I think I may have broken the law. Or maybe not. I’m not sure.
With my daughter vegging around the house Sunday, desperately avoiding her homework, I decided to watch a little bit of the Eagles-Panthers game, the problem being, the game wasn’t on TV. Still, I figured, nearly everything is available streaming online these days, and it didn’t take me too long to find what I was looking for.
Sure, I had to boot up my cranky old copy of Parallels/XP, and download some awkward piece of Windows software, but ten minutes later my MacBook was hooked up to my TV, and I was watching Donovan McNabb getting his ribs fractured in a live, if somewhat pixelated, full-screen picture. I would have paid for an easier, higher quality streaming option, but since the NFL wasn’t offering me one, I joined the thousands of other expatriate football fans willing to do what it takes to follow their out-of-market teams.
And following my team has been exceedingly difficult since moving to Seattle in 1992, the problem only exacerbated by the Seahawk’s 2002 move to the NFC West. The Eagles, perennial contenders, tend to be featured in a few nationally broadcast games each season, but during the intervening weeks the pickings are slim; even when the Eagles are featured in one of the weekly regional match-ups, Channel 13 tends to opt for something geographically closer.
Two or three times a year I trudge to a local sports bar to root on my Eagles, but I wasn’t about to drag my daughter to a bar, particularly at 10 in the morning. And I’m sure as hell not gonna pay the $1000-plus a year it would cost to both subscribe to DirectTV and purchase its NFL Sunday Ticket package, just for the privilege of watching maybe an additional dozen games at most.
So while Sunday’s stream kinda sucked, if the quality were a tad better I could imagine it becoming a bit of a habit.
Which raises the question… how fucking stupid must the NFL and the media companies be to drive potential paying customers like me into the arms of pirates, hackers and cheats? They certainly could stream games, but I suppose that would threaten Rupert Murdoch’s out-of-market monopoly. So instead, by refusing to address the demand that is already there, they are creating a market for free streaming that is technically impossible to quash, and will be very difficult to compete against once fans become conditioned to paying nothing.
Furthermore, it’s not at all clear that my private viewing of a live stream of an Over-The-Air broadcast from a Philadelphia station is even illegal. The unauthorized retransmission of this broadcast, that can’t be kosher, but my viewing of it on the Internet? I’m not so sure. How is this different from viewing infringing material on YouTube? And as for the ethical issues, it’s hard to feel guilty about watching an otherwise free, OTA broadcast, commercials and all, even if the NFL and News Corp. would rather I not.
I don’t know if I’ll watch another stream like this, but the point is I can, and there’s nothing the NFL can do to stop it. So rather than pretending these new technologies don’t exist, wouldn’t the NFL be better off offering a higher-quality, reasonably priced, paid streaming alternative, that didn’t turn avid fans into avid pirates? Hasn’t the rest of the entertainment industry learned anything from the mistakes of the music industry and its disastrously failed efforts to maintain the status quo?
It doesn’t take more than a few minutes of Googling to realize that nearly everything remotely streamable is available for streaming on the Internet, authorized or not, and yet Hollywood has its panties in a knot over the growing dominance of RedBox and its $1.00 rentals, while consumers in most of the rest of the world are exploiting the anarchy that is the Internet to remove themselves from the sales channel entirely.
If the studios are worried that $1.00 rentals might decimate their DVD sales, just imagine how hard they’ll find it to compete with free. The solution of course is to out-compete both RedBox and the pirates by aggressively putting their libraries online for streaming at competitive prices, before consumers learn habits that they’ll find very difficult to unlearn. Because one way or another, their content, just like the NFL’s is going to find its way online. The only question is who, if anybody, is going to profit from it.