Less than a month to the season opener

March 3, 2012 at 7:30 am | Posted in anchorage, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Our cable TV company, GCI is still not intending to provide Mariners baseball for the 2012 season.  GCI’s web site has some notes outlining their POV on the matter.  It’s almost embarrassing to read these.  I can’t believe this petty bickering and he said/she said pathetic narrative is attempting to pass for PR and public discussion of programming decisions.

Why won’t we be able to see Mariners games that are on other channels?

Root Sports has acquired the exclusive right to the Mariners’ games. That alone wouldn’t keep you from watching broadcast games, EXCEPT that Major League Baseball has defined Alaska as a home market for the Mariners, even though we are 1,700 miles away. If that rule applied everywhere, then New York would be a home market for the Cubs and Denver would be a home market for the Twins.

If, like GCI, you want Root Sports back in our line-up, CALL Root Sports at 425-641-0104 & tell them to allow GCI to offer Root Sports in the Digital Sports package. It’s the right thing to do. And, we would love to bring it back for you.

What a load of condescending crap!  The part about what constitutes a ‘home market’ is MLB’s affair, and GCI’s opinion on it is total bullshit.  1,700 miles sounds like a long way, but it’s only three hours by plane, and Seattle and Vancouver, BC are the next major cities from here.  I came here from Seattle at age 12 in 1972.  There were no Seattle Mariners then, but I did manage to get to a couple games at the old Pilots stadium [it had more in common with Mulcahy Stadium than Safeco Field — on Rainier Ave So. and now a parking lot for a Home Depot] before they went off to Milwaukee.

I do like local baseball, and go to see a game or two each summer.  The Glacier Pilots and the Anchorage Bucs are part of a second- or third-tier farm system, with itinerant college players, and the stadium is both a pile of junk and charming.  I took Michele to a Pilots game in 2010 on our first date.

mulcahy park glacier pilots july 09

A half hour before the start of an Anchorage Glacier Pilots game, July 2009.

I’m hardly going to call Root and ask them to allow the Ms to be bundled with a bunch of other channels I don’t want for an additional $14 per month above the $60 I already pay for a basic channel array that included the Ms channel until this year.  WTF?

Who are the geniuses calling the shots at GCI?  Let’s start with the head honcho.  CEO Ron Duncan’s own home on the shores of Campbell Lake in South Anchorage is assessed by the city at an even $1,000,000.  Doesn’t sound like a lot by California standards, but in this town where the average income is $55,000 and average home value is less than $300,000 [and has doubled in the last 15 years] it’s enough to put him in the top 1%.  Looking at the Google aerial of his property, I’m guessing it’s worth a bit more than a million.  Large lot, big deck, wraparound paver driveway, seaplane ramp… and what is that big circle in the back yard near the lake shore?  A helicopter pad?

I don’t begrudge Duncan, or the other old white guys running GCI their success in a competitive field.  But to a large extent they’re part of a classic capitalist public-private partnership that has effectively socialized the risk and privatized the profits.  GCI has partnered with ACS, the company who acquired the old city-owned telephone company in the ’90s.  And both companies have cooperated with the two electric utilities [one city-owned and one not] to run wires for phone, internet and cable TV over the same poles that support the electrical lines.  Makes sense, as a way to avoid duplicated expensive infrastructure, right?  But there’s a sense of double-dipping, because tax dollars and one-time property assessments paid for the installation of the electrical grid in the first place.  Revenue from consumers paid for the maintenance of the system over the years.  And lacking the publicly funded grid already in place, GCI’s business development would not have been possible.

One would reasonably expect a legacy of a sense of public service, since they are essentially a part of a more evolved public utility.  What did all the largesse and faith in capitalism get us?  I mean, fuck me if I’m wrong about it, but I believe that something like an electrical grid, or a sewer system isn’t constructed in the first place because it will lead to good quarterly profit statements and dividends for shareholders of a privately held corporation.  Right?  So shouldn’t some sense of the original cooperative community endeavor persist into the present day, when the original assets are rolled into a privatized modern communications company?

If I’d been born in 1925 instead of 1960, and come of age in 1940s–’50s Anchorage, I probably wouldn’t have run in the same social circles as Cap Lathrop and Augie Hebert — but I probably wouldn’t have questioned their intentions and practices so much, either.  Just a guess, but as Republican and ruthless in business as those two probably were, I’ll bet they also thought it was a good idea if everyone in Anchorage could afford movie tickets and radio and TV in their homes, with as much access to live broadcasts as possible, and a rich array of news, politics, sports, music and drama.  Augie Hebert would have been overjoyed that I got to listen to a major league baseball game by a favorite west coast team, after work or on a weekend.

The fees we pay our programmers to bring channels to GCI’s customers are the biggest part of the cost to provide video service. Believe it or not, Root Sports was the second most expensive channel in our line-up. And when the contract was up, they wanted to be paid more, even though they had lost sports programming since the last agreement was put in place. Root Sports demands payments based on the assumption that everyone watches it, even though no more than 4% of viewers tune in to Root at any time. If GCI accepted terms like this in all of our programming agreements, we wouldn’t be able to commit to our customers to hold the line on video service rates in 2012.

