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The Univ. of Texas today will announce a 20-year, $300M deal with ESPN to create the Longhorn Network, the first-of-its-kind channel to broadcast live UT athletic events, shoulder programming and non-sports university content. The Longhorn Network will launch in the fall and will be owned by ESPN, which will pay the school a rights fee that averages $15M a year, sources said. In addition, ESPN has committed close to $400M in production value to the channel over the 20-year term. IMG College, the Longhorns’ multimedia rights holder, negotiated the deal with UT. All three parties -- UT, ESPN and IMG -- signed the contract, sources said, because some of the rights had to be sublicensed from IMG, while other rights came directly from the university. In addition to the channel, Texas makes more than $10M a year from its multimedia rights agreement with IMG, which will give the school an annual revenue stream of about $25M for its multimedia rights and the channel combined. The Longhorns’ budget for the '10-11 fiscal year, already the nation’s richest, is $137M (Ourand & Smith, SportsBusiness Journal). UT President William Powers said that he anticipates the new net “would carry one or two football games, a larger but unspecified number of men’s basketball games and a variety of other men’s and women’s sports, including volleyball and swimming.” He added that non-athletic programming is “likely to run for about three hours a day and include musical performances, plays, and documentaries by faculty members and students.” Powers: “This will be high-level, entertaining cultural, music, scientific, Discovery Channel, History Channel kind of stuff. And we have a team put together working on it, and that will be done in collaboration with ESPN” (STATESMAN.com, 1/19).
EXCEPTION TO THE NORM: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes there is "not much chance" that other universities will follow UT in securing their own networks. Only the "big-time programs could assume there'd be much viewer interest in their niche sports, but unlike in the Big 12, TV deals for the power conferences such as the SEC, Big Ten, Big East and ACC preclude their schools from starting their own channels" (USA TODAY, 1/19).
The FCC and the Department of Justice have approved Comcast's deal "to take a majority stake" in GE's NBC Universal, but the FCC "didn't give carte blanche to Comcast," according to Joe Flint of the L.A. TIMES. The approval was "contingent upon Comcast Corp. agreeing to conditions that the government hopes will [rein] in the media giant." Comcast also "made commitments to boost NBC Universal's news and public affairs programming." The conditions, "most of which run seven years, include requirements that Comcast make its content available to rival cable and satellite distributors as well as online distributors." Comcast also "has to sell its content to online distributors at the same price it offers it to cable and satellite companies." The FCC said it will require Comcast to "offer standalone broadband Internet access services at reasonable prices and of sufficient bandwidth so that customers can access online video services without the need to purchase a cable television subscription from Comcast." Comcast has said that it "hopes to close the deal on Jan. 28" (LATIMES.com, 1/18). In Philadelphia, Jeff Gelles writes the deal "will change the entertainment and communications landscape for years to come," and its "potential effect was nowhere more clear than in the extraordinary list of conditions" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/19). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Vascellaro & Catan report under the settlement agreement, Comcast "won't be allowed to withhold NBC programming and Comcast regional sports networks from its pay-TV and online competitors in many instances." Comcast also "will be required to set aside a number of channels for independent programmers and agreed to keep NBC network programming on free over-the-air TV stations." A "fair number" of the FCC's conditions "were expected." Still, analysts said that their "number and scope were significant and further illustrate the challenges Comcast will face in using NBC Universal's content to its advantage, as it tries to fend off new pay TV rivals while reviving struggling areas of the media conglomerate" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/19).
CONDITIONS OF THE APPROVAL: DAILY VARIETY's Ted Johnson noted the conditions imposed by the FCC and DOJ "include a requirement that Comcast submit to arbitration to resolve disputes over prices and terms for rights to carry the combined cable and broadcast channels, as well as regional sports networks" (VARIETY.com, 1/18). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Georg Szalai cited observers as saying that a "process that the FCC established for cases where rivals believe that Comcast isn't making NBC Universal content available to them at fair rates could in some cases mean the company will fetch lower price boosts than it may otherwise be able to." But Comcast "emphasized Tuesday that the process also ensures more clarity for its own management team" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/18). USA TODAY's David Lieberman writes the FCC and DOJ "did something remarkable on Tuesday: They came up with a set of conditions on a major business deal ... that leading consumer advocates and company executives both like." Now, fans of "local sports and news channels in Comcast's cable markets should have more choice." Also, the FCC's terms "could end disputes such as the one Comcast has had with Dish Network," which has alleged that Comcast "unfairly withheld its Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia regional sports network" (USA TODAY, 1/19). The INQUIRER's Gelles notes Philadelphia-area sports fans "should finally be able to get Comcast SportsNet via satellite TV" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/19).
