Category Archives: Sports

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 8

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006 and 2011. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 10 (November 13):

  • Selected game: Seattle @ New England (presumably).

Week 11 (November 20):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Washington
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 4-3-1, beatable but strong enough to fend off most challenges.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Cowboys or Eagles-Seahawks (CBS) and probably Cardinals-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: If Eagles-Seahawks is protected, the only available games involve teams at 3-4 or 3-4-1 at best: Bucs-Chiefs, Ravens-Cowboys, and Cardinals-Vikings (which might itself be protected), with Bills-Bengals being 4-4 v. 3-4 and Dolphins-Rams a matchup of 3-4 teams.
  • Analysis: Needless to say, none of those games are overcoming the tentative game bias (and audience-attracting ability of the Packers and Wall-Builders) even if the Packers fall to .500 (Washington’s bye is this week) and the 3-4 team climbs up to .500. That leaves Eagles-Seahawks, which stands at 4-3 v. 4-2-1 and would be the Seahawks’ second consecutive week on SNF. The best-case scenario would be 5-3 v. 5-2-1 with the tentative sitting at 4-4 v. 4-3-1, which gives a clear edge, but again probably not enough to overcome the tentative game bias and name value of the teams, especially since the whole reason Eagles-Seahawks is CBS’ game to protect to begin with is because it’s already slated as the late game of their doubleheader.
  • Final prediction: Green Bay Packers @ Washington Wall-Builders (no change).

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: 7-1 v. 3-5. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, and this year seems to have gotten unusually lucky in terms of good teams on Thanksgiving and Monday night (across those four games only the Colts are below .500). With Chiefs-Broncos likely protected, no games involve only teams at or above .500, with Cardinals-Falcons and Seahawks-Bucs the most viable dark horses and Bengals-Ravens and Rams-Saints matchups of teams at 3-4 or 3-4-1.

Week 13 (December 4):

  • Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 2-5 v. 4-2-1; relative upsets this weekend made it less lopsided, but it’s still not in good shape.
  • Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons and (if unprotected) Giants-Steelers are the strongest options, with Bills-Raiders close behind. Rams-Patriots, Eagles-Bengals, and Racial Slurs-Cardinals are the most viable dark horses, followed by Lions-Saints and Bills-Raiders; Dolphins-Ravens is hanging on by a thread.

Week 14 (December 11):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 6-1 v. 4-3 would be tough for any game to overcome the tentative game bias against, but when it’s an intra-NFC East matchup involving the Cowboys, nothing else has a chance.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles is good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, and if I’m right about the protections it’s the only game involving nothing but teams above .500. Broncos-Titans is the most viable dark horse (unless Steelers-Bills is unprotected), followed by Falcons-Rams, then Saints-Bucs and Cardinals-Dolphins.

Week 15 (December 18):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 3-4-1. Not great, and without the sort of brand value that would insulate it from a flex, but not terrible, and potentially for the AFC North lead.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The good news for this game is that no game involves only teams above .500, with Titans-Chiefs and Lions-Giants being the biggest threats. Bucs-Cowboys could be an interesting dark horse, with Saints-Cardinals the only other game even to stick to teams at 3-4, 3-4-1, or above (and there are a LOT of teams at that mark).

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 7

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006 and 2011. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 10 (November 13):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ New England
  • Prospects: 4-1-1 v. 6-1. A bit lopsided in the win column, but these two teams are tied for the fewest losses in the league.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Saints but probably nothing (CBS) and Cowboys-Steelers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Falcons-Eagles and Vikings-Skraelings would be strong contenders against a weaker tentative (with Packers-Titans a dark horse)…
  • Analysis: …but both involve three-loss teams. A Seahawks loss and a Falcons win or a win by the other Washington would result in a comparison between 4-2-1 v. 5-3, which may not obviously go one way or the other, but 6-2 would still have the edge over 5-2, and 6-1 v. 5-3 would still be a skosh lopsided, before even getting to the tentative game bias.
  • Final prediction: Seattle Seahawks @ New England Patriots (no change).

Week 11 (November 20):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Washington
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 4-3, beatable but strong enough to fend off most challenges.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Cowboys or Eagles-Seahawks (CBS) and probably Cardinals-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: If Eagles-Seahawks is protected, Bucs-Chiefs and Cardinals-Vikings are the only games involving teams at or above .500, and the latter might be protected as well. Ravens-Cowboys is a dark horse if unprotected, as is Bills-Bengals; Titans-Colts and Dolphins-Rams are games between 3-4 teams.

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: 6-1 v. 2-5. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, and this year seems to have gotten unusually lucky in terms of good teams on Thanksgiving and Monday night (across those four games only the Colts are below .500). With Chiefs-Broncos likely protected, no games involve teams above .500, with Cardinals-Falcons and Seahawks-Bucs involving teams at that mark and Chargers-Texans as a viable dark horse.

