Oh the games MVPDs play now

It's pretty obvious to anyone but the most obtuse of newsletter editors that Joe South, who died Sept. 5 at the age of 72, was not singing about the MVPD space when he crooned "The Games People Play."

This newsletter editor, though, can see correlations between some of the song's lyrics and today's MVPD space:

"Oh the games people play now/Every night and every day now."

Just fire up that ol' set-top--or just connect the telly to the Internet--and you'll see the games people play now. They include soccer and football and baseball and bicycling and hockey (OK, not hockey) and basketball and badminton and bowling and… you get the idea. Games, or as some are wont to call them, sports, are big business.

Thus, when a new pay TV service hits a market, it needs three things: A good network to deliver ultra-broadband speeds, a lineup of the top cable programming available and access to local games. Without the third part, the first two are diminished. Just ask DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) and Dish Network (Nasdaq: DISH), which have been battling for years to scratch out more than a meager subsistence in the Philadelphia market where Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) owns a team and controls the local availability of others.

It pays to control access to the games people play.

Just look at Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), which is building up Regional Sports Networks--RSNs, as the cool kids call them--to control sports programming in their markets.

And just ask Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which thought it had a great idea with Google Fiber in Kansas City until it came to the realization that local sports matter.

And just ask the FCC, which is going to have to decide the whole thing. Should any one provider be allowed to control all the local market's sports, or is the public good better served by opening up sports programming for every MVPD? If you're one of those who believe that sports help pinch the fuse that could set off an explosion of public discontent about everything from the economy to the stratified political scene, you might think it's in the public interest to feed consumers a steady diet of sports, sports and more sports.

"And they wile away the hours/In their ivory towers."

Those who don't watch games these days play them--particularly a younger generation that's grown up with Xbox and PS3 and Wii. This is the same generation that's drifting away from its parents' television. Those who sell the games and the hardware to play them love this generation; MVPDs, not so much. But MVPDs can't live without them, so rather than have them drift away to games consoles, which increasingly offer some access to TV and dangerously lead their devotees towards OTT, MVPDs are now looking to deliver their own packages of games from the cloud through their fiber or coax or twisted pairs and into the living room. For a small fee, gamers can then participate in their favorite pastime and, delightedly for the pay TV providers, pay AT&T (NYSE: T) or Verizon (NYSE: VZ) or Comcast or Time Warner Cable to do so.

So, yeah, there's a tenuous link between that old Joe South song and today's MVPD space. Because, in the end, we're "Talking 'bout you and me… and the games people play." --Jim

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