Just in time for SuperBowl Sunday, the NFL has enlisted the help of the ICE Homeland Security to seize and shut down a number of websites that host links to live sporting events. Among the victims were two of my favorites: atdhe.net and ChannelSurfing.net.
I rely heavily on these sites as an Internet-only TV viewer and I’m happy to report that all services have been restored and can now be found on atdhenet.tv and ChannelSurf.eu. Come Sunday you will also be able to watch the game on Veetle.com, uStream.com, Justin.tv or simply by following my good buddy @Greg_Punzo on Twitter.
My point is this:
THE NFL CAN NOT WIN!!
Even with the help of the government, whack-a-mole enforcement of copyright infringement has proven to be ineffective, from Napster (1999) to WikiLeaks (2010). A new approach is needed!
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
Why are people illegally streaming NFL games over the internet? The answer is because they have no alternative. TV subscriptions are declining in favor of internet only connections. In Q3 of 2010 Comcast lost over 275,000 subscribers, Time Warner dropped 155,000, and satellite viewership declined by 119,000.
These numbers are going to continue to grow and these people are going to want to watch football. Until the NFL offers a legal and reasonable alternative, atdhenet.tv will continue to exist and the piracy of football games will continue to increase.
THE NBA & NHL MODEL – CONTROLLED SERVICE
Both the NBA and the NHL offer an online streaming package. The pricing varies depending on when you sign up, but a full season of NBA League Pass will run you about $180 while NHL GameCenter costs upwards of $160.
Both League Pass and GameCenter are “controlled services” meaning that they are entirely created and managed by their respective leagues. The league sets the price, chooses what features to add, remove, enhance and ultimately defines the user experience.
League Pass and GameCenter have some cool features you won’t get through your local cable provider, including: live stats, pause, rewind, archived games, chat, and with League Pass you can watch up to 3 games at once.
Admittedly, these service are designed for die-hard fans. They cost a lot of money and do nothing to combat piracy as evidenced by the fact that every NBA and NHL game can still be found on atdhenet.tv.
The NBA and NHL have half of the equation right. They are offering a legal online alternative. The problem is that it isn’t reasonable for the casual fan to subscribe.
A RADICAL NEW APPROACH – CONTROLLED DISTRIBUTION
SuperBowl XLV is projected to net the NFL $213 million in advertising revenue with 95 million viewers. This means that come Sunday your eyeballs will earn the NFL $2.25. If the game lasts 3.5 hours you are worth $0.01 per minute. However, the hundreds of thousands of online viewers, like me, will be worth nothing.
Now imagine that the NFL licensed their content to various online services for $0.02 per viewer minute. Instead of atdhenet.tv you would get hundreds of websites competing for your eyeballs legally! The quality and reliability of the broadcasts would go up, advertisers would leap at the opportunity to bring you to their site for the game, and the NFL would double what you are worth to them. Win! Win! Win!
This is “controlled distribution.” Under this model, instead of controlling the user experience, the NFL simply controls who can broadcast their games online and charges them appropriately.
Technologically speaking, this is not far-fetched. Internet steaming platforms have reached the point where live broadcasters now know exactly how many people are watching, from where, and for how long. Politically speaking it may be a different story. In the mean time, I’ll see you Sunday on atdhenet.tv.