Week 13 (December 4):

  • Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 1-5 v. 4-1-1, with the Panthers’ struggles making this unfortunately lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons and Bills-Raiders are reasonably strong contenders, as is Giants-Steelers if it’s unprotected, with Racial Slurs-Cardinals waiting in the wings. Rams-Patriots and Eagles-Bengals are dark horses, followed by Bucs-Chargers.

Week 14 (December 11):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 4-3 would be tough for any game to overcome the tentative game bias against, but when it’s an intra-NFC East matchup involving the Cowboys, nothing else has a chance.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles is good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, and if I’m right about the protections it’s the only game involving nothing but teams above .500. Broncos-Titans, Falcons-Rams, and Texans-Colts are dark horses with Cardinals-Dolphins further back.

Week 15 (December 18):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 4-3 v. 3-4. Not great, and without the sort of brand value that would insulate it from a flex, but not terrible, and potentially for the AFC North lead.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The good news for this game is that Lions-Giants is the only game involving two teams above .500, and 4-3 v. 4-3 probably isn’t overcoming the tentative game bias and greater potential playoff implications (though a lot depends on Ben Roethlisberger’s health and how the Steelers play without him). Bucs-Cowboys might actually be more interesting if it weren’t lopsided. Titans-Chiefs, Colts-Vikings, and Raiders-Chargers are potential dark horses.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 6

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006 and 2011. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 10 (November 13):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ New England
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 5-1, which is nearly impossible to beat.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Saints but probably nothing (CBS) and Cowboys-Steelers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Falcons-Eagles would be a strong contender against a weaker tentative (and might have been protected if the Cowboys were facing a weaker opponent), as would Vikings-Skraelings. Packers-Titans is too mediocre to be relevant, and Texans-Jaguars and Broncos-Saints are 4-2 v. 2-3 matchups that would need a lot to go their way under the best of circumstances.

Week 11 (November 20):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Washington
  • Prospects: 3-2 v. 4-2, not quite as hard to beat as Seahawks-Patriots, but pretty strong.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Cowboys or Eagles-Seahawks (CBS) and probably Cardinals-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Besides CBS’ unprotected game (and Cardinals-Vikings if it’s unprotected), the only other options involve teams below .500, with Bucs-Chiefs and Jaguars-Lions being the most viable.

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 1-5. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, and this year seems to have gotten unusually lucky in terms of good teams on Thanksgiving and Monday night (across those four games only the Colts are below .500), although Cardinals-Falcons is looking like a potentially viable alternative. Basically, whichever games Fox didn’t protect are joined by Jaguars-Bills as at least dark horses.

Week 13 (December 4):

  • Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 1-5 v. 4-1, with the Panthers’ struggles making this unfortunately lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons and Bills-Raiders are reasonably strong contenders, along with whichever game(s) are unprotected between Rams-Patriots and Giants-Steelers (I think the former is most likely), as well as Racial Slurs-Cardinals. Lions-Saints and Broncos-Jaguars are emerging as dark horses.

Week 14 (December 11):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 5-1 v. 3-3 would be tough for any game to overcome the tentative game bias against, but when it’s an intra-NFC East matchup involving the Cowboys, nothing else has a chance.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles is good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, while Falcons-Rams and Broncos-Titans would also be very viable options against a more vulnerable tentative. Vikings-Jaguars is a dark horse, and Saints-Bucs is even darker.

Week 15 (December 18):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 4-2 v. 2-4. Not great, and without the sort of brand value that would insulate it from a flex, but not terrible.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The good news for this game is that Titans-Chiefs and Lions-Giants are the only games that don’t involve teams under .500, and Lions-Giants, which has the better name value, pits two .500 teams. That’s not overcoming the tentative game bias. Bucs-Cowboys, Jaguars-Texans, or Saints-Cardinals could be dark horses if the road teams could climb above .500.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 5

