Long-time readers of this site may remember that I have long been interested in the scenario that cable companies could one day offer unbundled ala carte pricing instead of their current tier-based system. If Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti is interested in how a changing media landscape affects college sports, then I am too.
This looming threat would be a doomsday scenario for all televised sports, but among the worst hit would be college football. It is heavily dependent on ESPN, which owns most league broadcasting rights with the exception of the Mountain West. If you want one scenario that actually could grind the BCS to a screeching halt, inaugurating chaos and a thousand years of darkness, this is the ticket.
With cable companies bleeding subscribers to online services like Netflix and Hulu, Time Warner and its competitors may not have any choice in the matter for much longer. This experiment is only a stone's throw away from full ala carte pricing.
Time Warner's plan is especially a shot across the bow at sports due to the dirty little secret (well, not so much if you remember Cablevision's epic battles with YES) of televised sports rights: they are really freakin' expensive.
In a city as big as New York, why should cable subscribers with no interest in sports have to involuntarily subsidize ESPN, MSG, YES, SNY, and the NFL Network if they want access to other channels? More importantly, can't the same be said of the rest of the country? All popular sports that depend on television revenue are in big trouble if this pilot spreads to other markets.
If the cable bubble pops, professional teams would have to stop building models that are largely divorced from actually attracting fans into the stands. They would no longer be able to spend willy-nilly on adding personnel through free agency, which could either be a big positive or negative depending on your perspective. More promising is the possibility that the ongoing quest for diversified revenue streams could finally be an impetus towards more innovation and efficient uses of existing assets, like my dream of comprehensive video on-demand finally coming to pass.