MORE PROGRAMMING: USA TODAY's Lieberman notes the conditions are "designed to promote competition and boost the amount of TV programming for kids, local communities and minorities" (USA TODAY, 1/19). In DC, Cecilia Kang notes Comcast "will offer more children's programming and local news," and the company "will also offer low-income households Internet service for $9.99 a month and stand-alone broadband Internet subscriptions for $49.99." Comcast also "agreed to share NBC channels to online video providers who strike deals for similar content with competitors" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/19). In N.Y., Claire Atkinson reports Comcast is "being forced to add more kids' shows to its on-demand service, expand the diversity of shows for Hispanic viewers and add 10 new independently owned channels to digital services" (N.Y. POST, 1/19). Also in N.Y., Brian Stelter reported Comcast was "not forced to sell off any assets," though it did agree to "give up NBC's management role in Hulu ... while retaining a financial stake" (NYTIMES.com, 1/18).
Peachtree TV is “turning over production of its 45 Braves games to Fox Sports South, which will use its own crews and broadcasters,” according to David O’Brien of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. Outside of the "Atlanta viewing area, Peachtree games will be carried on Fox Sports South or Fox-owned SportSouth.” Those games will “carry the Peachtree brand, but only on the broadcasts carried by PTV.” Fox officials “did not immediately say which broadcasters would work the additional games, or whether those plans were finalized.” Broadcasters Joe Simpson and Chip Caray “worked Fox Sports South and SportSouth games last season, and Simpson teamed with Ernie Johnson on Peachtree with John Smoltz adding frequent analysis.” Turner Broadcasting’s Peachtree TV is “turning over its management to Meredith Corp. -- the company that runs CBS Atlanta.” For the first time since ‘72, no Braves games “will be produced by Turner crews, other than occasional Braves appearances on TBS’ national game of the week.” Peachtree TV is “contracted to carry about 45 Braves games annually” through ’13 (AJC.com, 1/18).
SI.com's Richard Deitsch reported HBO this week "completed the rough cut for its upcoming" documentary about UNLV's men's basketball team titled, "Runnin' Rebels of UNLV," set to debut on March 12. The documentary, centering on the program under coach Jerry Tarkanian, will be narrated by actor Liev Schreiber. HBO Sports co-Producer George Roy said, "The signature elements of it are somewhat obvious -- the 1990 and 1991 teams were the teams that everyone connect to UNLV. But this is also about Jerry's era. He got there in 1973 and almost right away changed the face of basketball at UNLV and brought a lot of attention to the school, positively and negatively." Roy said that HBO "attempted to get NCAA vice president David Berst, the original investigator in the case against Tarkanian and UNLV, but he and many others in the NCAA declined to speak" (SI.com, 1/17).
SERVE & VOLLEY: Fox Business Network has teamed up with Tennis Channel for the second straight year to "bring viewers daily updates of market moves and courtside play" during the '11 Grand Slam events (SI.com, 1/18). Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Tom Jones wrote viewers are "the ones hurt most" by tennis analyst Mary Carillo's departure from ESPN. Jones: "There is no better analyst in tennis -- and very few sports analysts period -- better than Carillo" (TAMPABAY.com, 1/18).
SAFE AT HOME? In Salt Lake City, Scott Pierce notes the forthcoming Showtime series chronicling the MLB Giants' season will "have the cooperation of both the Giants and Major League Baseball, and it will be produced by MLB Productions." Pierce: "So if the truth is particularly unflattering, it will get edited out." Showtime Entertainment President David Nevins insisted MLB officials are "interested in really telling an honest story." But Pierce writes, "That seems unlikely. Unless that story is squeaky clean. And, if it's squeaky clean, that makes for bad reality TV" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 1/19).
NOTES: SportsNet N.Y. and the Jets yesterday announced that they have renewed their TV and marketing partnership. The multiyear agreement features access to Jets players, coaches and execs. SNY also retains the right to distribute Jets content via SNY.tv (SNY)....FoxSoccer.com drew 1.4 million unique users during December '10, up 109% from December '09, and its highest total ever for a month not including World Cup or European Championship play (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).