SBD/March 6, 2013/Media

Fox Formally Unveils Long-Awaited FS1, Aims To Eventually Be Alternative To ESPN

Philbin will serve as the host of a show that will feature a rotating panel of guests
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

UFC PLAYING A KEY ROLE: In N.Y., Marc Raimondi reported UFC is "going to be a huge part" of FS1. There will be "12 UFC cards on the channel airing Wednesday nights (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.) starting from the launch date until the end of 2013." UFC events up to this point have been airing Saturday nights on FX and Fuel TV. FS1 the night before Super Bowl XLVIII will "air a UFC event from Prudential Center in Newark." Fox "promises 14 pay-per-view preliminary cards" on FS1 annually, preliminary cards for shows on Fox' "regular television affiliate and hundreds of hours of library programs and events" (NYPOST.com, 3/5). UFC President Dana White yesterday said, "This is such a great day for us, I can't even begin to tell you. This is a massive step." YAHOO SPORTS' Kevin Iole reported White, UFC fighters Cain Velasquez, Anderson Silva and Ronda Rousey were "brought on stage and introduced to 1,300 major advertisers" after the FS1 news conference. It was the "kind of exposure White could only dream of less than a decade before" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/5).

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

MEDIA BUYERS GET LEVERAGE: AD AGE's Jeanine Poggi wrote the new competition FS1 will bring is a "positive for advertisers, giving media buyers leverage in negotiations." But if sports budgets "remain the same, another national sports network could splinter the flow of ad dollars, as well as any network's viewer base." Fox President of Sales Toby Byrne said the "appetite for sports seems insatiable" despite the competition. Fox execs "don't expect to overtake or even be on par with ESPN overnight and are looking out two to three years before they expect the new channel to gain real inertia." Fox "quietly restructured its advertising divisions recently, with broadcast, national cable and digital all coming together." Byrne said that the move will "allow the division to present comprehensive packages to advertisers" (ADAGE.com, 3/5).

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).
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