NFL's Online Video Policies Debated

By: The satiric video posted on the Houston Chronicle's Web site tries to answer the question of how long -- or short -- is 45 seconds.

One reporter hovers nearby wielding a stopwatch as another poses a question to Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. Before Schaub can answer, the timer calls out, 'And we are done.' The two reporters dart away, leaving a puzzled Schaub to shrug his shoulders at the camera.

The scene pokes fun at the NFL's policy limiting media organizations to 45 seconds of online video per day of team personnel shot on club property. The abrupt Schaub interview is one of several in the clip that combined aren't supposed to exceed 45 seconds.

Before last season, the NFL didn't have a policy governing online video for the simple reason that there wasn't anything to address. But as technologies evolve -- along with the desires and expectations of fans -- sports leagues and media organizations can disagree on appropriate uses.

'We have to walk a fine line,' NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. 'We have to balance access to news coverage while also protecting our key business assets. We have to draw the line at what's news and what's video programming.'

In the past, a clear line existed between print and television. Newspapers wrote as much as they wanted. The NFL governed what kinds of footage TV stations could show through contracts for broadcast rights.

'For newspapers, it's just a continuation of what we do in print,' said Jim Jenks, the executive sports editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer. As past president of the Associated Press Sports Editors, Jenks met with NFL officials last fall to discuss the online video policy.

'Our business is changing, and we are not just print anymore,' Jenks added. 'We are just asking to have that respected.'

NFL franchises have the legal power to require media organizations to agree to certain stipulations before issuing credentials to access team facilities. The league's initial online video policy prohibited media outlets from using postgame interview footage on their Web sites and limited them to a are asonable amount' of coverage during the week. The rules were changed during the offseason to allow footage of postgame interviews, but the 45-second rule was imposed on all clips.

'When you start running full press conferences or stringing together long interviews, it's becoming a television show,' Aiello said.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL don't have similar policies, but Jenks is concerned they might follow suit if the NFL rules stand. Aiello said the league is open to amending the restrictions but didn't expect any changes before the start of the season.

Media outlets can show their own reporters for an unlimited amount of time, and the rules don't cover interviews conducted outside team facilities. Simulcasts of TV news programs are allowed. Clips cannot continuously remain on sites for more than 24 hours, though they can be reused later. Videos also can't have their own advertising sponsors.

Commissioner Roger Goodell set the policy in consultation with committees of team owners, Aiello said.

Aiello views online videos as a way for newspapers to 'complement and supplement stories.' The 45 seconds are enough to provide fans with what they need to know, he said.

'Anything memorable in interviews is said in less than that time,' Aiello said.

To Jenks, 45 seconds aren't enough to serve fans journalistically. And the unlimited videos on league Web sites are no substitute, he said.

'The fan knows when you are asking the hard questions and when you are asking softball questions,' Jenks said.

Aiello noted that the NFL made other policy changes to attempt to increase media access this offseason. More local TV stations will be allowed to shoot sideline footage at games. The NFL also adopted league-wide policies guaranteeing reporters' abilities to interview assistant coaches and attend offseason workouts.

Aiello acknowledged that the video policy is also informed by the fact that media organizations are essentially in competition with league properties such as team Web sites, and the NFL Network.

'It's a business opportunity we have to carefully manage that never existed before,' he said.

It's common for companies to initially try to restrict new media, said Wendy Seltzer, a Fellow with The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. But 'it seems to be cutting off the nose to spite the face.'

'This fight for control in new media seems to be a misunderstanding of what these media are about,' she said. 'They are a way to allow people to connect with one another and engage in their own conversations. Posting clips to YouTube is not a substitute for watching a game. It drives you back to the next one.'

Rick Gentile, a former executive producer for CBS Sports, recalled how the NCAA embraced the more-is-better philosophy. His network used to question why the organization allowed Disney-owned ESPN to broadcast programming from Final Four venues when CBS owned the rights to televise the event.

'The NCAA would say, 'We need that kind of attention,'' said Gentile, now the director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll, which measures public opinion on sports issues.

The NCAA encountered its own new media conundrum last month, though. A newspaper reporter was ejected from a press box during the baseball tournament for providing game updates on a blog. The NCAA later clarified its policy to say some sorts of live updates are allowed.

Regardless, the NFL draws ratings the NCAA can only dream of. Even if restricting online video fails to capitalize on an opportunity to stoke fan interest, it won't put much of a dent in the NFL's massive popularity.

Said Gentile, 'The league is not in any jeopardy of not getting enough attention.'


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