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News Corp. COO Chase Carey yesterday “conceded” that the TV sports landscape is "becoming increasingly tricky -- and expensive,” according to Meg James of the L.A. TIMES. Carey said, “We believe we are making the right decisions in navigating this invaluable yet complicated business.” He added that Fox had “no qualms" about its Prime Ticket network losing the "mammoth" Dodgers TV rights deal. Carey said, “Too rich for our blood.” He declined to say if losing the Dodgers rights would "force the company to lower the fees it charges to distributors to carry Prime Ticket.” Cable TV “drove profits" at News Corp. in Q2, but sports “proved to be a double-edged sword.” Expenses at the company's cable network division “jumped 26% in the quarter, largely because of the higher costs of some of its sports deals.” The Fox network “had to pay more because of its expanded coverage of college football.” Then the World Series “lasted only four games in October, robbing the network of its chance to hit a ratings home run” (L.A. TIMES, 2/7). THE WRAP’s Brent Lang noted the topic of sports “dominated" Carey's call with analysts yesterday. Carey “assured analysts and investors that by avoiding shelling out the big fees to air the basketball and baseball games, News Corp. ensured that its regional television business will remain profitable" (THEWRAP.com, 2/6). In N.Y., Amy Chozick reported the “real driver" of News Corp.’s growth came from its cable channels, which reported operating income of $945M, a 7% increase "from the previous year.” The company “continues to invest in sports rights," including the UFC. Carey called speculation about News Corp. introducing a cable sports channel "the world’s worst-kept secret." He declined to comment on "when that channel might make its debut” (NYTIMES.com, 2/6).
ACROSS THE POND: News Corp. execs said the company will "stay the course" with its 39.1% stake in BSkyB. However, Carey indicated that the company "was still looking at the long-term case for either selling the stake or trying again to take full control, after abandoning bid plans in the wake of the UK phone hacking scandal” (FINANCIAL TIMES, 2/7).
TURNER PACES TIME WARNER: Time Warner said that an “increase in advertising revenue and subscription fees paid by cable and satellite companies" to carry channels like TNT and TBS “helped lift net income" in Q4 to $1.17B, up from $773M. The N.Y. TIMES’ Chozick reported subscription and advertising revenues at Time Warner's “suite of cable channels" grew 7% and 3%, respectively, in the quarter, "compared with last year.” An increase in the number of NBA games on Turner channels, as well as “coverage of the presidential election on CNN, led to higher ratings” (NYTIMES.com, 2/6). Time Warner Chair & CEO Jeff Bewkes said Turner has “the strongest lineup of national sports rights than any other network other than ESPN.” However, CABLEFAX DAILY reports “launching a dedicated sports channel isn’t in the cards.” Bewkes: “We are focused on having the right sports” (CABLEFAX DAILY, 2/7).
Dish Network has agreed to carry FS San Diego on its America's Top 120 Plus and Latino Dos packages beginning this April. The RSN, which launched last March, carries Padres, Clippers and Ducks games. Dish says the channel will launch April 1, in time for MLB Opening Day. The deal could put pressure on Time Warner Cable, which has never carried the RSN. AT&T, Cox and DirecTV all have agreed to carriage deals for FS San Diego (John Ourand, Staff Writer). In San Diego, Bill Center writes the Padres are "hoping the dispute between Fox and Time Warner will be resolved before Opening Day." But a statement from TWC yesterday "didn't seem to indicate a deal was any closer than it was a year ago" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 2/7).
Astros games this season will move to KBME-AM, and club President George Postolos said that the club "will make a decision soon on new radio announcers for their new flagship station," according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Postolos said that the move from KTRH-AM, the Astros' flagship station since '99, to KBME "was made at Clear Channel’s request." The Astros will join the Rockets as the "primary professional play-by-play franchises on KBME." Postolos said that the Astros "wanted to remain in business with Clear Channel," and that KBME was "the logical place for Astros regular-season games in addition to spring training games, which have aired on KBME for several years." If there are "springtime game conflicts with the Astros and Rockets, Rockets games will move to KTRH." The Astros' move "will reduce the area in which" the team can be heard at night. Meanwhile, Postolos said that the team "continues to work on assembling its new broadcast teams." Barron noted the "front-runner for the radio analyst’s job is Steve Sparks, who worked last year as a studio analyst for Fox Sports Houston." The most recent candidate "to emerge for the play-by-play job" is K.C.-based KCSP-AM's Robert Ford. Also still to be named are "the announcers who will join veteran Bill Brown on television." Former Astros announcer Alan Ashby has said that he is "returning to Houston after working for the Blue Jays since 2007, but that hire has not been confirmed." Former MLBer Geoff Blum also is expected to "join the network to work games that Brown does not call and to work as a studio analyst" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 2/6).