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that this was originally written with the 2007 season in mind and has been only iteratively and incompletely edited since then, hence why at one point it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:25 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5; I’m assuming protections were due in Week 4 again this year, and the above notwithstanding, Week 10 is part of the main flex period this year, as it was in 2006 and 2011 (and yes I goofed up by not writing this post last week). As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • Three teams can appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC, although starting this year Week 17 is exempt from team appearance limits. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; nine teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Texans don’t have games in the main flex period, though they don’t have any early-flex games left either. NBC appearances for all teams: CAR 2 (1 flexible), DEN 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), NE 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), ARI 2 (1 semi-flexible), GB 3 (1 flexible), MIN 1, CHI 1, DAL 3 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), KC 2 (1 flexible), PIT 3 (2 flexible), NYG 2 (1 flexible), IND 2 (flexible), HOU 1, SEA 3 (2 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), PHI 1 (semi-flexible), OAK 1 (semi-flexible), WAS 1 (flexible), NYJ 1 (flexible), CIN 1 (flexible). All primetime appearances for all teams: CAR 5 (1 flexible), DEN 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), NE 5 (2 flexible), ARI 4 (1 semi-flexible), GB 5 (1 flexible), MIN 4, CHI 4, DAL 5 (1 semi-flexible, 1 flexible), KC 3 (1 flexible), PIT 5 (2 flexible), NYG 5 (1 flexible), IND 3 (2 flexible), HOU 5, SEA 5 (1 semi-flexible, 2 flexible), PHI 4 (1 semi-flexible), OAK 3 (1 semi-flexible), WAS 3 (1 flexible), NYJ 5 (1 flexible), CIN 4 (1 flexible), LA 2, SF 2, ATL 2, NO 2, TB 2, BUF 2, BAL 3, MIA 2, all other teams 1.

Briefly, here are the current early-season games and their prospects for being flexed out:

  • Week 7: Seattle (3-1) @ Arizona (2-3). A fairly mediocre contest, but nowhere near the sort of emergency that would warrant pulling the early flex considering the protection rules. No chance of being flexed out.
  • Week 8: Philadelphia (3-1) @ Dallas (4-1). The Cowboys never, ever, get flexed out in any case; when it’s a matchup with the NFC East lead potentially on the line? No chance of being flexed out.
  • Week 9: Denver (4-1) @ Oakland (4-1). Two one-loss teams fighting for the AFC West lead adds up to a game that won’t see any available game overcome the tentative game bias. No chance of being flexed out.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 10 (November 13):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ New England
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 4-1, which is nearly impossible to beat.
  • Likely protections: Broncos-Saints but probably nothing (CBS) and Cowboys-Steelers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Falcons-Eagles would be a strong contender against a weaker tentative (and might have been protected if the Cowboys were facing a weaker opponent), and Vikings-Skraelings finds itself lost in the shuffle. Packers-Titans is a dark horse.

Week 11 (November 20):

  • Tentative game: Green Bay @ Washington
  • Prospects: 3-1 v. 3-2, not quite as hard to beat as Seahawks-Patriots, but pretty strong.
  • Likely protections: Ravens-Cowboys or Eagles-Seahawks (CBS) and probably Cardinals-Vikings if anything (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Besides CBS’ unprotected game, the only other options involve teams below .500, with Bills-Bengals and Buccaneers-Chiefs being the most viable, and Titans-Colts as a very dark horse.

Week 12 (November 27):

  • Tentative game: New England @ NY Jets
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 1-4. Very lopsided, but could be hard pressed to lose its spot under the circumstances.
  • Likely protections: Chiefs-Broncos (CBS) and Cardinals-Falcons, Rams-Saints, Seahawks-Bucs, or nothing (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Thanksgiving Weekend, paucity of good games, and this year seems to have gotten unusually lucky in terms of good teams on Thanksgiving and Monday night (across those four games only the Colts and Lions have three or more losses). Bengals-Ravens, Cardinals-Falcons, and Seahawks-Bucs are the best options.

Week 13 (December 4):

  • Tentative game: Carolina @ Seattle
  • Prospects: 1-4 v. 3-1, with the Panthers’ struggles making this unfortunately lopsided.
  • Likely protections: Texans-Packers (CBS) and Rams-Patriots, Giants-Steelers, or Eagles-Bengals (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Falcons and Bills-Raiders are reasonably strong contenders, along with whichever game(s) are unprotected between Rams-Patriots and Giants-Steelers (I think the former is most likely). Racial Slurs-Cardinals is a dark horse.

Week 14 (December 11):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ NY Giants
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 2-3 is not great, but the Cowboys never get flexed out of SNF under any circumstances and certainly not when they’re playing this well.
  • Likely protections: Steelers-Bills if anything (CBS) and Seahawks-Packers (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Native Americans-Eagles is good enough I considered listing them as an option for the protection, and Falcons-Rams is a good option as well. Broncos-Titans and Texans-Colts are dark horses.

Week 15 (December 18):

  • Tentative game: Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
  • Prospects: 4-1 v. 2-3, like Cowboys-Giants not great, and the name value of the teams doesn’t insulate this game nearly as well.
  • Likely protections: Patriots-Broncos (CBS) and Eagles-Ravens (FOX).
  • Other possible games: The good news for this game is that the only remaining options also involve 2-3 teams: Titans-Chiefs, Colts-Vikings, or Bucs-Cowboys, with Lions-Giants as a dark horse.

Week 17 (January 3):

  • Playoff positioning watch begins Week 9.

Do I HAVE to update the lineal titles every September?

