The SEC's new media (and new-media) rules
I had not heard or read much about the SEC's new media rules (Update: see revised rules and comment at the end of this) until I saw a little squib on the newspaper video group pointing to this short story from Birmingham via AP via Biloxi (ain't the Web great?).
Ah, leave it to college and professional sports (there's a difference?) to put the hammer down and nicely spotlight some really persnickety issues and realities that are staring a lot of TV and newspaper sports departments in the face.
According to the AP, "It only allows TV stations to show highlights for 72 hours after a game ends. The policy also prohibits the media from posting video from practices and news conferences online." And reporters have to sign the contract - or no look-see.
So let's see, at a time when newsrooms seemingly everywhere are rushing to create destination sites for various teams' fans, and when video is a major part of those efforts - the SEC just said, in essence, "screw you."
The SEC is open in what it wants -- to drive traffic to SEC and affiliate sites. And it has every right to be as draconian as it can get away with.*
Spare the anguished freedom of the press cries. So far, at least, the law seems to generally side with the idea that when teams or other groups form private associations, they get wide latitude to control the goods, even if the games, concerts, etc., are on public property or use other public facilities -- and even when government is spending questionable amounts of money providing traffic control and security.
So if we are to believe the memes that the Web is becoming more and more telegenic, and the SEC intends to strangle the video baby for all but its own and affiliated sites, what does that tell us?
- Well, first, of course, it opens the debate on priorities. Is pro (and that includes most major college) sports really worth covering in a time of shrinking resources? Or should we put the resources into those sports (or other) areas that,for many reporters are not especially glamorous but are truly woven into the community's fabric (high school, rec leagues, club leagues, non-traditional sports). Yes, yes. I know lots of places do lots of good things with high schools, for instance (though take a look around -- that generally applies only to the "major" sports), but this is still a baseline question that needs discussion. Oh, you'll never answer it to everyone's satisfaction, but it gives an excuse to quaff a few beers to get lubricated for some of the tougher stuff ahead.
- Should we launch an all-out assault on the legality of private or quasi-private associations being able to use public facilities but restrict access? OK, if they can, should we seek to require that they effectively "rent" the facility and pay the cost of all government-funded support services?
- So if you can't use video, can you use stills and audio? (You'll probably be busted on that, too, if the sponsoring organization decides you're sucking traffic from its site.)
- Which leaves us with what? The intrepid scribe (a general term for all reporters, please)? But where does that leave the scribes. All due respect, but much of sports reporting, like the staged events it leads up to, is staged itself. The obligatory and lightly revealing after-game or midweek news conferences, the after-practice sessions, the precleared meetings with players.
- Look, I did it from time to time for AP. No, I don't claim to be a veteran sports reporter, but I did it enough and supervised others who had to do it that I know the trenches. Yes, there is good stuff being done out there, but even more so on sports (and lord knows, it can get bad on the "government" side too) we tend to suck the teat of the hand that feeds us (no letters, please; I meant to write it that way).
Because now, no matter how good your reporter is, in fact the better she is, the more she's likely to piss off someone in the home office. Go find a DVD of "The Paper," for instance, and watch how Penn State's sports department ostracizes a reporter who takes it on her own initiative to actually go get a story instead of waiting to have it handed to her or have it "cleared." ("We don't do things that way" (not an exact quote, but close) is the pompous pronouncement she says she got from the
So, at a time when staffs have been cut sharply -- even in sports -- and now that you don't have the eye candy, do you leave your staffing as is and hope he, she or they come up with the occasional nugget and can outwrite the hell out of the competition? (The Don Quixote approach.)
Do you assign another staffer as the sacrificial lamb, throwing caution (and deference to the SID) to the wind and use that person to go track the stories and those players and coaches down outside their protective cocoons? The reporter doing this is likely to have limited shelf life before he or she is effectively cut off, so you'll probably have to rotate people through -- and of course, there's always the chance the offended parties could cut your whole organization off.
In short, in an era when there is all this talk about pay for content, we have here a budding petri dish in which to examine this idea of value. How do you react and what really is your value proposition when your main source politely tells you to get lost and take your tinsel with you? Oh, and when what's left is being done in decent measure by many of your competitors?
Sports, and the legal ability to take control of the event-related news, just highlights these challenges in an online world. Don't get too smug, Mr. or Ms. City Hall or Statehouse reporter. Yeah, the pols can't throw you out or keep you from recording. But they can ignore you, and they increasingly are with blogs, Facebook, digital governance initiatives, etc. But we're the only ones who can go beyond that surface feed of the City Council meeting and make it make sense, put it in some context, you say? OK, do it, but just like on the sports beat, too often we remain tightly tied to the hands that feed us. (Go tally up sometime the amount coming from press releases, government reports, police blotters, etc.)
"But no one loves us anymore, and they should, because we do this vital public service," goes the cry. Reality check -- most of them, and that includes the public, never loved us. They tolerated us because we were the only or one of the few games in town. But now, in the digital age, when everyone is a publisher and getting that eye candy and finding that other "unique" content is more important than ever, your suppliers are cutting you off. How will you respond?
Leave it to sports - and the SEC, it's greed on full display - to nicely frame things.
*The AP reports that SEC spokesman Charles Bloom "said changes could be made to the 72-hour window, the ban of online video and the definition of an event that currently includes practices and news conferences. He said the league had received complaints from 35-40 news outlets."
UPDATE: The Greenville News' take on all this. Legislators are dismayed. Discussion at the GamecockCentral site.
Further: Came across this wonderful speech by the editor-in-chief at Reuters basically telling the Olympic folks in June that it's a new-media world for them and their rights deals, too. The SEC might want to pass this around HQ.
The Tampa Trib also weighs in with thoughts that fans with their multimedia cell phones might be the biggest threat. Prediction on my part: Before long we will see "leave your cell phone at the door" policies attempted. That should be fun.
The Tuscaloosa News had one of the first stories and has a PDF (6 Mb) of the draft policy.
Here is the SEC's revised policy (PDF). One of its main points appears to be allowing media outlets to have a video player fed from the SEC.
Some other points:
- The new policy defines an "event" only as a game, instead of including practices and news conferences, as the original did.
- No longer restricts access to full-time employees (recognizing that many operations use stringers, freelancers, etc.)
- Media must use the broadcast feed for video, if one is provided. Clips from that feed, limited to three minutes can be used up to seven days, instead of the previous 72 hours. There is no time restriction on video the media outlet shoots itself. The video also can be used for one online simulcast.
- However, here's the kicker: None of the simulcasts may be archived. And the video can be used only for "television" newscasts. Everyone else - papers, fan sites, etc., has to make a separate agreement with the SEC for Internet use, using that player mentioned above. That goes for any digital device. The feed is free, but let's just say I'm uneasy when any one entity controls everything. What about that disputed call for which the broadcast feed might have been out of position, but the TV station's (or these days, newspaper's) videographer had the perfect view? I suppose the outlet could sell the video to the SEC, but it still loses control.
- Here's the odd wording of the day: "Still photographs of the Event (including Bearer Generated Photographs) may be posted on the internet only in connection with and as part of regular print news coverage, including internet print news coverage." Ineternet print news coverage? What the heck is that?
- There's also wording that makes clear local news shops can distribute photos to "accredited media agencies" - a big plus for the AP and other services.