That’s very 2005.

I don’t think I’d brag quite so much if I’d lagged so far behind the market.

NBC Universal will join Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation Inc. to provide content — such as Fox’s “24” and NBC’s “Heroes” — for distribution beginning this summer on AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft Corp.’s MSN and News Corp.’s MySpace sites, the companies said today.

Also included in the new free, ad-supported service will be movies from Universal Pictures and News Corp.’s 20th Century Fox studios, such as “Borat” and “Little Miss Sunshine.”

“This is a game-changer for Internet video,” said News Corp. President Peter Chernin. “We’ll have access to just about the entire U.S. Internet audience at launch. And for the first time, consumers will get what they want — professionally produced video delivered on the sites where they live.”

What does it even mean to “have access to just about the entire U.S. Internet audience at launch”? YouTube has that same access, although it had to build a brand name that established media companies already possess. YouTube didn’t take long to overcome its disadvantage, so there’s obviously more to this product than just access.

If implemented correctly, I don’t see a reason for this to fail. Content is king. However, proper implementation (providing extensive user control) is a major assumption. Like the music industry sitting around for half a decade while peer-to-peer networks exploded, companies with video content will probably enact a plan based in fear (think extensive DRM) and arrogance.

I might be too old, though. I’ll stick with Netflix and DVR.

Contract every team except Boston and New York.

Major League Baseball finally announced its deal with DirecTV to air is Extra Innings package. It’s not an exclusive deal at this point, but it might as well be. The cable industry and Dish Network have until March 31st to match the terms agreed to by DirecTV. Cable would be hard-pressed to match that offer because DirecTV is insane. I can’t imagine a scenario in which Dish Network could agree, having only 50,000 Extra Innings subscribers last year. Still, this is over the top:

Dish Network assailed the new agreement. “When our customers are suddenly cut off from watching their favorite sports teams on TV,” the company said in a statement, “it is time to ask whether the market is working. This is both anti-competitive and anti-consumer.”

The deal is certainly anti-consumer, for all the reasons I’ve stated. But the market is not wrong. Two companies that reach a mutual agreement can’t be considered a broken market. Stupid, definitely maybe, but not broken.

As a perfect example of how stupid Bud Selig is in his patronizing claims that fans can still see lots of baseball, consider the 2007 schedule offered by Fox. Beginning April 7th, it will air a game every Saturday. In the first month we get these choices:

Saturday, April 14

  • Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Boston Red Sox

Saturday, April 21

  • New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox
  • St. Louis Cardinals at Chicago Cubs

Saturday, April 28

  • Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
  • Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals

Saturday, May 5

  • Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees

My vision might be bad, but I see April 21st and 28th looking exactly the same, with only the stadium scenery changing. Whoopee. And the two bookend weekends present us with either the Red Sox or Yankees. That’s some amazing diversity. Well done, Bud. Thanks for looking out for fans.

“Well, that and a nickel’ll get you a hot cup of JACK SQUAT!”

Spoiler alert: I talk about the three most recent episodes of Lost, divulging “plot” points in the process. Read at your own risk if you haven’t watched one or both of those episodes.

I’m a fan of Lost. While I don’t quite fall into the extreme of fans who are angry and disappointed, I get the frustration. I blindly gave the show a free pass during the first part of season three last fall. I’m simple like that, but I also have faith in J.J. Abrahms. After last night’s episode, I’m thisclose to bailing on the show and catching up on DVD, even if it means I hear spoilers about what happens. There’s nothing I hate more than spoilers.

Like I need to be concerned. Long ago, Lost stopped answering questions. The producers might argue that they are answering questions. Okay, conceded. But the questions they’re answering are either stupid or unimportant. They’re trapped on an island that basically eats people. The producers think that finding out what happened to the stewardess will placate me? I’m supposed to care? I don’t remember the friggin’ stewardess. Either she died, or she miraculously showed up on the island like the 487 other new characters we’ve been introduced to since the beginning of season two who miraculous survived undetected. She is so unimportant to my enjoyment of the show. Either reveal enough to make me understand that she might matter or don’t waste my time.

Last night’s episode exemplified the show’s current failings in being anything interesting. Consider this story on Lost’s troubles with hyping more than it delivers (link via Fark):

The episode’s a good one, the first in a long time devoted to spending time on the beach with the entire cast (save Jack and The Others), with a flashback spotlight on fan-favorite Hurley. But it’s also a lighthearted affair — the main plot has Hurley and Jin trying to fix a VW Microbus — while the ads are selling it as a thrill ride that everyone will be talking about the next morning.