I said last year that I was thinking of no longer tracking the lineal titles and I meant it, even though I could desperately use the extra content. This time I’m actually most of the way through the opening Saturday of college football season before I even bother to update everything. I’ve updated the NFL lineal title history but not the actual category pages, and you’ll notice that the non-DeflateGate title I said I was going to track isn’t reflected in the history at all, because the Patriots started the season undefeated for a long time while the DeflateGate title changed hands a bunch, and the main title went into the playoffs and starts the season with the Broncos while the non-DeflateGate title starts it with the Saints of all teams. (At some point I may make the format of the site more consistent across the subsites, and I may get rid of the special category pages for the lineal titles entirely at that point, so here’s a link to the NFL lineal title history should that happen.)

On the college side, the anticipated unification of 2009 Boise State with the Princeton-Yale title did in fact happen as TCU and Oklahoma State went into their game against one another undefeated, but even though the Cowboys won that game it’s TCU that enters the new season with the title, and it’s the 2006 Boise State title that returned to the College Football Playoff and starts the year in the hands of Alabama.

How NBC Gets the Olympics Exactly Backwards

Another Olympics has come and gone, and with it another round of hand-wringing over NBC’s tape-delay policy, fueled further this time around by NBC’s historically low ratings for its primetime coverage. NBC’s primetime coverage averaged a 14.4 household rating, dominant over the rest of TV but the second-lowest mark for a Summer Games since at least 1968 and probably ever, beating only Sydney in 2000, with declines especially acute among key young-adult advertising demographics. People are still trying to figure out the reasons for the low ratings, especially since everyone expected numbers much closer to London (the highest-rated non-North American Summer Olympics since 1972), but plenty of wags on the Internet and among sportswriters are pointing the finger at NBC’s long-standing and woefully outdated policy of tape-delaying the marquee events for primetime. This, of course, despite the fact that Rio is only an hour off of the East Coast and many events, including the marquee track and swimming events, aired live in primetime, meaning if anything NBC is likely to come to the conclusion that the Games suffered because they were live, not because they were taped. London had no events live in primetime, while NBC pulled strings to get Michael Phelps’ chase for gold into the morning time slot in Beijing, putting it in primetime on the East Coast. The result: London’s completely taped coverage beat Beijing’s mostly-taped coverage, which beat Rio’s mostly-live coverage. It sure looks like tape delay helps NBC’s ratings rather than hurts them, no matter how much people on social media may whine about it.

Further fueling this attitude is the popularity of the Olympics on the West Coast, where even NBC’s live primetime coverage is delayed, and thus where the whining about tape delays reached a fever pitch, but which is perennially the region where the Olympics are most popular, something NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus pointed out. But the dominance of the West Coast is not what it used to be; Salt Lake City and Denver were the top two markets, but San Diego was the only other market in the Pacific or Mountain time zones to crack the top 20. In Beijing, those three markets were joined by Portland in the top 10, and at least in the first week (when Phelps raced), four more West Coast markets placed in the top 17 with higher-than-average ratings, including every West Coast market in the top 40 except for Seattle (which gets the CBC’s live coverage on our cable systems). Had that held, it would seem to suggest that, even holding the time slot and specific games constant, tape delay only improves ratings. Instead, it raises the question of whether the West Coast, and indirectly audiences in general, really are souring on tape-delayed Olympics coverage.

Of course, since 2012 NBC has allowed people to stream almost all the events live regardless of where they live, albeit with the Olympic international feed’s announcers, and NBC claims that when streaming and cable are added in (for the first time ever, NBCSN and Bravo aired coverage in primetime that cannibalized some of NBC’s audience), the Rio Games trailed only London as the second-most watched ever. Streaming, however, remains only a teeny-tiny subset of total viewing, with the total amount of streaming for the entire games accounting for as much consumption as an hour 45 minutes of NBC’s primetime coverage.

But even though live sports streaming in general has a fraction of the popularity of viewing sports on linear TV, that only gets to the real problem with NBC’s “Olympics as ultimate reality show” approach, namely that it treats the Olympics as a type of programming that is slowly losing its relevance to linear television. Indeed, as “cord-cutting” increasingly emphasizes being able to watch what you want when you want, leaving live events as the sole area where linear television retains a purpose in the face of the rise of the Internet, NBC’s approach of streaming the Games live and delaying events to be neatly packaged for its linear network seems to be exactly backwards. As I’ve said before, streaming is not and may never be well-suited for airing major live sports events, and while complaints about Olympic streaming seemed to be more about the experience of getting through NBC’s authentication and its insistence on delaying the Opening Ceremony even on the stream than the sluggishness experienced in London, if NBC continues to insist on streaming as the only guaranteed method of watching marquee events live, it will only put themselves under more and more strain, or alternately greatly increase the cost of delivering the Games smoothly, as streaming becomes more normalized as a means of watching content. On the other hand, it’s disingenuous for NBC to insist on packaging the marquee events for showing when everyone is at home and then require that those events be shown at the same time for everyone even when they’re not live; after all, not everyone has a 9-to-5 job where primetime is the most convenient time to watch the Games. There is a place for recorded, prearranged programming on linear television, but that place is heavily reliant on social media, and social media was disproportionately represented by those that didn’t like NBC’s current strategy.

