(Update: Crisis aborted! It's all good!)
As many fans in metro Detroit found out at the last minute, the cable provider WOW! blacked out the Pistons season opener last night. I was at the game (and don't subscribe to WOW!), but from what I gather the pregame show broadcasted as scheduled before suddenly switching to a college football game on standard-def and a poker show on HD just before the start of the actual game. What's going on?
In the past, games were split between Fox Sports Detroit and TV20, but this year, Fox Sports Detroit acquired the rights to show every non-nationally televised game, meaning they're showing 34 additional games from last year. As such, the license for cable providers to broadcast those additional games increased. At this point, every cable company has agreed to the increase in cost except for two three: WOW!, Buckeye Cable (which services Toledo, Northwest Ohio and parts of Southeast Michigan) and Broadstripe. (Edit: added Broadstripe -- thanks Bill)
So what does this mean? Until further notice, WOW! subscribers are out of luck. They're not completely in the cold, but 34 games will be blacked out, and (at this point) there's no way of knowing which games that will include. (That said, if you want to watch Saturday and Monday's game, head to a friend's house.)
I subscribed to WOW! at my old house, and the only reason I'm not still a subscriber is because they don't offer service in my new neighborhood. But when I was a customer, they offered a competitive price that was locked in for a long time, a DVR with superior software than Comcast, and, from my experience, better customer service. I liked the company, I liked how they're smaller than some of the other big conglomerates ... but as a basketball fan, this is unacceptable. Not offering NBA League Pass was annoying enough; not offering games that every other provider shows on basic cable is reason to switch.
I asked both sides to comment -- here's Fox Sports Detroit's official statement:
Fox Sports Detroit is now the exclusive local TV home for the Pistons, televising an additional 34 games this season for a total of 70, the most ever by our network. The vast majority of our local cable systems have decided to make all of these games available to their subscribers, yet some have not.
Pistons fans may wish to contact their cable provider to see whether they might offer these additional 34 games. Your feedback and input does matter and is appreciated by your video service provider.
If WOW! responds to my inquiry, I'll post their statement, as well. In the meantime, if you're affected by this, you have a decision to make. For this to resolve itself soon, enough people will have to call WOW! and complain (here's their customer care number: 1-866-496-9669). I hate to pin this all on WOW!, but if every other provider in the state has agreed, perhaps the additional cost is simply the cost of doing business.
If this drags on, though, you may need to be more proactive. Switching cable/internet providers can be awfully annoying, but moving to Comcast, enjoying the promotional rate for six months and then switching back to WOW! looks awfully appealing, especially since you might save a few bucks in the process.