“This was one of my favorite episodes of this run of the season,” says Benson, “and the reason for that is it actually took me back to season one of ‘Lost.’ It had the intensity, it had the emotion, it had everybody together on the beach again, it had some lighter moments. This is what we struggle with: How do we create a sell for an episode that captures all that you get in a show like this in 30 seconds? It’s really, really hard.”

I disagree, so let me tell you what happened last night. The show was reminiscent of season one, because it might well consist of the footage left over from the first time we learned Hurley’s secret misfortune with the island’s numbers. We’ve already been there. The show should move further along instead of reminding everyone what it used to be able to do. If I want to see season one again, I’ll rent the DVDs. Every week the show squanders what little sympathy I have left by offering cold leftovers.

I get the fact that the curse, and therefore the destiny presented by the island, are illusions. The characters have the power to overcome their situation. Wonderful. That’s the basis of good fiction. But I’ve seen it so many times that I don’t need to have it hammered into me. I, who figures out fictional mysteries and makes connections slower than your average newborn chimpanzee, figured out from the superb Desmond episode two weeks ago that fate is a bitch, but the characters have the ability to change that. Duh. Charlie isn’t doomed to die. He might die, but he has the power to change that. Or his fellow castaways have the power to change that. Of course. If not, just blow up the island now and end everyone’s misery.

By extension, the same goes for Hurley. He’s not cursed if he refuses to accept it. Got it. I’d already figured it out. So don’t pummel me slowly with that point. The van ride was good, and a useful device. Forty-two show minutes to get there was thirty too many. I’d dozed off leading up to that because I was bored. That’s what the producers want?

Basically, the producers of Lost should stop writing the show until they’ve watched every episode of Heroes. The comparisons are being made because they both have huge mysteries lurking in the story. The difference is that Heroes is exploring some of the mysteries it exposes. The characters investigate and learn, so we learn through them. Lost just asks us to admire all the pretty colors it’s thrown against the wall in hopes that some useful information will stick long enough to develop a goal. They should at least watch Monday’s episode of Heroes to uncover how to answer questions that matter.

I’m not going to talk about the insulting crap the producers tried to pass off as a dramatical shocker at the end of last night’s episode. I’ll just get angry.

P.S. Title reference courtesy of Matt Foley.

Violent attacks on liberty will be censored.

I haven’t seen the report mentioned in this story, but I don’t need to read it to know that any recommendation it makes is unconstitutional. The First Amendment says what it says, without exceptions for violence or protecting children from potential harm. This is classic government overreach permitted by populist ramblings.

Television networks are free to sprinkle their programs with shootings, slashings, torture and other gore because the government has no regulatory authority over violent programming. But a draft report being circulated at the Federal Communications Commission says Congress can change that, without violating the First Amendment.

Networks are free to sprinkle such things into their programs because we have a previously recognized right to free speech expression. Cable has even more freedom, yet it’s hard to argue that those networks are showing more than the broadcast networks. Any viewing of a commercial for 24 should be enough to counter such silly complaints. (Also important, we’re more upset about fake torture on television than real torture by our government? That’s majoritarianism at its most hypocritical.)

The long-overdue report suggests Congress could craft a law that would let the agency regulate violent programming much like it regulates sexual content and profanity _ by barring it from being aired during hours when children may be watching, for example.

Take one wrong idea and perpetuate it. This is what we’ve come to. Every decision made by every person should be filtered through whether or not it’s appropriate for children. We really are marching along to ever-more statism while the majority stands by and cheers.

I have a better idea: parents. Shocking, I know, but it seems to work when applied. It’s easier to pass time-consuming parenting decisions to someone else, I suppose. I don’t have kids, so maybe I’m missing the point. I thought it was to experience raising a child from dependence to independence. Is it really just a task designed to pass a child from one dependence to another? Maybe it’s a scam to have free labor for household chores.

Dan Isett, director of corporate and government affairs for the Parents Television Council, said the industry’s campaign to make parents the violence police is “purely designed to convince the Congress that they (programmers) are being responsible.”

The parental blocking technologies are insufficient due to a flawed television rating system, he said. As for the argument that cable is pressuring broadcasters to be edgier, Isett believes that’s nonsense.

Umm, if the ratings system is flawed, presumably letting inappropriate violent content senak into a lighter rating when parents might expect otherwise, parents should block shows with the offending rating. If that means you block everything but G-rated content on the Disney channel, so be it. That’s simple, and technology most certainly can handle that. Instead, the Parents Television Council wants government to do the job for parents. No effort needed. This would be bad enough if it applied to PTC members, but the PTC obviously wants all children shielded from what it deems inappropriate. Start with majoritarian nonsense and swirl in a batch of authoritarian goodness.