By the end of NBC’s current contract running through 2032, I could see NBC’s linear channel(s) (assuming it still exists as such) sticking strictly to airing the marquee events live, while also offering its traditional packaged coverage for streaming online whenever someone wants to start it for those who want the Olympics as “ultimate reality show”. That NBC does not do this already, instead forcing both the sports and reality fans to watch tape-delayed, packaged coverage at a specific time in order to maximize ratings for that specific time and sell ads at the highest price, is a sign both of how far streaming has yet to go to achieve normalcy, and a sign of how slowly linear television is embracing its true nature and the key to its future.

Will an ACC Network Be Obsolete Before It Launches?

In 2013, a year after financially-struggling Maryland left the ACC for the greener pastures of the Big Ten, the Charlotte News and Observer obtained e-mails that circulated among the leadership of the University of North Carolina, perhaps the single most important school to the long-term survival of the ACC, showing their reaction to the news. Many of the e-mails expressed disbelief at a Sports Illustrated article that claimed that Maryland would make nearly $100 million more in its new conference by 2020, thanks to the Big Ten Network, than it would have made in the ACC, with UNC officials looking for confirmation that Maryland was going to make that much more money (indeed Maryland itself wasn’t aware of it until it started going through realignment talks). But for many college sports fans following the sports media and college sports realignment worlds, the fact that the Big Ten was making oodles more money than any other conference was hardly news, but something that had been widely reported throughout the sports media and had been fueling the current round of realignment from the start. Ordinary college sports fans and bloggers knew more about the financial disparities between the major conferences than the university presidents within them whose job it was to make informed decisions. As Frank the Tank, one of the bloggers most responsible for exposing the implications of those disparities, put it:

It would have been one thing if these were average sports fans just focused on on-the-field results, but it’s quite amazing that university leaders and athletic department officials didn’t seem to be as informed on college sports financial matters as, say, most of the people reading this blog or those that followed the reporting of mainstream media members like Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, Andy Staples of SI.com and Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. It’s an indication of the insularity of many universities and athletic departments and partially explains why the inertia in favor of the status quo is often stronger than many conference expansionistas would like to believe. What we’re seeing is that it takes a real external crisis for the vast majority of power conference schools to take notice of the information that’s out there and consider switching leagues.

I thought of this upon hearing about the ACC’s move announced last week to try to rectify this disparity, which has only grown to their further disadvantage with the launch of the SEC (and Pac-12) Network, yet the circumstances surrounding it have changed considerably since 2012. The sports-network market has always been built on the con of the cable bundle, where people with little to no interest in sports see large chunks of their cable bill get shipped off to pay for sports networks, and recent years have seen one piece of news after another suggesting that bundle is being increasingly undermined. My generation sees little value in the bundle and has increasingly been “cord-cutting” to get their entertainment from sources like Netflix and Amazon, getting away from bloated bundles that exist largely to subsidize sports networks. Investors are increasingly concerned about what the trend means for the sports-network market and especially ESPN, which finds itself caught between the rock of cord-cutting and the hard place of their desire to keep the cable bundle going for as long as possible; no less an institution than Moody’s has predicted the end of the cable bundle and that regional sports networks are looking like an increasingly dicey proposition. Meanwhile, cable companies, blamed for higher prices even as they struggle to keep pace with the rising price of sports networks, have increasingly taken stands against the launch of more and more new networks, as evidenced by the carriage struggles of SportsNet LA and the network formerly known as CSN Houston, with SportsNet LA remaining uncarried even as Time Warner Cable has reduced its price and even in Vin Scully’s final season.

Against this backdrop, the ACC has been the one major college conference with a substantial number of third-tier games still airing on broadcast television through regional syndication on Raycom. Assuming broadcast stations could get their act together and ensure wide coverage without relying on the crutch of retransmission consent (hardly a sure thing), I felt that, for all the ACC may have looked longingly at the SEC and Big Ten Networks and the revenue they make, staying the course could prove to give them a massive advantage in exposure if the market flipped and the SEC Network and BTN found themselves limited to what could be a distinct minority of people willing to pay relatively large amounts of money for them or for bundles including them, especially among poorer recruits, and especially if the ACC made an aggressive move to distribute their syndication package nationwide.