I don’t really give a shit about any of that [the believable parts, anyway].  As far as I’m concerned, there are five channels worth watching of the 500 or more offered.  And the whole reason I subscribed to cable in the first place was to watch the Mariners games.  And during the season they are playing, from April to September if the TV is on, it’s on their channel.  I’ve paid $60 per month since April 2008 for the privilege of watching most of the games of the past four seasons.  I’d say I watched 100 games per season, on average [maybe a few less in ’09 as I went on a month long vacation that summer].  That’s $720 per year, and almost $3,000 over the last four years.  And I am just one subscriber, just one guy in a city of almost 300,000 where GCI holds an exclusive on cable TV service.


Michele at Safeco Field, May 27, 2011.

GCI will have all kinds of reasons they can’t make a deal with Root and put it back the way it was.  They have a lot of maintenance and high operational costs.  There’s new infrastructure development, employees, acquisitions, and planning and innovating their way through rapidly changing technologies.  Still, their core business is doing just fine.  They seem to have plenty of spare cash lying around — enough to donate $900,000 to Lisa Murkowski’s 2010 campaign.  And I’ll bet Duncan and the rest of the execs will all be able to get those new, larger boats this summer — whether or not Root Sports makes it back into the channel lineup.

I don’t necessarily think Root is blameless on the impasse — but their position [they compromised with a counter-offer that GCI rejected] is more believable, especially in light of the fact that Root is still on DirectTV, Dish TV and other cable systems, every other place except Anchorage.

I got to the point where I’m trying to make a change.  A DirecTV installer walked my roof today, tromping through 2-1/2 feet of snow.  Back on the ground, he pointed across the street.  ‘The signal path is right in between those two trees,’ he said, indicating a narrow gap between a giant century-old birch and two large mature spruces.  ‘It’s only an eight degree angle shot.  I could hook it up and it would work now, but as soon as the leaves came on the birch you’d lose the signal.’  He walked the back yard and said it might be possible to pick it up from the far corner of the back yard, if the dish is elevated on a pole.  He could bring a dish out later and test this possibility, and establish the exact placement and height of the pole needed.

So I’d have to dig a three or four foot deep hole, and cast a twelve foot long steel pipe into a big hunk of concrete, enough to keep a four foot diameter satellite dish in place in 100 mph peak wind gusts.  Kind of unsightly in the yard and landscape.  I’ll do it, though, I guess, if that’s what it takes — although by the time the snow is gone and I could start digging the hole we will already be a month into the season.  Are you really going to make me go through all that, GCI?  This is really a television solution if you live someplace far from town, where there is no cable wiring already and you would probably have more land and a better place for the dish.

at the Ms game 5-27-11

My brother and I at Safeco Field, May 27, 2011. Elvis sunglasses night, and victory over NYY.

The unspoken undercurrent running through the whole debate is that the Ms are still in a decade-plus long slump.  Maybe GCI thinks Root should cut their price until the team shapes up and at least makes the playoffs?  If you’re really a fan of a team, though you stick with them through good times and bad.  There are still plenty of fine moments, even in a season like 2011.  If Gutierrez makes an especially incredible flying catch at the wall, or Felix dominates the other team — or anything else unusual or unexpected — it will have me jumping up and down, screaming at the TV, and talking about it with a couple co-workers the next work day.

The bottom line is, the fans have to suffer now because a bunch of super-rich fuckers couldn’t agree on how to split a pie.  Sad, isn’t it?

Update 3/9/12: Dish TV successfully installed.  I like it.  Would have liked to continue with a locally owned company instead, though.  I’ll bet a lot of people who don’t follow the news much will be surprised to find the Mariners channel missing when they try to tune in at the end of the month.  And I have a feeling GCI and Root will work it out in the end…

Update 5/13/13: GCI and Root Sports NW did kiss and make up and the Mariners games were restored for the 2013 season.  My Dish subscription jumped from $68 per month to $100 after a year of service, but I talked them back down to $61 by cutting the number of channels from 200 to 120.  No more MSNBC, Current TV or premium movie channels.   I would switch back to GCI but am stuck with Dish for another year.  I’m kind of tired of bundling.  Interesting to see Sen. McCain offering a bill to dismantle the practice [not that it will go anywhere].  If I had time and was more tech savvy I would get a high speed connection and figure out how to stream/download shows and content and bypass the traditional providers altogether.  GCI has decided to try to better conquer the AK market by partnering with ACS to try to compete with AT&T in the wireless phone game; and are making a bid to buy two of the three original Anchorage network affiliate broadcast TV stations.  One of them, KTUU Channel 2 the NBC affiliate has dominated the local news scene for decades.  This will end up in court and it will be fun to watch what happens.

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