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Fox yesterday formally announced plans to convert Speed into its new Fox Sports 1 cable network, and the company said that the channel will debut on Aug. 17 "in more than 90 million homes," making it the "largest sports cable launch in history," according to Mike Reynolds of MULTICHANNEL NEWS. FS1 will "feature 4,800 hours of live programming, 55% of which will consist of live hours, including events, news and original programming." FS1 on its first day will "feature live events throughout the day, including a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race from Michigan and 'UFC on FS1 1' in primetime." FS1 initially will carry football and basketball from the Big 12, Pac-12 and Conference USA, the Big Ten football championship game and soccer coverage from the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and the CONCACAF Champions League. The Pac-12 championship game will air on FS1 in '14. A news program called "Fox Sports Live" will air nightly at 11:00pm ET and go "head-to-head with ESPN's 'SportsCenter.'" A morning newscast will “launch in January 2014 leading into the network's coverage of Super Bowl XLVIII.” Regis Philbin will host "Rush Hour," which will air at 5:00pm daily. The show will be “styled after 'The View' with Philbin serving as the host of a panel that will rotate between sports professionals, celebrity guests and fans.” It will be followed by "Fox Football Daily," an "extension" of "Fox NFL Sunday.” The launch efforts will be "aided in part" by News Corp. Senior Exec VP David Hill, who formerly was Fox Sports Media Group Chair (MULTICHANNELNEWS.com, 3/5). FSMG co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks said, “Building credibility and trust with our audience is paramount, so naturally we’ll provide the staples, like news, scores and highlights, but we’ll do it in a Fox Sports way” (VARIETY.com, 3/5).
MORE CONTENT DETAILS: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes FS1 in '14 will "carry regular-season MLB games for 26 weeks -- but the Fox broadcast network will go from its 26-week schedule to just 12 regular-season game broadcast windows." Fox said that an "unspecified number of its MLB postseason games, in divisional and league championsip series play, will migrate to FS1, as will an unspecified number of NASCAR Sprint Cup races and UFC mixed-martial arts events." FS1 will "do an NFL pregame show that begins before Fox's and CBS' broadcast network shows -- thus taking on the ESPN and NFL Network pregame shows." FS1 also will "take on ESPN and HBO Sports in sports documentaries." Its "Being" series "begins in the fall with a film on Mike Tyson" (USA TODAY, 3/6). Philbin yesterday at the announcement said about his involvement with the net, "We originally talked about a once-a-month special, but then it came to this." FSMG Exec VP/Programming & Research Bill Wanger said of the 81-year-old Philbin, "When Regis was on with Kelly it was No. 1 in syndication among viewers 18-to-34. Regis has appeal across young and old" (NYTIMES.com, 3/5). In Tampa, Eric Deggans wrote, “I wonder if Philbin demonstrates an attempt to hit ESPN where they might be weakest: the entertainment world” (TAMPABAY.com, 3/5). Meanwhile, the AP's Rachel Cohen noted Fox yesterday "wasn't ready to announce" a deal with the Catholic 7, but Fox execs were "happy to talk up the ratings draw the league will provide." FSMG co-President & co-COO Randy Freer said the undisclosed league is an ''iconic basketball brand.'' He added that it will be "one of the top hoops conferences in the country" (AP, 3/5).
White (l) and Rousey took part
in Fox Sports 1 announcement
CHARLOTTE'S ROLE: Speed VP/Media Relations Erik Arneson said that despite the Charlotte-based channel morphing into FS1, the city will "continue to be the base for motorsports coverage." He added that minimal job losses can be "expected through redundancies, however, and some changes in jobs are likely." Shanks said that Charlotte probably will "pick up additional production duties from the New York and West Coast hubs." In Charlotte, Mark Washburn notes Speed's main studio already is "undergoing renovations for the Fox Sports 1 change and design bids are being sought for a new master set." Arneson said that Barrett-Jackson car auctions will "continue on the new network, but other Speed lifestyle shows -- including reality series 'Car Warriors' and 'Hard Parts: South Bronx' -- will probably not have a future" on FS1 (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 3/6).
