Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Me and some of my colleagues here at Ole Miss are considering putting together a football video chronicling the history of Ole Miss football. In the process of trying to get permissions cleared up, I was shocked to learn that the university has sold many of the rights to its stock footage to an independent production company. In other words, the university doesn't even own the rights to its own games! Apparently, this independent company will make the material available (for a fee, of course) to consumers through online downloading.

That just goes to show you how valuable sports content is in today's market, a lesson that is not lost on the Southeastern Conference. Every year, the SEC revises and updates its media credentialing policy; rules that define who can cover its games and what they can publish or broadcast. What made this year's guidelines so controversial were several new rules, including restricting the use of photos and broadcast material on newspaper web sites, a virtual ban on all user-generated videography, limited blogging and a stipulation that only full-time salaried employees could get credentials.

Obviously, such rules created a firestorm of negative reaction among the media. Three leading media organizations affiliated with The Associated Press officially protested the policy. "The SEC and some other big college conferences want to become publishing and broadcasting businesses now," said David Tomlin, The Associated Press' associate general counsel. "They see the pro leagues doing it and they think it's the way to go. So the strategy is to push independent news coverage into a corner to make room for their own information services and programming.

Essentially, the SEC was trying to become both content provider and distributor, taking control of content created by media outlets covering the games. Although the SEC listened to the complaints and has revised its policy (you can see the final version here), there is no doubt that Pandora's Box is now open. The conference will undoubtedly try again, because sports content is simply too valuable, especially for a hot product like the SEC. This tug-of-war is going to continue, with more and more content providers getting into the areas of distribution and ownership (notice how Mr. Tomlin said, "The SEC and other big college conferences ... ") It's a dangerous sign for the traditional sports media, despite what appears to be a victory for the moment.


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