USA/Lithuania on ESPN Classic? Thanks for nothing, Worldwide Leader.

All right, I don’t know how many of our readers actually get ESPN Classic, but I don’t. I’d have to pay an extra $50 a month for DirecTV’s Premier Package to get ESPN’s grumpy grandpa.

The U.S. men’s basketball team plays Lithuania in the semifinals of the 2010 FIBA World Championship on Saturday morning and the game is only going to be broadcast on ESPN Classic.

Of course, all of the main ESPN channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU) are packed with college football on Saturday morning, so if nothing else, this is just poor planning by the network. They could have worked out a deal with NBATV to simulcast the game, but they didn’t.

It does appear that will stream the game for those that want to watch it live. Watching the game on the computer isn’t the same as watching it in HD, but it’s something. Of course, the game says it’s “subject to blackout,” so I’m not even sure that’s an option.


Saturday Update: Yay! ESPN2 will be broadcasting the game…13.5 hours later. You can catch a rebroadcast of the game at 1:30 ET Sunday morning on ESPN2. Way to step up, ESPN. (Sarcasm.)

Saturday Update #2: is only available to those who subscribe to an ESPN-affiliated internet subscriber, and my service — Time Warner — does not fall into that category. Woo-hoo!

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NFL Network to offer its own RedZone channel

DirecTV subscribers may be wondering if the NFL Network’s new channel, “NFL RedZone” is the same as the RedZone Channel that is available as part of the Sunday Ticket package. The answer is yes…and no. It’s not the exact same channel. It has a different host and a different studio, but the concept is the same.

The channel will bounce around from game to game to show live action or instant highlights from a multitude of games. I’ve watched the DirecTV version for six hours straight, and it’s a great way for fantasy football enthusiasts to spend a Sunday. I assume that the NFL Network’s version will be just as good.

I have long been critical of the NFL’s decision to make the Sunday TIcket exclusive to DirecTV, largely because I’m a diehard Packer fan living in a California condo with no view of the southern horizon (making me one of the millions of football fans that simply can’t get DirecTV without moving). The DirecTV monopoly exclusive rights extend through 2014, though the package may be available to non-DirecTV subscribers in 2012. I mention the Sunday Ticket debacle because this NFL Network Red Zone channel is a step in the right direction.

Of course, the NFL Network is still at odds with several cable companies — including my carrier, Time Warner — as they haggle over carriage fees for the channel. Actually, “haggle” would imply that the two sides are negotiating. As far as I know, they’ve both walked away from the table.

The cable giant wants to offer NFL Network on a sports tier, while the NFL Network wants the channel to be on the basic tier, which due to its high carriage cost, would have a significant impact on the bottom line and increase cable rates for all subscribers. Essentially, the Network wants every subscriber to pay for the channel even if they don’t want it in their lineup.

It was one thing for Time Warner to walk away from negotiations when the NFL Network only carried eight games in a season, but now that TWC’s subscribers will be missing out on this new Red Zone channel, I’d expect the pressure to strike a deal will be amped up. I, for one, am not pleased that this product is readily available and the 2nd-largest cable company in the country does not offer it. What’s the point of having a monopoly if you aren’t going to use your negotiating power to get what you want?

Between the offering of exclusive rights to Sunday Ticket and the high carriage fees of the NFL Network (and presumably, the new RedZone channel), the NFL is not treating a subsection of its fan base very well.

We just want to watch the games — all of them. Why is the league making it so difficult for fans to consume its product?

How I would fix NFL Sunday Ticket

Regular readers know that I hold a special grudge towards the NFL for selling exclusive rights to Sunday Ticket to DirecTV. Since I don’t have DirecTV (as I am without access to a southern horizon), every Sunday I have to pack up my laptop and head over to my buddy Dan’s house to watch my beloved Packers play. While it’s nice to see Dan every Sunday, I would sure like to watch the games at home on my 96″ front projection system. (Yeah, I’m bragging a little. Sue me.)

This season, Dan bought the SuperFan package, which gives him all the games in HD. It also gives him the Red Zone Channel (that bounces around from game to game in an attempt to show viewers as many scores/big plays as possible) and the Game Mix Channel (which shows eight games at once).

The Red Zone Channel is pretty good as is. It’s especially fun when the Packers don’t play in the early game, because I don’t have to keep checking in on that game and we can let the channel take us to all the exciting moments around the league. However, I would make two changes: 1) when the channel goes to split screen mode, they waste valuable space with a wide red border around both games, and 2) during the late games, too often the channel is showing highlights when there is live action going on.

Then there’s the Game Mix Channel. This is a great idea that is poorly executed. Just take a look at a screenshot.

Looks like a football fan’s dream, right?

Well…sort of.

Even on a 50” screen, which I’d say is the standard for higher-end TVs these days, each of those games are only 12.5” diagonal, which makes them pretty tough to watch. Instead of the current 4 x 2 grid (four games wide by two games tall), why doesn’t the channel go with a 3 x 3 matrix? Not only would it allow for eight 16.5” screens (which would be 32% bigger than the current setup), it would generate a 9th rectangle, where the channel could show the Red Zone Channel, display advertisements, list stats and/or injuries, show times of upcoming games, etc.

What would they have to sacrifice? Well, just the blue border and channel banner, which currently take up a third of the screen.

That seems like a small price to pay for a 32% increase in viewing space for each game.

So, are you listening, DirecTV?

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