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Stunted By Reality Just another know-it-all talking about life, business, technology, sports and music.

10Jan/12Off

The screwing game: Cable companies vs Fred Wilson

New York Knicks logo

Perenially on the cusp

Fred Wilson on AVC recently wrote a blog post about how he ended up 'illegally' streaming a New York Knicks match because there was no 'legal' way for him to pay for it without actually going to the match. In that situation he had been willing to pay even $25 for the priviledge. The post is aptly titled #screwcable!

In and amongst the support for what Fred did were some well argued contrarian views. The quote below is not one of them though it raises an important issue.

The players, owners, league spend money to enter into contracts with cable companies and specialized networks, who in turn negotiate with advertisers to bring viewers an entertainment medium. They have real costs to all of this. But because someone doesn't like that there are fees or limitations or other obstacles within the creating group's model, it's okay to simply "hack" in and take what one likes?

I agree that a lot of planning and investment goes into making a profitable business out of a sports team or even any other entertainment performance like a music album or whatever. Those investors and operators are perfectly entitled to charge what they want and how they want in order to recoup their costs.

For me the big caveat in all the above that turns someone like Fred into a 'pirate' is the fact that during business planning a conscious decision has been made to have this sports package not appeal to him. That is through a combination of pricing, segmentation rights, down to stadium capacity, match day scheduling and location. When all is said and done the rights holders have put together a package which they believe will earn them the most revenue possible in order to recoup costs that they have deemed as appropriate for this enterprise.

In simple terms; when selling their package rightsholders are consciously saying #screwyou to a certain percentage of interested parties. Nothing wrong with that. It's their prerogative and a balance HAS to be found.

What I find interesting is that there seems to be a belief that it's okay to then go after these people who have already been told to screw themselves as if they actually mattered to the business model. They don't really; and any plan should not have taken into account revenue from someone who has been told where to go or revenue lost by that person consuming that service in a way that does not deprive other willing buyers. The fact is no business can sell all their products to everybody all of the time. Someone has to be out of the loop even though digital products make that scenario theoretically possible.

Naturally there are people who infringe copyright and would have been perfectly able to legally consume it. It is wrong of course, but I believe that every business model has to try to have low enough barriers to allow people to take up the product. In a previous post I referred to the concept of a consumption threshold. This is something that is generally not a feature of high quality digital content, though Louis C.K seems to have found a balance between price and protection and he is succeeding despite those who are saying #screwyou to him. It's probably because he only tried to 'screw' relatively few people in the first place!

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