Enjoy this most laughable claim in the article:

The issue is bipartisan. Martin, a Republican, gave a joint interview to The Associated Press with Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps.

Getting a proud censor like Commissioner Copps on board for more FCC regulations is about as compelling as stating that scientists believe our planet revolves around the sun. Duh. I’d rather hear from someone who believes the Constitution is still enough justification to restrain American government. That would involve principles rather than politics, though, so I don’t expect to hear it from anyone in office.

Subsidize¹ my broken TV remote.

Following up on an issue I wrote about more than a year ago, this entry from Technology Liberation Front mentions an interesting argument by those who favor helping Americans negatively impacted by the looming mandatory switch from analog to digital broadcasts. I haven’t seen this angle in this context, but it’s quite instructive of the nonsense politicians use to sell us every more government intrusion and control.

Commerce has been under pressure from — among other places — Congress to include these forgotten basement televisions in the program. In particular, a November letter from John Dingell and 19 other members positively waxed poetic about the issue: stating that millions of consumers would be “disenfranchised” and that the original Commerce plan “disadvantages the poor, the elderly, minority groups, and those with multiple television sets in their home.”

More on disenfranchisement and multiple televisions in a moment, but I want to challenge Congressman Dingell’s initial claim first. It’s a bit presumptuous and insulting to lump the elderly and minority groups into the poor, no? There are no elderly Americans who can afford new televisions, or at least new converters for existing televisions? There are no minorities who can afford the same? This isn’t about helping anyone in need. It’s creating an artificial requirement and then satisfying that requirement with public funds. It’s a political ploy. While that’s obvious to everyone, it’s still shameful. If we need to talk about “the poor,” let’s do that. But don’t make assumptions just to get key constituents invested in a plan they probably don’t need.

Now, to the other claims. This says it as well as I could hope, so I’ll quote the entry:

Maybe it’s just me, but I had never thought of “those with multiple television sets in their home,” as an oppressed minority. And “disenfranchise”? This isn’t voting rights, it’s television. In fact, its not even that — its the right to a third TV in your basement. In fact, its the right not to have to pay $50 (the expected price of a converter box) to get that third TV in your basement to work.

Is there any burden left that Congress expects us to shoulder ourselves? I fear the answer.

¹ Yes, I’m kidding.

A government takeover can’t be far behind.

This is only peripherally about the Major League Baseball Extra Innings package, although I will discuss that angle again. But I can’t let it pass when a politician so bravely steps in to assist in a way that highlights his previous hypocrisy. Consider:

A proposal to make Major League Baseball’s “Extra Innings” exclusive to DirecTV has drawn the ire of Sen. John Kerry.

The Massachusetts Democrat said he plans to raise the matter with the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at a hearing Thursday.

“I am opposed to anything that deprives people of reasonable choices,” Kerry said in a statement. “In this day and age, consumers should have more choices _ not fewer. I’d like to know how this serves the public _ a deal that will force fans to subscribe to DirecTV in order to tune in to their favorite players. A Red Sox fan ought to be able to watch their team without having to switch to DirecTV.”

So many issues pop up, but it’ll probably make the most sense to first address the MLB decision in the context of Sen. Kerry’s remarks. MLB is stupid if it proceeds with this asinine marketing strategy, but it is free to hurt its business if it so chooses. It is not obligated to “serve the public” any more than Whole Foods is obligated to cater to vegans. That, of course, brings up the notion that consumers should have more choices. I view keeping cable as an Extra Innings choice as desirable because it specifically impacts me. But MLB should have the same range of choice to run its business in whatever way it believes will maximize its profits and its brand, even if that means running both into the ground. Sen. Kerry’s rhetoric will serve well the economic populism that pervades our public discussion, but it’s misguided.

With his statements, Sen. Kerry also managed to make a mockery of his stances on most economic issues and many personal choice issues. If Senator Kerry is in favor of people having reasonable choices, why isn’t he promoting Social Security reform, for example? I contribute, even though I’d prefer to put my money in personal investments controlled by me and backed up by actual assets. But I don’t have that choice. How does that serve the public? I’m sure I could walk through a point-by-point list of Sen. Kerry’s campaign issues and find many more examples where he’s been less than a champion for allowing people to have choices. (I have little doubt I can find multiple examples where Sen. Kerry believes that businesses should be limited, so I won’t challenge him there.)

