SBD/Issue 168/Sports Media

Media Execs Discuss Cost Of Sports Rights At Cable Show

It’s not often that sports programmers and cable operators see eye-to-eye on the state of TV sports these days, but that was the case during a panel session yesterday at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's annual Cable Show in New Orleans. The panel generally agreed that the cost of sports rights are putting “stress” on the business, as Comcast SportsNet President Jon Litner said. But they also described the state of TV sports as generally healthy. “It’s working, but it’s under extreme pressure,” Cox Senior VP/Programming Bob Wilson said. The main disagreement came from deciding where the tipping point will be. Time Warner Cable (TWC) Exec VP & Chief Programming Officer Melinda Witmer said that she has to make decisions for non sports fans that subscribe to TWC’s service and wind up subsidizing sports channels. “We have to find ways to superserve the fan but allow the non-fan to not carry the freight,” she said. ESPN Exec VP/Sales & Marketing Sean Bratches and FSN Network President Randy Freer suggested that there’s still a lot of room for sports to grow. Bratches said operators should communicate that the $50-per-month price tag of an expanded basic package costs less than tickets to most sporting events. And Freer mentioned that the current price of sports on TV “may actually be low when compared to how many people watch sports and how it’s helped the cable business grow.” But Insight Vice Chair & CEO Michael Willner, who moderated the panel, warned that skyrocketing prices could bring federal regulations, “and that could do some serious damage to our business.”

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