Instead, last week the ACC and ESPN announced an extension of their existing media rights agreement for the next twenty years, with the launch of a new “ACC Network Plus” digital network this fall leading up to the launch of a full-fledged linear ACC Network in 2019. I’d be shocked if the cable bundle still looked anything like it does today by 2036, and frankly I’d be surprised if it still looked viable in 2019. Reportedly, the long delay for the launch is related to the expiration of ESPN’s carriage agreements with cable providers, meaning ESPN would rather hold off on the launch of the ACC Network until it can tie it in with its established linear networks. But the addition of the ACC Network to ESPN’s bundle could be what causes the bundle to collapse entirely and marks the fall of ESPN’s empire.

Cable operators have been chafing under ESPN’s tops-in-the-industry subscriber fees for a long time, with Dish Network chairman Charles Ergen suggesting in 2011, following the signing of an expensive Monday Night Football deal, that certain companies might decide to go without ESPN and market their service as a low-cost alternative for non-sports fans, and in recent years many such operators have been experimenting with sports-free packages that offer a selection of popular channels at a lower price, resulting in ESPN’s carriage falling considerably. But no cable or satellite company has taken the plunge and experimented with cutting ESPN out of their lineups entirely, instead limiting the availability of their sports-free packages to avoid violating their ESPN contracts, and online “skinny bundles” that have won considerable acclaim for being an “alternative to the cable bundle”, including Dish’s own Sling TV, have made themselves part of the problem by including ESPN and other sports networks. For now, pay-TV providers feel they must have ESPN’s high-value programming such as MNF and the College Football Playoff, even though they know it’s almost single-handedly fueling the revolt against the cable bundle, because even as the cost of sports drives people away from the cable bundle, the presence of sports is the one thing keeping people tied to it, because live events, especially sports, are the one thing linear TV does better than the Internet. The power of ESPN explains why the SEC Network, theoretically a channel of regional interest, had the largest launch in cable TV history, avoiding even the carriage battles that bedeviled the Big Ten Network.

But for as much as the SEC Network benefited from the ESPN connection, it may not have been so successful if it weren’t sufficiently valuable in its own right. The SEC and Big Ten have the most passionate fanbases and bring the most value to any sports network by a significant margin over any other conference, even any other college conference; the ACC is strong in basketball, but their football conference tends to consist of Florida State and not much else, both in terms of quality on the field and in terms of schools with passionate fanbases that can attract large audiences, and football is what drives TV deals and conference realignment. What may be more relevant to what the ACC Network has to look forward to is the fate of the Pac-12 Networks, which remains uncarried by DirecTV years after launch; it was thought the DirecTV-AT&T merger would smooth along talks, but instead it seems more likely that AT&T will drop Pac-12 Networks from U-Verse systems once that deal expires than that DirecTV will add them. According to Washington State AD Bill Moos, Pac-12 schools were hoping to receive $5 million a year from the Pac-12 Networks at this point, but instead are only collecting $1.4 million. Unlike the SEC and Big Ten Networks, the Pac-12 went it alone on their network without selling any stake to anyone that might have helped their network gain carriage (or shared in the network’s expenses), but thanks to the CSN Houston and SportsNet LA struggles – not to mention ESPN’s Longhorn Network, which recently eliminated much if not all of its studio programming – cable operators are a lot more confident in their ability to stand up to sports networks than they were in the late 2000s when they challenged the BTN.

They may not have wanted to alienate ESPN’s many loyal viewers over the SEC Network, but the ACC Network won’t bring nearly as much value to the table, and while ESPN may have largely escaped the bruising carriage battles other large programmers have fought, if they overestimate how much cable operators are willing to pay for an ACC Network, at least one large programmer may just decide they’ve had enough of ESPN pushing them around and go to war (especially since even with the wait, ESPN’s carriage deals with Comcast, Charter, and Dish Network still won’t have expired yet by 2019, meaning the ACC Network will have to stand and fall on its own merits with them). Even if they don’t, the resulting hike in people’s cable bills might just be the spur cord-cutting needs to cross a tipping point and cause large numbers of people to dump their cable subscriptions en masse – and that assumes it won’t have done so already. Cord-cutting has come a long way in just the last three years – HBO went from disdaining the possibility of a direct-to-consumer offering to offering one in less time – and there’s no reason not to assume it won’t go even further in the next three. If ESPN escapes any major controversy surrounding the ACC Network, it may only be because the popularity of the cable bundle will have shrunk enough for it not to matter, to the point that ESPN might just decide to make the ACC Network the centerpiece of their own direct-to-consumer offering. Any of these scenarios would likely result in the ACC making substantially less money than they might have planned (or, depending on the structure of the contract, ESPN taking a loss on the enterprise).

