With more and more viewers canceling their cable packages (or not signing up for them in the first place), the cable television industry is facing a breaking point.
And though sports—which demand to be watched live—are the most reliable programming on cable, the collapse of the cable bundle will necessarily force sports rights-holders to tweak or overhaul their distribution model.
On Wednesday, sports media reporter and author Jim Miller appeared on the Dan Patrick Show to discuss the changing sports media landscape. As part of that conversation, he predicted a very different (and very interesting) future for watching sports:
“I have a feeling, you know you go on iTunes and you buy an album or a song, and you pay $1.99 for the song? We could be looking at a situation where you go on your phone, you go on your laptop and you buy that game. So you don’t have an NBA pass for the entire season or you don’t have some big cable bill but you do everything from your own customization point of view. So whatever you want. And it doesn’t even mean you have to tie yourself into a particular league. Just like you go on iTunes and pick out a song, you can pick out, ‘OK, I want to watch the Warriors and the Cavs tonight, and I’ll pay $3.99 for that game or two bucks or whatever.’
“The one thing that we know for sure is that this is an incredibly dynamic moment in time. Technology is now… it’s disrupted the very foundations of the model, where we have to reexamine.”
Patrick then brought up the idea of a “sports vending machine” with dynamic prices, and Miller compared the potential market to StubHub or Uber, where prices fluctuate with demand.
Obviously the sports world is familiar with the pay-per-view concept, which we see often for boxing bouts on premium channels. However, you’d imagine a la carte sporting events would be a last resort for sports leagues and rights holders, who would presumably prefer 1) The existing cable bundle, 2) a package of sports channels or 3) a system in which viewers subscribe to watch entire leagues, as with NBA League Pass or MLB.tv.
Pay-per-view programming would drive extinct the type of viewers who just casually turn on a sporting event in the background of whatever else they’re doing. Fans would probably focus more on the games they’re watching but would almost certainly watch far fewer games.
In addition to his thoughts on an iTunes-style pay-per-view, Miller discussed with Patrick his fears that safety concerns will hurt the NFL’s long-term future.
“I have a feeling that all of these sports, in their own ways, are going to be reexamining their financial models,” he said.