Greater than all of this, though, is the simple fact that Chairman Kevin Martin and the FCC have no regulatory control over cable that would enable it to take action against Major League Baseball. Sen. Kerry should know this. I assume he does, but that doesn’t sell because then the government¹ isn’t there to come to the rescue.

¹ Major League Baseball should not have anti-trust exemption. There shouldn’t be anti-trust prosecution against MLB if it didn’t have the exemption, but that’s getting further into that issue than I’m interested. Since these are the rules we’re operating under, and MLB is happy to benefit from them, I won’t feel bad if/when Congress goes after the owners for this exclusive deal with DirecTV. Feed the snake enough and you will get bitten.

Sports is a business.

First, with the Phillies’ recent acquisition of starting pitcher Freddy Garcia, we the team now has one too many starters. With many teams in need of a proven starter, a trade will occur before spring training. The odd man out is Jon Lieber, but that’s not what’s important. This quote from Phillies assistant GM Mike Arbuckle explains how to operate in a market.

“If we’re sending Christmas gifts to starting pitchers, we’ll probably only have to send out five,” he said with a laugh. “But we’ll let numerous teams come to us and see what the best offer is. Supply and demand may work in our favor.”

Bud Selig and the other owners in Major League Baseball talk a lot about parity, which can be seen as little more than talent redistribution when carried to the extreme. Yet, it doesn’t work out that way. Some teams seem to build talent in excess of what they need.

In this case, the Phillies and starting pitchers. Would it make sense for Major League Baseball to take one of the Phillies’ pitchers and give him to the Devil Rays, for example, because they need starters? Of course not. The Devil Rays, and every other team, are left to extract that player from the Phillies in exchange for another player. As any reasonable person could predict, the Philadelphia will try to improve its roster (demand) by offering a starter (excess supply). This is logical, so why do so many in our government feel that this does not apply to every other situation in economics?

Next, Senator Arlen Spector has interesting opinions about the NFL and its collectivist bargaining of television rights. Consider:

Whatever his motivation, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., claimed at the end of a Thursday hearing that he will sponsor legislation to strip the NFL of the antitrust exemption that permits the league to negotiate its television contracts for all 32 franchises, rather than have the teams do so individually.

“Wouldn’t consumers be better off if teams could negotiate [individually]?” Specter said. “This is the NFL exerting its power right down to the last nickel.”


Specter said the NFL should not use the exemption to negotiate exclusive programming packages such as DirectTV Inc.’s “Sunday Ticket,” which allows viewers to watch teams outside their regional market.

“As I look at what the NFL is doing today with the NFL channel with the DirectTV … a lot of people, including myself, would like to be able to have that ticket,” Specter said.

Among the grievances cited by Specter in what he termed a “fans be damned” mentality demonstrated by the NFL was the relocation of franchises, and decisions like the one that moved Monday Night Football from ABC, an over-the-air network broadcaster, to ESPN, a cable entity.

Using Sen. Spector’s logic, couldn’t individuals better negotiate wage contracts with employers tailored to meet their own needs? Perhaps collective bargaining is a great benefit for those involved. Perhaps not. But those involved should decide how they best wish to negotiate, free of government intervention or protection. The NFL’s structure is a voluntary club in which individuals and corporations transact with known rules. This is not the problem.

I could get behind Sen. Spector’s sabre-rattling about antitrust exemptions, but he’s attacking the wrong beast. He apparently can’t fathom the idea that the government should have little role in the operation of business. Remove/reduce the concept of antitrust and this matter goes away. Sen. Spector doesn’t want that; he is a politician, after all. But he seems to believe that being a football fan also entitles him to manipulate a market because he’d rather get the NFL and DirectTV’s combined product without having to include DirectTV. No. Subscribe to DirectTV or don’t, but leave the government out of it.

On Sen. Spector’s last point, what would he propose regarding Monday Night Football? That ABC receive a monopoly on broadcasting that, even if someone else (ESPN, like ABC, owned by Disney) is willing to pay more? I don’t recall reading anything about a fundamental right to free broadcasts of the NFL in the Constitution.

Finally, the Orioles are getting a new JumboTron, except they don’t want it. They’re not paying for it, so they want a bigger JumboTron.

The Maryland Stadium Authority agreed yesterday to move forward with the purchase of a new Mitsubishi video screen for Camden Yards despite objections from the Orioles.

Orioles officials say the DiamondVision screen is too small and technologically inadequate and plan to file a temporary restraining order in Baltimore Circuit Court today to block the $1.5 million purchase. The restraining order would give the Orioles time to move the dispute to arbitration as is called for in the team’s lease for the stadium.

