Round Two: NBC held the Bucks hostage for $5.99 and Ohio paid the ransom

Head shot of Tom Hardesty, a white man with short hair in a grey golf polo with the caption "Round Two with Tom Hardesty"

So, how about those Buckeyes! They looked great in that 41-7 win at Purdue last Saturday, didn’t they?

That question is for those of you — likely those few of you — who actually ponied up the $5.99 to buy a month’s subscription to Peacock, NBC’s streaming platform which had exclusive broadcast rights to the Ohio State-Purdue game. You’re the only ones who can answer that question, because you’re the only ones who saw the game.

As for everyone else, I’m sure Ohio State radio play-by-play announcer Paul Keels and analyst Jim Lachey did their usual fantastic job calling all the action for the Scarlet and Gray. Unless you bought a Peacock subscription, already had one or used someone else’s password Saturday, you partied like it was 1973 instead of 2023, back when just about every Buckeyes game except Michigan and the Rose Bowl was relegated to radio.

Some of you prefer listening to games on the radio, I know. I love radio, too. But there are two main points here:

Point 1: Most people would prefer to see the action rather than imagine it.

Point 2: If you already pay for NBC through your cable or satellite service, you shouldn’t have to pay NBC a second time to watch the game on Peacock. That’s double-dipping.

Peacock is owned by NBC Universal. NBC has already broadcast one Ohio State game this year, the Buckeyes’ 17-14 instant-classic win at Notre Dame on Sept. 23. That game was shown on NBC — linear television, it’s called now. That’s the new term for the old term: regular TV. The OSU-ND game was a ratings bonanza for NBC, ending up as the network’s most-watched college football broadcast since 1993 with an average of 10.5 million viewers. It peaked at 14.2 million viewers during Ohio State’s game-winning drive in the final minute, making it the most-watched regular-season college football game in prime time since 2018 (not counting Labor Day Weekend broadcasts). 

Which begs the question: Why would NBC want to squirrel away the Ohio State-Purdue game on its streaming platform when the Buckeyes do such brisk business on the main network?

No, the Boilermakers aren’t the ratings draw that the Fighting Irish are. But NBC surely would have had far higher ratings for last Saturday’s game on its linear broadcast than on streaming.

Ohio Sen. Bill DeMora (D-Columbus) gave this answer to WOUB Public Media on Oct. 17: “Let’s face it — it’s the greediness,” he said.

And that sums it up. It was a way to squeeze another $5.99 out of wallets — wallets that, in most cases, were already opened up for NBC once already.

“It’s disappointing for my constituents and for Ohio State fans and for everybody in Franklin County, the state of Ohio to be blackmailed to sign up for a streaming service or you can’t get to watch the game,” DeMora said.

So DeMora wants to do something about NBC’s corporate blackmail of college football fans: He’s planning to sponsor a bill to ban Ohio’s public colleges and universities from airing games only on streaming platforms.

Good for him. It’s the right thing to do. If someone only wants Peacock, then they can watch the game on Peacock; that’s their prerogative. But games should be made available across all network platforms. That way, there’s no double-dipping.

Eventually, streaming is going to be the only option. That day is coming. And then, with cable and satellite successfully killed off and no competition standing in the way, those $5.99 monthly streaming subscriptions are going to skyrocket. That’s coming, too. If they can milk $5.99 from someone who is already paying for a network, just imagine what they can milk when there is no other option available. You’ll either pay it, or you won’t get to watch it.

Just like last Saturday.

I thought long and hard about signing up for that Peacock subscription to watch the game. One minute, I thought, Screw them, they’re not getting my money. They’re already getting my money. The next minute, I thought, Why should I cheat myself out of watching the game? Is it worth falling on the sword of pro-consumerism just to make a point to … no one? So I agonized over it for a week, going back and forth over what to do.

On the one hand, I knew full well that NBC was blackmailing Ohio State and Purdue fans, dangling that carrot just above our fingertips. Just $5.99, guys, and the Buckeyes and Boilermakers are all yours,’ I could hear the smug suits at NBC say. ‘Do it, you know you want to.’

On the other hand, a purchase could be justified this way: You don’t just get the Ohio State-Purdue game, you get everything else that comes along with a $5.99 subscription to Peacock. Whatever everything else is.

That takes the story to about 11:50 a.m. Saturday. The game was scheduled to kick off at noon. I still hadn’t decided: Was I going to be blackmailed, or was I going to take a stand for the little guy?

I looked at the time: 11:52. Tick tick tick tick tick. 11:53 …

So how did the Buckeyes look last Saturday? I’m $5.99 lighter, but they looked real good.

I know I rewarded NBC’s negative behavior, but as consumers, we’re stuck in that position a lot: Should I make a point, or should I cheat myself out of something I enjoy? Where do you draw that line?

Thankfully, Sen. DeMora is going to try to draw that line for us. The Big Ten Conference is in the first season of a new seven-year, $7 billion (that’s not a typo, it’s $7 billion) deal with Fox, CBS and NBC. Part of that agreement with NBC is to show some streaming-exclusive games on Peacock. Banning that in Ohio won’t really hurt NBC because by making broadcasts simultaneously available on its linear network and Peacock, more Buckeye eyeballs would be on the screen — and we wouldn’t be forced to make choices we’re not all that happy about either way.

“They sign this billion-dollar TV contract so they can have all these networks cover their games,” DeMora said, “and they forget about the little guy.”

Hopefully, the little guy is about to win one for a change.

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Tom Hardesty is a Portager sports columnist. He was formerly assistant sports editor at the Record-Courier and author of the book Glimpses of Heaven.