Say It Ain't So, Joe!

Several weeks ago, the small screen delivered the graphic and haunting details of Chris Benoit's last days. Rumors of drug and steroid use added to an already disturbing and unsettling story line. After the initial shock wore off, I looked to the "sport" that created, nurtured and harbored Benoit for an explanation. Professional wrestling is, as many recognize, a sport where the results are fixed, steroids run rampant and violence abounds. Bottom line, I saw it as an isolated incident, indicative of the unique negative attributes of wrestling "theater."

Not so fast, sports fans.

Over the last week, the trinity of Vick, Bonds and Donaghy tag-teamed to prove that the WWF has nothing on the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NBA. Dog-killing QB's, juiced home-run kings and refs caught point-shaving ... is nothing sacred?

Clearly more than isolated incidents, athlete violence (on and off the field), steroid use and even tampered event results will continue to increase in frequency. And somewhere at the scene of the crimes, you'll find TV dollars fueling this bad behavior. Let's face it, along with the inflated egos that are by-products of stardom, comes the bountiful paychecks and gambling dollars that bankroll these vices.

What are TV sports fans to do? Accept the slippery slope? Lower our expectations? Mobilize in an effort to force the "real" sports leagues to return to the values of our youth? Or, if not relegating it to the status of being just another genre of reality TV, do we abandon televised sports altogether?

I say, follow the money. It's about TV contracts, and ultimately, about TV advertising dollars. It comes down to ratings, and the concepts of granular accountability and viewer empowerment. Follow me here.

Like fellow TV Board contributor Mitch Oscar, I, too, have for years been campaigning for reliable, inclusive second-by-second viewing behavior analysis. However, beyond being able to use this data for the purposes of measuring advertising ratings, IPG usage or better gauging DVR behavior, think for a moment about a world where TV viewers are empowered.

Imagine a world where a large portion of households -- say 25 million -- realized that their every remote-control click counted. Supplemented by the connectivity of the Internet, blogs and chat rooms, we would quickly see home-grown, effective campaigns led by TV viewers who will unite to orchestrate "synchronized surfing." To hell with nuts -- the remote control "click" can deliver a louder message, overnight, without the cost of shipping!

America's hunger to be heard, and our industry's failure to empower these viewers, by not demanding that set-top box data be used en masse as the basis for TV ratings, contributes significantly to the feelings of helplessness and alienation felt throughout our TV nation. In a world where every view truly counted, viewers could, for example, send clear messages of disgust by switching channels whenever Michael Vick's face shows up in a game, news story or ad. Sick of being overcharged by your cellphone provider? Switch off their commercials. Don't want to hear any more about Paris Hilton? Bye bye, "ET."

Sure, one could argue that viewers have the ability to switch channels today. However, our votes are not counted. It's not just about the right to look away -- it's about the right to be included in the "look-away tally." Our collective voices are not heard. And the overall results are not reported.

Besides the personal satisfaction we'd be providing to tens of millions of worthy Americans as they vote their conscience dozens of times a day, imagine the incredible amounts of valuable information we would obtain. Consider, too, the newsworthiness of a steady stream of stories surrounding an empowered viewer base who act in unison to express their united consensus about products, people or events.

But, alas, I am a single voice in the matter. And regrettably, any change that does address this hope for a better TV tomorrow will come too late to allow true baseball fans to deliver this message to the Major Baseball League:

"...Here's the pitch from Mitre...Barry Bonds swings and connects... it's a long line drive... Hermida's at the warning track...could it be number 756?....."

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.......