ESPN likely knows all this, and tried for a long time to dissuade the ACC from the idea, preferring to let a clause activate this summer that would have substantially increased its payouts to the conference (and which, apparently, will still activate in the interim) than to launch a network that would not only lose money or fail to achieve the conference’s goals, but would accelerate the larger trend ESPN has been trying to slow down or fight off. But all the ACC sees is the boatloads of money the Big Ten and SEC are making, even though they have no chance whatsoever at making anywhere near that much, despite the conference’s consultant, Dean Jordan, claiming that if it “performs even moderately, it’ll put the ACC in a situation where they’ll be very, very competitive financially with the upper tier of the collegiate industry”. The ACC is deluded not only about the changes sweeping the video industry, but about its own value compared to “the upper tier of the collegiate industry”. There may have been a time when ESPN could ask for any price for an ACC Network and gotten the ACC money on par with the SEC, but that time has been long past for several years now.

ESPN President John Skipper points out that 93 of the top 100 TV programs in the ratings in 2015 were sports, compared to 14 just five years ago, and takes that as evidence that live sports is growing more popular and that the insatiable appetite for it will justify an ACC network, not that linear television is growing less popular among people who don’t watch live sports. The ACC is confident that ESPN will “find a way to make this work” no matter how untenable the cable bundle becomes in the interim. But that assumes live sports will maintain their elevated position, that the economics of the video content market won’t recalibrate themselves to favor video-on-demand services and linear television becomes the specific subset of the larger video landscape delivering a specific type of content, live content of all types, that it should be, that the linear market doesn’t greatly and rapidly contract to the level actually warranted by the provenance and popularity of live events that are out there, that conference-specific networks reliant on subscription revenue and showing lower-tier games don’t become an increasingly dicey proposition when they have to stand and fall based on their target audience alone. In that case, the best-case scenario for the ACC could be that the SEC and Big Ten networks become equally untenable, and if that happens they’ll still be in better shape than the ACC. I don’t know if the ACC will ever realize the scenario they passed up, but I do know they could find themselves cursing their foolishness – especially if their decision turns out to be the proximate cause of exposing its own foolishness.

Want to learn more about all this? As this post goes up, you still have a few hours left to get my book THE GAME TO SHOW THE GAMES on your Kindle for FREE! Or you can order the paperback or get it on your Kindle for cheap anytime! Find out more about the book by clicking the cover on the sidebar!

The 200 Most-Watched Live Events of 2014

Yes, this is over a year late. I actually got really close to being far enough along to post this until I let things drop off to pursue other interests and eventually started spending all my time putting the book together.

If, as I’ve suggested, the only purpose of linear television going forward will be to show live events that many people want to watch at the same time, then ratings for live events become a particularly important category to look at, because they form the underpinning of everything else. So here are the 200 most-viewed live programs of 2014 to my knowledge, with the top 50 ranked.

Breaking news outside of primetime and other non-primetime news events are not counted because I couldn’t find any numbers for them. I’m also assuming no other evening news shows had audiences high enough to appear on the chart; I also assumed all non-audition episodes of American Idol were live, but marked the Hollywood and Vegas episodes with question marks. Events in red are news events; in blue are NFL games; in green are other sports events; in orange are awards shows; in purple are reality shows; and all other events are white. Read More »

Why the Proposed “Hulu Skinny Bundle” Will Be Set Up to Fail

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday night that Hulu is developing its own over-the-top “skinny bundle” for release sometime in the first half of 2017. (Note: since the WSJ article is paywalled, most of this info comes from a Mutlichannel News writeup of it.)

According to the WSJ, the bundle would include, at minimum, channels associated with two of Hulu’s co-owners, Disney and Fox, including ABC and Fox owned-and-operated stations and other popular channels they own, including ESPN, FS1, and Fox’s regional sports networks. The reports I’ve seen don’t say whether the service would include channels from anyone else other than the third co-owner, NBC Universal, but one analyst speculated a little over a week ago that it might end up including channels from CBS and Time Warner, both of which have contributed to Hulu’s existing on-demand service (with Time Warner even approached about a stake in the company last year). In other words, it would include the five companies that offer substantial sports content and that, together, keep the cable bundle together. Even if Disney and Fox were only able to get the Turner networks on board, the Hulu service could conceivably be a one-stop-shop for sports fans with every nationally-televised game from MLB, the NBA, and every major college conference, every bowl game of significance, and every NCAA Tournament game not on broadcast television, plus, for fans of local teams, games of any team with an agreement with a Fox network. The main reason to get NBCU on board would be to appeal to NHL, NASCAR, golf, and soccer fans, as well as fans of teams on Comcast’s RSNs. All told, it could well be the biggest step yet towards the breakup of the cable bundle.

Which is precisely why the companies creating it, especially Disney, won’t let it be.

