You could argue that a huge shift in American culture is about to take place. "Monday Night Football" will no longer be available to anybody who has a TV; with a move to ESPN, it will be available only to those who subscribe to a cable or satellite system.
Of course, ESPN is available in more than 90 million American homes. But ESPN doesn't garner the kind of ratings that, say, ABC — which carried "MNF" for the past 36 years — does.
And NBC is making a pitch that its new Sunday-night NFL package is the new "MNF." ESPN disagrees, but NBC may have a point.
ABC let "MNF" go to its sister network because it was losing tens of millions of dollars on the NFL games, despite strong (but declining) ratings. If ABC couldn't make it work, how come ESPN thinks it can?
Different business models. Different revenue streams. And lots of other mambo-jumbo.
Basically, it comes down to two things. One of those defines the difference between cable and broadcast television. The other is simply the difference between a network that attempts to broadcast as opposed to one that narrowcasts.
Broadcast television is "free" — it's paid for by advertising revenue. Cable television has two revenue streams — advertising and subscription fees.
A dollar (or more) of what you pay your cable or satellite company each month goes straight to ESPN. What, with its 90 million-plus subscribers, ESPN is pocketing something like $1.1 billion a year before it sells a single ad. That's $1.1 billion ABC doesn't get.
And ABC is not, of course, an all-sports network. Its Monday schedule is filled with news, talk and soap operas — plus all the local programming that's on ABC affiliates across the country.
ESPN is an all-sports network, so its Monday schedule is filled with sports, sports and sports. And it plans to turn Mondays into football, football and more football.
John Waldeck, ESPN's senior vice president of programming, talks about creating "an immersive experience for the football fan that translates beyond the game. Everything is going to point to the game. But, ultimately, what we are providing is a full-day experience which focuses on the one game, on the NFL, and we are going to do it in a multimedia world."
ESPN will come close to treating every Monday game like the Super Bowl, complete with hours and hours of pregame activities leading up to the kickoff and an extended postgame show. (All the better to sell more ads to offset that estimated $1.1 billion a year in rights fees.)
In addition, that "multi-media world" will include the Internet, phone service and more.
In other words, all-"MNF," all the time, on lots of different related programs, channels and outlets that advertisers will be paying to get in on.
It all sounds great. But I can't help but wondering if, say, the Rams and the Bears have maybe three or four wins between them when they meet on Monday, Dec. 11, will much of anybody want to watch the game, let alone hours and hours of pre- and post-game coverage and all the related activities?