Death to the Local Affiliates!
The playoffs are coming, and here's one good thing about that: Since all NFL playoff games are shown nationally, local affiliates can't screw up the coverage.
Last week's Tuesday Morning Quarterback item on local affiliate screw-ups drew so much reader response only a charity auction of a night handcuffed to Jennifer Lopez would have done better. Fans around the country, it seems, are unanimous in hating their local affiliates.
The problem is that local affiliates have a gift for avoiding the hot matchups and airing clunker games. TMQ lives near Washington, D.C. This Sunday the 4 p.m. CBS doubleheader obvious choice was Indianapolis at Miami, a playoff atmosphere game pitting two winning teams fighting for their division crown. What did the nation's capital see? Ravens at the 3-12 Cardinals, one of the worst pairings of the season.
But don't take my word for it. Reader Abbey Castle of Portland protests that in November, rather than show the top-notch Chiefs-at-Raiders pairing, CBS affiliate KOIN aired the 2-7 Seahawks at the winless Chargers. James Kogutkiewicz writes that "Milwaukee Fox affiliate WITI has perfected the dismal art of broadcasting stomach-churning games between schlubs while highly anticipated pairings of Super Bowl contenders go unaired." Shannon Deible is so mad about a 1999 screw-up as to be still steaming: The Fox affiliate for Seattle scheduled Dallas at the Chesapeake Watershed Region Indigenous Persons, which turned out to be a fabulous 41-35 game won on a 76-yard pass in OT. But when kickoff time rolled around, Seattle viewers saw: Crocodile Dundee II. "Thamus" notes the CBS affiliate in Cincinnati endlessly shows naught but the Bengals and Browns. Sometimes Bengals and Browns games air back-to-back, leading Thamus to philosophize, "AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!"
George Merkle protests that in San Antonio, where few think fondly of Dallas, affiliates insist on airing every Cowboys game, despite the 5-10 Dallas record. Recently San Antonio got a Boys tilt instead of the sparkling Rams-Vikings pairing, and the only time the network broke in to show a play from the latter, what it showed was a field goal. Doug Kornreich decries that Savannah, Ga., gets every awful Falcons game rather than the contending teams. Lee Davis of Atlanta boasts his relief that because Falcons tickets don't sell, the home team is blacked out locally, and Atlanta itself gets to see real games while Savannah suffers. Reader "Marked" notes that a week ago, rather than show the important (and Pennsylvania-relevant) Pittsburgh-at-Giants matchup, Philadelphia's Fox affiliate aired: An infomercial for Web TV. That is, a program urging you to escape from the clutches of the very organization afflicting the program on you.
What's going on here? Each week, local affiliates of CBS and Fox pick the game they will air at 1 p.m. Sunday. Fox and CBS alternate games in the 4 p.m. doubleheader slot, and so every other week a local affiliate gets to make a 4 p.m. choice.
Affiliates always show games involving teams from their city. This makes marketing sense even when the home team is a loser, while for winning home teams, ratings are fabulous. During the week of the ER season premiere, top local ratings in more than a dozen major cities were drawn by home team NFL broadcasts.
But the system breaks down when there is no home team contest to show and local affiliates must pick. You'd think they would look at the standings and select the top pairing. You'd think wrong. Enigmatically, local affiliates often choose matchups that seem "regional" or involve the division of the home team, regardless of whether the game is any damn good. Los Angeles sees the woeful Chargers rather than national pairings of winners. Washington, D.C., sees the inexcusable Cardinals. New York City, the nation's largest TV market and sporting two local teams to confuse programmers, consistently gets the worst nonlocal selection in the country. Because the Jets and Giants both play on most Sundays, often all other action is either blanked out or screwed up. A week ago, "RJT" notes from New York, in the 1 p.m. Sunday slot the Fox affiliate skipped several attractive games to show Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.
Thus the NFL goes to considerable lengths to establish exciting, winning teams, then denies much of the country the chance to watch them on Sunday. The solution is NFL Sunday Ticket, which for $159 annually allows viewers to pick anything on the card. Many, many Americans would gladly fork over this sum to be set free from the tyranny of the dart-throwing monkeys who run local affiliate programming.
The catch is that NFL Sunday Ticket is available only using DirecTV, the satellite service that millions can't get. TMQ would dearly love to install DirecTV: He could even bill it to Microsoft! But lovely greenhouse-gas-absorbing trees block his home's view of the southwestern sky, where DBS1, the DirecTV satellite, hangs. Other satellite reception barriers afflict other potential customers. Infuriatingly, the NFL runs advertising for Sunday Ticket during regular broadcasts—using networks to promote what networks cannot carry. At least this assures us the Old Economy media will sell the New Economy media the rope from which they will be hanged.