ALTERNATIVE TO ESPN: Hill said that FS1 launches "with an eye toward offering a viable alternative to ESPN." He said, "It's going to take a while. We’re not expecting to knock ESPN off in a week or two." Hill added it will take "two to three years" before FS1 can compete with ESPN on equal footing. But AD WEEK's Anthony Crupi wrote FS1 is "going to take some early shots at the hegemonic sports brand." Hill "refused to entertain a few leading questions about ESPN's perceived 'weaknesses.'" He instead said that FS1 is "going to do its best to help fans overcome the 'inertia' of the past 33 years." He added it will do so "until there are two viable alternatives." ESPN President John Skipper said, "As long as we don’t let anyone else get a market share lead in mobile, or in apps or in something new that comes along, we’ll be hard to displace" (ADWEEK.com, 3/5). Wanger said that Fox already is "eyeing rights" to the NBA, and is "ready to pounce" should the NFL create an additional package of games for cable. In a statement echoed by several other ESPN spokespeople, Senior VP/Corporate Communications Chris LaPlaca said, "We like our position. We have always had vigorous competition, so there is really nothing substantially new here." In L.A., Joe Flint noted while ESPN "won't take Fox Sports 1 lightly, the outlets that will be more immediately concerned about News Corp.'s entry into the national cable television marketplace are Comcast's NBC Sports Network and the CBS Sports Network." Neither NBCSN nor CBSSN has "emerged as a real threat to ESPN, and now Fox Sports 1 is poised to become No. 2 when it flips the switch on Aug. 17" (LATIMES.com, 3/5). News. Corp COO Chase Carey yesterday said Fox was not "trying to beat ESPN." He added, "That wouldn't make sense to me." He said that demand for sports content was "robust enough for Fox to build a multi-billion dollar business around Fox Sports 1 without competing head-on with ESPN" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/6).
COMPARING APPLES AND ORANGES: The COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW’s Robert Weintraub writes the move on one front “isn’t much of a gamble" by News Corp. Chair & CEO Rupert Murdoch. Live sports have “proven to be a reliable ratings draw in this age of the DVR and online viewership.” The “real question is whether ESPN will ever have to sweat” FS1. While the “temptation to compare the Bristol gang to CNN at the launch of Fox News Channel in 1996 is inviting, the analogy doesn’t fully convince.” ESPN’s 30-plus years of “market dominance and unfettered brand extension won’t be nearly as easily overcome as was CNN, which suffered not only from complacency and brand awareness, but also from the overcharged emotions and loyalties of politics.” For all of ESPN’s “annoying tics and pointless debates, few, with the possible exception of hockey fans, would seriously accuse the network of bias or favoritism” (CJR.org, 3/6).
SUB FEES LIKELY TO RISE: On Long Island, Neil Best reports Fox yesterday would "not say what it will charge distributors to carry the channel, but inevitably its existence will lead to a rise in the monthly subscription fees charged to distributors." The combination of ad revenues and the monthly fees is the "pillar on which ESPN's empire was built, and the source of riches other media companies now are trying to tap after giving ESPN a three-decade head start" (NEWSDAY, 3/6). In N.Y., Claire Atkinson notes SNL Kagan data shows that Speed "receives 31 cents per month per home from distributors." Analysts predict FS1 will "get between 75 cents and $1" (N.Y. POST, 3/6).
Byrne said consumers' "appetite for sports
seeems insatiable" despite the competition
WATCH ON THE GO: Fox as part of its announcement yesterday said it plans in August to launch Fox Sports Go, a comprehensive mobile app streaming content from Fox, FS1 and the company's 22 RSNs. Also included in the app will be scores, highlights, news, stats and other basic material. The product, similar to ESPN's WatchESPN, will allow for mobile viewing on an authenticated basis, with more than 1,000 live games and events planned for the first year. "Ultimately, the goal is to be able to watch everything from Fox (Sports) on an authenticated basis," said Freer. Fox' recent programming and distribution agreements have contemplated a TV Everywhere strategy deployed through a product such as Fox Sports Go, Freer said. "We think we're going to have a powerful mobile product in the market, where everything is unified in this single product, instead of scattered through a handful of various apps." Fox Sports Go will be able for iOS and Android devices and the mobile web (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).
The Dodgers’ TV rights deal with Time Warner Cable “has hit a major-league snag,” according to Josh Kosman of the N.Y. POST. Sources said that Guggenheim Partners and other team owners “could lose as much as” $1B of the money from TWC to MLB’s revenue-sharing plan “because of the way the deal is structured.” A source said that TWC is "guaranteeing” its new RSN will get “$4 a month from every eligible Los Angeles-area household -- whether its pay-TV provider carries the new RSN or not.” Sources said that MLB may treat that money “more like cash from a stadium naming-rights deal and force the Dodgers to share it with the other 29 MLB clubs.” Guggenheim “hasn’t submitted the contract” to MLB’s N.Y. office “because it fears baseball will rule that part of the ... cash must be shared.” A source said, “This is highway robbery. Nothing from the media side is supposed to go into revenue sharing” (N.Y. POST, 3/6).