Both the analyst that speculated about this a couple weeks ago and the WSJ report suggest that a Hulu skinny bundle would cost around $40 per month. After slashing the price earlier this year, PlayStation Vue currently offers broadcast stations and a broad selection of popular channels, including ESPN, ESPN2, FS1, FS2, and all three of Turner’s networks that carry NCAA Tournament games, and popular networks from NBCU (but not NBCSN) and all of the non-sports four, for $39.99 a month in the markets where it carries broadcast stations. If you have an antenna and live in one of Vue’s non-broadcast markets, for just $5 more than the proposed Hulu skinny bundle, you can add most of the channels left out of Vue’s base package, including NBCSN, Golf Channel, beIN Sport, ESPNU, BTN, SEC Network, and regional sports networks. Of course, considering PS Vue dropped its price at the same time it added the uber-expensive Disney networks, it may well be operating at a loss in an attempt to spur adoption, and may hike its prices again later. Still, if the Hulu skinny bundle is competing with PS Vue at those prices, not to mention Sling TV currently offering (with the single stream package) all the ESPNs, including SEC Network, plus TNT and TBS for $25 a month or (with the multi-stream package) FS1, the Fox RSNs, and all three Turner networks for $20 a month (suggesting Sling would probably offer all those channels for around $40 once it synchronizes its packages, depending on the effect of adding the Viacom channels), there’s really little reason to sign up for the Hulu skinny bundle unless you really want NBCSN and Golf Channel or you just want to deny the non-sports four your money out of principle.

It’s hard to see who the Hulu skinny bundle would appeal to that wouldn’t be better served with Vue or Sling – which, of course, is probably the point. Disney and Fox don’t really want to do anything that would hasten the breakup of the cable bundle, so it’s not surprising they’d price it to be uncompetitive with Sling and Vue given its selection, even though they could theoretically offer a lower price since they’re not really going through middlemen, potentially setting it up to fail and giving them a reason to claim skinny bundles and going direct-to-consumer doesn’t work. If they did try to competitively price it, Disney likely wouldn’t sign off on launching it unless it had the non-sports four on board, effectively making it the same as Vue, because there’s nothing Disney fears more than cutting the non-sports four out of, and thus motivating them to become independent from, the cable bundle. (Incidentally, that same analyst that speculated about a Hulu skinny bundle, and about a skinny bundle with the non-sports four, suggests that the latter could cost just $9 a month. That’s cheaper than anything I speculated about at the time, though only barely.)

It’s become increasingly apparent that the current batch of “skinny bundles” is more about the Big Nine declaring their independence from cable companies and networks not owned by the Big Nine (not to mention broadcast stations) than from the cable bundle itself, with all of them too scared of the consequences of leaving the others. In that sense, there is some importance to a Hulu skinny bundle that gives Disney and Fox a distribution mechanism independent not only of cable companies but of any middlemen whatsoever. But don’t be fooled by the uncritical pro-cord-cutting media touting it as some sort of landmark development in the breakup of the cable bundle. In the end, a Hulu skinny bundle will do little to benefit the consumer, at least in the short term, only its owners.

Why is the NCAA Basketball National Championship on TBS?

Tonight, Villanova and North Carolina will face off for the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship – but you won’t see it on CBS. For the first time ever, college basketball will crown its national champion on cable, with Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill calling the action on TBS (and slanted “team stream” coverage of each team on TNT and truTV). How did this happen? Why was the NCAA willing and able to take the smaller audience of cable? Well, I gave the short answer in my book, The Game to Show the Games:

By 2010 CBS wanted to get out from under a contract to air the NCAA Tournament that was set to lose it considerable amounts of money each year, to the point of engaging in talks to get ESPN to take it off its hands. Certainly the NCAA was very interested in moving most of the tournament to cable, which not only had the potential to increase the rights fees the NCAA collected but also allowed every game to be shown nationally, without the regionalization CBS had engaged in. CBS ended up retaining the tournament by forming an alliance with Turner to show games on TBS, TNT, and truTV in addition to the CBS broadcast network. Turner had never shown college basketball before and truTV, once known as Court TV, had never shown sports of any kind before, but Turner, which was paying a larger portion of the rights fee, went so far as to start alternating the Final Four with CBS starting in 2016 (later negotiations allowed TBS to show the national semifinals in 2014 and 2015 while the national championship game remained on CBS).

The long answer? You’ll have to get the book for that, and for how television money has completely upended the world of sports over the last decade, especially since the BCS blazed this trail with its 2008 agreement with ESPN, how the race for sports rights has changed the TV industry in turn, and how it might all prove to be built on a house of cards that might already be tumbling down. For this week only, until Friday, April 8th, you can get it for Kindle absolutely FREE, or you can buy the paperback at most online booksellers anytime. By the time you’re done reading, you might wish you hadn’t watched the game at all.