of advertising and marketing Dave Buck: [Philly.com in 2010]
"Comcast is so big in Philly," said Buck. "We'd need to program our own station 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Phillies games themselves would be one part of it, but then you'd need to be in the business of being a TV station.”
Perhaps after about 100 more consecutive sellouts and Cliff Lee’s contract, Buck and the Phillies have changed their minds. TV networks are a HUGE source of revenue for wealthy franchises like the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets. And if the Phillies had their own network, they would, obviously, be better equipped to continue spending as much as the big boys (they might have the second highest payroll this season).
Gelb correctly points out that while TV, as a medium, is changing, sports may be the only genre mostly safe from the newfound viewing habits of, um, viewers. Most pre-recorded shows, newscasts and events can be watched online, OnDemand, through DVR, or even on phones and iPads… but sports are still best enjoyed live. Ever try watching a local game on DVR? Good luck not knowing the score. And since the leagues blackout local games online (for now– more on that in a second), live television remains the only way to watch local sports. So, that all means that a sports network probably isn’t as risky of an investment as, say, launching a TV station which focuses on any other genre.
What Gelb failed to mention, though, and what might be a huge issue for TV in general, is that not only are viewing habits changing, but so is the entire industry.
Cable networks might not be needed in five or ten years. You need to look no further than the oft-discussed rumors of Apple reinventing TV this year or next to assume that “TV” might just be streaming Internet and cable companies will be nothing more than high-powered bandwidth providers at the start of the next decade. That vision means that the Phillies launching a “TV” network in 2015 would put them on the cusp of a new medium– streaming television. iTV (or whatever non-branded name the new format takes on) will allow for drastic changes to format and many other enhancements of which we are yet unaware. Not to mention the fact that the Phillies wouldn’t have to fill 24 hours worth of time slots with mundane, generic, old-school content, like CSN does.* Rather, they would just need to produce and distribute their own games, allowing them to be lean and mean and on the cutting edge of a new medium (something like that would mean drastic changes to important league agreements like MLB.TV… which may prove difficult).
Of course, this is all speculation based on the need (and desire) for the Phillies to find new revenue streams to help them stay competitive after Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino come back down to earth… which is probably only a year or two away, at most.
*Once, when I was interning at CSN in 2004, I came into work and mentioned something about watching Sportsnite the previous evening. An editor – who had worked on the show – said, “why?!” Because there’s no better option, editor. Because there’s no better option.