On the surface, this is little more than a contract dispute. It should be decided as such given the constraints of reality. It’s possible to accept the facts while rejecting the assumptions. The taxpayers of Maryland should not be forced to subsidize the purchase of a bigger video screen for a private business.

Major League Baseball and the NFL are businesses and should be treated as such. Politicians who interfere *cough*Tom Davis*cough*, for whatever reason, are anti-capitalists trying to break fundamental laws of economics. They should not be tolerated.

Hat tip to Baseball Musings for the last item.

“Ooooh, waffles!”

I don’t have much time right now as I hack away at Rolling Doughnut’s code (dirty business, it is), so now might be the best time to give a glimpse into my less serious opinions. I miss Alias in a bad, bad way. It’s my all-time favorite show, and I can’t imagine something overtaking it. Ever. Which makes me kind of sad because I suspect I’ve already seen the best television show I’ll ever see. At 33, that sucks since I love TV so much. Of course, many are saying that traditional television shows are done anyway. I don’t buy it, but maybe. Either way, I miss Alias.

Just in time to save the day, though, came the best new show on television, and quite likely the best show currently on, ahead of even How I Met Your Mother. I’m referring to Heroes. If you’re already watching, congratulations, you’re in the club. If you’re not, you’re missing out and I’m here to implore you to catch up before the show returns in late January.

I’m a fan of Hiro, as most people are. The joy he takes in discovering his powers is wonderful. But I’m also loving the Peter Petrelli story line for its growth potential. The other Heroes rock, as well. (Greg Grunberg: Felicity, Alias, and Heroes. That’s a body of work!) Every week I look forward to the show and wonder where the story line will go. What’s best is that it’s everything Lost used to be, with a bunch of new, cool stuff included. There are questions, but there are also answers. That’s cool. And I think the show happily answers the question of whether or not a serial can still work on television again. (Yes, Fox, that’s directed at you and Reunion.)

Like I said, if you’re not watching, you’re missing out. Catch up on NBC’s website, where the episodes are free, or on iTunes, where the episodes are portable. Either way, you have until January 22. Get to it.

Where’s the green slime?

I don’t have much to add on this development that I haven’t already said:

Television broadcasters won a temporary victory yesterday when a federal appeals court told the Federal Communications Commission not to enforce an indecency ruling it imposed on several television shows earlier this year.

“We are gratified that the court has taken the first step in recognizing the serious First Amendment issues raised by the FCC’s new enforcement policies,” CBS said in a corporate statement.

The FCC also considered yesterday’s ruling a partial victory. The agency said it made the March indecency rulings to give the broadcasters guidelines on what can be said on television. But when the broadcasters complained, the FCC acknowledged that it had not followed its usual procedure in declaring the shows indecent. The agency asked the court to send back the indecency decision so it could be reconsidered, which the court did yesterday.

A precedent enforcing the First Amendment would be wonderful, but I guess it takes more courage than anyone in government possesses to understand that bullshit is not going to lead to rotting child brains. If the FCC must think about the free speech ramifications of its actions before it acts, that’s a chilling effect I’m willing to live with. More than anything the Constitution protects the people from government intrusion, not through government intrusion. It’s worth remembering.

I’m accustomed enough to this wave of censorship that I’m resigned to fighting it rather than getting upset. However, 2½ years is not enough time for this quote to do anything other than make my blood boil.

“Hollywood argues that they should be able to say the F-word on television whenever they want,” FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper said in a written statement. “The commission continues to believe they are wrong, and there should be some limits on what can be shown on television.”

It would be easy enough to just use the F-word here and pretend like that’s a victory. I know it’s not, although I do take (minimal) joy in knowing that every person who reads that quote will think of the actual four-letter F-word. Saying and writing the F-word doesn’t sanitize reality, no matter how many horseshoes and rainbows busybody social conservatives want to wish upon to pretend it does. Ha! Point, my side.

What disgusts me is the tone and implication within Ms. Lipper’s statement. Trotting out “Hollywood” is a useful tactic because we all know they’re leftist liberal weenies who need to be stopped from corrupting our innocent, angelic little children. But I want my government to have just a smidge less contempt for the notion that it serves me. I do not care for the idea that the government may decide what can and can’t be shown. It is not in the Constitution, and it is not in our ideals. Next thing we know, the government will dictate what we can and can’t say on television about it and our elected leaders. Oh, wait.

Once given power, government tends to assume more and wield it in broad strokes. Ms. Lipper and the FCC demonstrate our need to better adhere to limited government principles as stated in our Constitution, lest we lose what rights are naturally ours.