An occasional series in which the author tries to explain the mysteries of life. Admission is free. Advice is priced accordingly.
Today's topic: Media and sport.
1. How come there are so many goddamned reality TV shows on television?
Here's why. So the next time you're watching "Fear Factor" and you hear Joe Rogan say to the contestant, "It's fifty thousand dollars!" realize that he's NOT saying, "It's $950,000 less than we had to pay David Schwimmer!" When the winner of a whole season of "Survivor" makes less than Matt LeBlanc did saying "how YOU doin'?" for two hours, and more people watch, well, it kind of answers itself, doesn't it? TV shows are spending jillions less on production costs and pocketing the difference.
2. How come a baseball game takes four hours and Monday Night Football takes four and a half, even after they got on the pitchers for taking too long and shortened the 45-second clock to 40 seconds?
Because the goal was never to shorten the games, even though that's what they said. What they were able to do with these adjustments is to sell even more commercials. And they have to, because the amount that they're paying for rights has continued to go up while the viewership hasn't. That's why everything within a game is also brought to you by a sponsor. Most games are money-losers, particularly in football if they're late in the season and they're on Monday night. Of course, would you rather see more of According to Jim?
3. Why are there the X Games and the Outdoor Games and all of these other pseudo-sports all over TV instead of a baseball game?
See above. Telecasts that the networks don't have to pay big rights fees for, even if they draw one-tenth of the audience, are how they make their profit. ESPN was the ONLY portion of The Vast Walt Disney Corporation to make money last year. At the end of a day, a goofy kid on a skateboard or a dog jumping into the lake don't ask for salary, and if another kid or dog is on next year, you probably won't care what happened to the last one.
4. What about "Dream Job"?
Even more obvious. Not only do they use their own facilities, but it sends a very obvious message to the part of the business that typically asks for the most money-the talent. "Not only can we replace you, but I can show you every Tuesday night the thousands of Americans who will HUMILIATE themselves for a chance at your job, willing to work five times as hard at one-tenth of the price."
5. So is this what the whole hockey strike is about?
Yeah. Fox, ABC, and ESPN have tried to make hockey work, and due to strategic changes in the game and the makeup of the American marketplace, it doesn't. I wish it did. But there was a time in the early 90's where all of the cable stations thought that the problem would be, "We won't have anything to show, so if we have something that even a few people watch, that'll be better than nothing." Well, thanks to the Internet and other diversions, people stopped watching television. So fewer people watched, but the hockey owners had all this money, so they spent it like drunken sailors. (Insert your own Bill Wirtz yacht joke here.) Now there isn't any more money because there aren't any networks left that want to televise hockey, but the players still want to be paid like there is, and who could blame them? What's happening in hockey will happen next with basketball, then baseball, then football.
6. How'd you come up with that order?
Expansion patterns. Basketball has had franchise relocations and explosive salary increases. The number of readers of this blog and the number of people who think Carlos Boozer is actually worth $68 million are about the same. Hockey had a number of franchise relocations and is now on the verge of falling apart. Baseball has had only one, but it's seen the most explosive growth in salaries. Football has cost containment, competitive bidding on its rights package, and is scarce enough that people will watch.
7. So why are the Olympics such a big deal?
Because women watch them. That's why Olympic coverage focuses on events like the Gymnastics Gala, which I mentioned a while ago, and not actual sports. Men will watch sporting events that are 30 years old and which they already know the outcome-hello, ESPN Classic-but women will not. Men will also watch weird sporting events-hello, World's Strongest Man-but women will not. And since the Olympics are every four years, there's a familiarity-rediscovery thing going on. The kinds of things that people will watch during an Olympics do not translate into devoted followings-hello, WNBA and WUSA.
8. What about ticket prices and skyboxes?
It's a factor, but I'd presume it doesn't account for as much as the TV rights fees. The thing is, the one constant across all leagues is that the national TV rights fees are divvied up amongst the teams. Next are local broadcast rights. This is what Bud Selig's really crying about-the fact that there will never be as many people who want to watch a Brewers game as a Yankees game, and he'll never get the same local broadcast money. Steinbrenner could charge less for tickets and skyboxes, and he'd still make more money on account of the market he's in.
Skyboxes become a big deal because they're (generally) leased on a per-season basis, and are usually purchased by corporations, which then deduct them as an entertainment expense. They're willing to pay quite a bit for these. The owners in stadiums that don't have them are then missing out on an important source of revenue that doesn't correlate to on-field performance, which, usually, they're required to pay for.
9. What authority do you have to know any of this?
None, really. It's a guess. But you know how it always comes down to "follow the money"? You don't even have to follow it very far to figure it out.
10. So how to we get sporting events to be shorter?
Everyone would have to stop watching. And we're getting there. The only surefire event that people will watch, year in and year out, is the Super Bowl. Even the World Series is off the table if small-market teams are the only ones in it.
11. How about reality TV shows?
Same thing. When "America's Funniest Home Videos" came out, people raved about it. Said it was brilliant. And the brilliant thing about it was that the show had next to no production costs. Hell, people sent in the tapes for free! Then it got redundant, and people got tired of grainy pictures of moppet kids picking their noses and people getting hit in the crotch with golf balls. Pretty soon, people will get tired of it, but the shows are so cheap, it's not like they're going to get a quick hook. Look at MTV's "Real World."
12. So where does it end?
It ends with the video-on-demand pay-per-view special of celebrities being dragged by horses. One can only hope the Hilton sisters will be prominently involved.