OPEN TO DEBATE: In San Diego, Matthew Hall noted the City Council's Rules & Economic Development Committee has "invited representatives" from FS San Diego and TWC to a special meeting on March 14 to discuss distribution of Padres games. It will be the "first public hearing of its kind” a year into an impasse that affected about 40% of the county last season (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 3/5).
The challenge for Showtime Sports and Exec VP & GM Stephen Espinoza in the wake of the company's deal with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. is to “maximize their time together ... and make sure the investment pays off at their end,” according to Steve Carp of the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL. Espinoza found “allies" at Showtime parent company CBS, as both CBS President & CEO Leslie Moonves and Showtime Chair & CEO Matt Blank “follow boxing.” When Espinoza told the pair that he “could deliver Mayweather, they gave him the green light to make the deal.” Their hope is that by “exposing nonboxing fans to Mayweather through CBS's various platforms, Showtime can grow its brand.” Espinoza said that the net is “still deciding how to sell” the May 4 Mayweather-Robert Guerrero fight. He said, "The home run potential is broader exposure to the mainstream audience." There will be a “reality series showing the two fighters' preparations.” The show, "All Access," will air “four episodes on Showtime as well as on CBS.” Carp wrote, “Don't be surprised to see Mayweather on ‘60 Minutes’ or Guerrero and wife Casey, who won her battle with leukemia,” on "The Talk." Espinoza's challenge beyond Mayweather is to “put compelling sports programming on Showtime.” He has added a sports version of "60 Minutes." He signed Jim Rome and “is trying to put an edge” on "Inside the NFL." One way to do that “might be to have Mayweather, who is known for making large bets, do a regular gambling segment during football season.” But Espinoza said that the NFL would “likely frown upon that.” Even though he has Mayweather, Espinoza said that Showtime “needs to consistently put on better fights if it wants to keep current fans tuning in while cultivating new viewers.” And he needs to “show those fights live on the West Coast” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 3/5).
FULL COURT PRESS: In L.A., Greg Braxton wrote Showtime is “making an aggressive push in the sports arena that is extensively covered by broadcast networks, specialty venues such as ESPN and the NFL Network, and its chief rival, HBO.” While boxing, "Inside the NFL," and other sports shows “have traditionally been part of Showtime's lineup," execs contend that the exclusive PPV deal with Mayweather, plus “regularly scheduled sports hours" on Wednesday nights built around "60 Minutes Sports" and "Jim Rome on Showtime," mark a "new era for the network.” Showtime President of Entertainment David Nevins said, "We want to take it to a place where it could really have an impact while doing things differently from other networks." Espinoza said that he is “determined to make Showtime's menu stand out ‘with provocative, distinctive storytelling.’” Braxton wrote "60 Minutes Sports” might be “seen as a direct challenge” to HBO’s "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel." But Showtime execs said that they “believe they have an advantage because of the ‘60 Minutes’ name, and that such comparisons are irrelevant” (LATIMES.com, 3/5).
Time Warner Cable President & COO Rob Marcus yesterday said that TWC Sportsnet "has already passed the first litmus test in its short history: it's cheaper than a carriage deal with a third-party RSN." Marcus said that TWC "had a simple formula for its RSN strategy: if the costs of producing the network, less the fees and ad revenue it brought in, were lower than the affiliate fees it would have to pay a third party RSN, it would be considered a success" (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 3/5).
JUST FOR KICKS: The GUARDIAN's John Plunkett reported ITV for yesterday's Real Madrid-Manchester United Champions League round of 16 match "attracted an average of nearly 10 million viewers." It was the "most-watched Champions League match" on ITV since the '08 final in which ManU beat Chelsea on penalty kicks. ITV yesterday saw "an average of 9 million viewers, a 35.2% share," between 7:30-10:00pm GMT. The game "had a five-minute peak of 10.96 million viewers, averaging 9.8 million viewers during the course of the match itself, which kicked off at 7:45pm" (GUARDIAN, 3/6).
SOCIALLY DRIVEN: In Las Vegas, Alan Snel noted Las Vegas Motor Speedway for this weekend's NASCAR races will feature a "social media hub at the Neon Garage" that includes "guests from Team Lowe's Racing, NASCAR, Sprint and media churning out real-time comments." Dubbed the Kobalt Social Command Center, the hub will "host computers and large video monitors that will give fans a live glimpse at the racing luminaries cranking out insights on Twitter and Facebook" (LVRJ.com, 3/5).
DIVERSE PORTFOLIO: Outsports.com yesterday announced that Vox Media, "the people behind SB Nation, have acquired the site." Outsports co-Founders Jim Buzinski and Cyd Zeigler in a statement said that the acquisition "marks the first time a mainstream sports media company has purchased a gay-oriented website." Buzinski and Zeigler will "retain editorial control and continue to operate the site" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/6).