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Dec. 12, 2016 — Scenes from a dying electronic universe

TELESIDE, U.S.A. — Many of you probably live near an enclosed shopping center which is feeling increasing competition from other malls, town centers, and big-box retailers.

Whole websites are dedicated to chronicling so-called “dead” malls, showing blank sheet rock in long dimly-lit hallways, inactive fountains, closed restaurants, and on occasion, broken glass and graffiti.

These are common visuals as a shopping mall loses consumers, consumer traffic, and, eventually, spirals into closure or even demolition.

It’s gotten to be that way whenever a cable television station closes. I remember when Empire Sports Network closed in 2005, a victim of the Adelphia Cable merger scandal as well as the NHL lockout of 2004-05. For seven weeks, Empire showed a repeating loop of talk show and minor-league baseball highlights without original programming.

It was little better a couple of years ago when Al-Jazeera America decided to shut down. The network showed mostly reruns of talk shows and the Al-Jazeera world news broadcasts from Doha, Qatar, but didn’t put forth a cent towards original programming.

There is a television network on some systems called One World Sports, which has, since its founding five years ago, had designs on becoming a true world sports network, showing European ice hockey, the Chinese Arena Football League, darts competition from Sky Sports, and programming from the Ivy Digital Network.

But one of One World’s programming staples was the rights to show New York Cosmos games as well as weekly programming from the North American Soccer League. And we all know how well that turned out.

Today, the programming on One World Sports does not match the programming listings on the viewing guide; it’s on a loop of various reruns, including games which are three weeks old.

The current 500-channel universe is rife with stories about shows and networks and companies which launched with all of the best intentions but were waylaid by outside circumstances, mismanagement, or financial shenanigans.

In truth, I think the worst sin of a sports cable network is a lack of focus. ESPN, back in its early days, set the tone for what it wanted to do with Sports Center. As the first anchor, George Grande, said:

We’ll be filling you in on the pulse of sporting activity, not only around the country, but around the world as well. If it takes an interview, we’ll do it. If it takes play by play, we’ll do it. If it takes commentary, we’ll do that too.

ESPN has done some great work the past three decades from live broadcasts of America’s Cup yacht racing to its camerawork on motorsports to a round-the-clock broadcast of the opening day of college basketball, starting with morning games on the East Coast all the way to games in Alaska and Hawaii that started well after most folks have gone to bed.

The network, however, has dropped a number of athletic competitions that made it a worldwide broadcasting leader. Gone are motorsports, late-night Australian Rules football, and many soccer competitions, and replaced primarily by gridiron football, a sport losing popularity with families and amongst millennials consuming media through digital devices. Indeed, the cord-cutting being done by the latter has caused an economic spasm throughout the U.S. cable industry.

One World, Empire, and Al-Jazeera America aren’t the only television networks to fold or become repurposed. I’ve seen College Sports Television go from a leader in women’s sports to an overflow network for CBS Sports. I’ve seen the World Championship Sports Network go from providing content for various all-sports networks to a full-fledged network, Universal Sports.

Which makes me wonder what is going to happen not only to One World, but Traffic’s other sports partner, beIN, which is owned by Al-Jazeera.

This isn’t over, by any means.

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