Let's set the scene: It's a Saturday morning, a month into college football season. You get up, as you so often do, and switch on ESPN, expecting the familiarity of the College GameDay set. Instead, you're met with the following message:
"This content is not available for your package or region."
After ensuring you're appropriately logged into all of the requisite services, you hop on Twitter to confirm a suspicion: A couple of multinational corporations have failed to make an agreement with one another and left you unable to watch football for the day.
If you're a subscriber to Dish Network or Sling, this very well may have been your reality. Their deal, which presumably ended on September 30, expired, and due to their impasse, plenty of college football fans - myself included - experienced exactly this. In my experience with previous contract disputes, the television provider runs a campaign of sorts both to warn the viewing public and sway the court of public opinion to their side as negotiations wear on. With Dish/Sling having done neither, we experienced a rude awakening on Saturday morning.
Now, I'm not placing any blame here. Both sides have the narrative they're pushing forth, and while Dish/Sling will likely feel the brunt of the impasse, it's reasonable to me that ESPN's ask far outpaces previous deals, especially since the network has billion dollar deals on the horizon that it needs to make good on. Still, the coincidence on October 1 falling on a college football Saturday couldn't have done them any favors. If the Twittersphere is any indication, they lost a number of subscribers yesterday to fans who bailed for services that still carried the ESPN family of networks. Indeed, even in the absence of blame, they may very well lose me to results: If the service can no longer provide the channels I signed up for, I'm ultimately going to cancel.
Here's where I make generalizations from a personal sample size of one, and attempt to apply them to the populace as a whole: For Sling specifically to become incongruent with watching college football could very well be their death knell. Sling seems/ed to be custom made for the college football viewer: While they sport is viewed by fans of all ages, there's a critical mass of us who are cord-cutters. Knowing that live sports are one of the primary drivers of real-time subscriptions, those of us who have eschewed cable need a fix. Enter Sling, which offers a reasonable cost of entry; easy on-again, off-again service (I snooze mine in the off-season); portability; and until recently, the channels we wanted. But, of course, if they are unable to provide the last of these, the other advantages become obsolete. Sling specifically seeks to lose a big chunk of its market share if this isn't resolved quickly. Still, to hear them tell it, the ESPN gouge is what's causing the stalemate, and even if they should reach an agreement, the cost passed onto consumers could make them less advantageous than key competitors like Hulu and YouTubeTV, each of which has surely seen a bump since yesterday morning.
If college football if your primary driver, you've already lost about 20% of what the subscription offers you in the month of October, and, more damning, the NFL crowd will find themselves without Monday Night Football on ESPN tomorrow. Here's hoping for a swift resolution.