I'M LIVING ON THE AIR IN CINCINNATI: In Cincinnati, John Kiesewetter noted the Reds and WLW-AM on Tuesday announced the "renewal of the radio rights agreement to broadcast all regular and postseason games through 2017." As part of the agreement, WLW will "serve as the flagship for the Reds Radio Network, one of the largest in sports with 93 affiliates in nine states." WLW first broadcast the Reds in 1924, and has been the team's "exclusive local radio outlet" since '69. For Spring Training, "all but four split-squad games" will be broadcast on WLW, Fox Sports WSAI-AM or "streamed at Reds.com as part of the team's new radio rights extension." WLW will air 16 games while WSAI "will carry 11 weekday games starting Feb. 26" (CINCINNATI.com, 2/5).
SPRING IS NEAR: The Tigers yesterday announced that 35 of 36 Spring Training games “will be called on” WXYT-AM by Dan Dickerson and Jim Price, with the “lone exception being the road portion of a split-squad game against the Yankees on March 2.” Four games also will be televised on FS Detroit (DETROITNEWS.com, 2/6).
Former UFC fighter Randy Couture and Spike have agreed to "a two-year development deal and greenlighted two unscripted" shows, according to Lesley Goldberg of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Couture under the agreement will "serve as one of four coaches" on a Spike show called "Fight Master: Bellator MMA," which would be similar in style to NBC's "The Voice." Couture will also do "MMA Rescue," which would be similar in style to Fox' "Kitchen Nightmares." Couture for "Fight Master" will oversee 32 up-and-coming fighters "looking to brawl their way through a win-or-go-home format into the Bellator tournament and a six-figure cash prize." The Couture-produced three-episode "MMA Rescue" will feature him using "his years of experience in the business of MMA to help turn failing gyms into successful businesses." Couture's deal also includes a "first look at new projects in a number of content categories, with Spike open to nonsports efforts" and Spike Exec VP/Original Series Sharon Levy "not ruling out a scripted venture" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 2/5). Levy said that "Fight Master" "won't feature the debauchery characteristic of many reality shows." Levy: "It's not going to be a bunch of drunk guys running around acting like idiots. We wanted to give something for the die hard MMA fans but also create a show for the people who are coming to the sport, giving a much more robust, in-depth understanding of [what] the sport is -- strategy, technique" (SI.com, 2/5).
NO GOING BACK: In Las Vegas, Adam Hill noted UFC President Dana White is "fuming at news" of Couture's agreement with Spike. White said that he is "happy he won't have to deal with Couture again." White: "I don't respect him at all, not even a little bit" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 2/5). Couture said, "If Dana's anything he's predictable. You know how he's going to be. We anticipated that. We kind of knew where it was gonna end up. It's unfortunate that it has to be that way, because I don't think it's necessary. But Dana's Dana." ESPN.com's Josh Gross wrote Couture believes his deal with Spike "signifies a 'death sentence'" with the UFC. Couture: "All the things that have taken place in the last couple weeks, I'd be surprised if there's an opportunity to come back. I don't think there's any going back" (ESPN.com, 2/5).
Former college QBs John David Booty, Josh Booty, Doug Flutie, David Greene and Ryan Perrilloux will compete for an invitation to D'Backs Spring Training in MLB Network’s first-ever reality series competition titled "The Next Knuckler," premiering next Wednesday at 9:00pm ET. The show is produced by MLB Productions and co-hosted by former MLBer Tim Wakefield, a knuckleball pitcher, and MLB Network's Kevin Millar. The five former QBs will compete against one another to determine who can throw the best knuckleball (MLB Network).
SOCIAL SECURITY: In N.Y., Brian Stelter noted Twitter will acquire Cambridge, Mass.-based Bluefin Labs, a company that "analyzes online chatter about TV shows and companies and sells its findings." A source said that Twitter is paying "nearly" $100M for Bluefin, which "will remain a separate arm of Twitter" (NYTIMES.com, 2/5).
CITY OF ANGELS: In L.A., Eric Pincus noted Time Warner Cable "has made both TWC SportsNet and TWC Deportes available for Internet and mobile viewing." Subscribers through TWC and DirecTV can "watch Lakers games on their computers, Android tablets and phones, iPads and iPhones." In addition to Lakers games, "all network programming can be accessed" including MLS Galaxy and WNBA Sparks games (LATIMES.com, 2/2).
TOBACCO ROAD WARRIOR: Caulton Tudor, "whose sports columns for The News & Observer and Raleigh Times have informed and entertained readers for more than 40 years," will retire on March 1. Tudor "has been a fixture in ACC press boxes and press rows since 1969" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 2/7).