Looking at it from the outside, FOX hit a programmer's nightmare tonight. A weather delay in the Texas Tech-Oklahoma game delayed kickoff by 75 minutes (start time approximately 4:45pm ET) and pushed the game to air on FOX News Channel as FOX scheduled their World Series pregame show to start promptly at 7:30pm ET. Let's take a look at a few items
1) Did FOX leave themselves enough time between events? I would say they left themselves with enough time between events under normal circumstances. Most college football games are budgeted to fit in three hour & thirty minute windows with some exceptions. FOX gave themselves four hours to play with, budgeting the last 30 minutes for a postgame show that I assume could have been cut short and run right into the World Series pregame in the event of overtime.
Weather delays happen. In fact, one happened between these two teams in Norman on 10/22/2011, delaying kickoff for 90 minutes. Without having any great statistics on hand, I've seen more weather delays early in the season during the late summer over all of college football.
Maybe FOX, in the interest of not having to shift a game away from their broadcast network, would consider starting the game earlier in the future. Whether there are issues with that when it comes to syndicated football telecasts would have to be considered by the markets affected.
2) Why was FOX News Channel chosen over FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2 or F/X? I don't have an answer from FOX on that. Here's what I can see:
- FOX Sports 1 was booked solid with college football. Texas-TCU was just coming on the air as FOX moved the game over. I don't think it would have been an option to move Texas-TCU around to another network. Someone made the valid point that its better to see the end of a game than the beginning and I'm going not to argue that point. But it coincides with the next item
- FOX News Channel has the most subscribing homes of any FOX cable property. As of August, the channel was in slightly more homes than F/X by roughly 30,000. A negligible number. But it is about 12 million more homes than FOX Sports 1. In my opinion, moving the game to FS1 and TCU-Texas to another channel on short notice would have created even more confusion. Better to confuse two fan bases than four I guess. EDIT: Texas-TCU also went into a weather delay in the 2nd quarter, likely pushing the start of Cal-Washington to another network I assume.
- I thought F/X was a the best option, until a user over at the forums of 506Sports.com informed me that there was a Sleepy Hollow marathon today that ended at 6pm ET for the east coast feed. F/X is timeshifted for the Mountain and Pacific time zones though and this would have occurred in the middle of the marathon (F/X was airing an X-Men movie starting at 6pm ET). While all of the Sleepy Hollow episodes to date are available at FOX.com, my guess is that these are the first time these episodes have been repeated on television. Just a guess, so if I'm wrong about the Sleepy Hollow episodes, forgive me as I'm not a follower of the show, but from what I'm seeing over at TVByTheNumbers.com, it sounds like it is a top 20 show in terms of ratings. Either way, there was programming on both F/X feeds that FOX decided was not worth pre-empting for 45 minutes.
- FOX Sports 2 isn't a viable option right now. While it was airing the replay of a UFC event, it just isn't in enough subscribing homes, around 37 million. Only 43% of the homes who get FOX Sports 1 also get FOX Sports 2, assuming every FS2 household gets FS1. Carriage for the channel needs to ramp up to make it a true companion to FS1.
- Digital subchannels of FOX affiliates weren't really an option on short notice either for a myriad of reasons.
- In smaller markets, the FOX affiliate might be the digital subchannel. Conversely, another "Big Four" network affiliate could be the subchannel of the FOX affiliate.
- I don't believe local stations are required to multicast
- As I understand it, digital subchannels that are not "Big Four" affiliates are not required to be carried by pay TV providers. So if they stuck the game on a -2 DT subchannel that carried MeTV or ThisTV, it isn't guaranteed to be available via pay TV providers
- Yes, you could get out a set of rabbit ears. I tried it for the fun of it. Where I live is 34 miles northeast of the WJW transmitter in Parma. I had a weak signal w/rabbit ears & UHF loop. Per AntennaWeb.org, my best bet would have been a large, directional antenna. Not an option on short notice.
3) Why not push the World Series to another network? That isn't an option, apparently not even the pregame show. Remember a few weeks ago where the Pac-12 was trying to get UCLA-Stanford out of a possible FS1 late evening on the east coast slot? FOX had ALCS commitments that it couldn't move (at least not this year) and the World Series is a non-starter. FOX pays good money and much of it is earmarked towards the playoff baseball it carries, which does decent ratings. The World Series is the only portion of the playoffs that FOX's broadcast network must air in their new deal. It is valued, much more than a single college football game.
4) I think the first notice on Twitter that I saw of the game moving to FOX News Channel was shortly after kickoff. I didn't see anything from the FOX accounts I monitor until around 75 minutes before the cutover (6:15pm ET). I honestly don't remember the first mention of the game moving over and whether it was mentioned during halftime. I did find it funny that a couple FOX PR folks and talent were tweeting to turn over to FNC after the game had moved. Might have wanted to do that before hand. With that said, Twitter is not the "be all, end all" place for this to be announced.
5) Two nit picks
- FOX really should have just cut over at the end of the 3rd quarter. There was no sense starting the 4th quarter on FOX and trying to cut between Texas Tech offensive plays, especially because of their quick pace of play. Why risk missing a play as people are changing the channel? They had a natural break and should have used it if it was possible. I'm also not sure how much time and communication would have been needed to cut over at the end of the quarter vs. at a specific time.
- FOX really needs to figure out a digital strategy. FOX Sports Go is still in the soft launch phase on Apple devices only. The number of pay TV providers that have access to FOX Sports Go is relatively small. If they had a decent digital strategy, maybe they have more flexibility with the World Series pregame show and the ability to move football game to FOX Sports 1 and push TCU-Texas online for a short amount of time. Or maybe that leads to even more confusion as I noted earlier.