SBD/July 26, 2013/Media

Will Fox Sports 1's Plan To Be A "Lighter, Less Serious" Alternative To ESPN Be Successful?

Shanks (l) said that Fox likes to deliver its news with a touch of entertainment
With a goal to "create a lighter, less serious alternative," Fox Sports 1 represents "perhaps the most significant challenge yet to ESPN," according to Alex Ben Block of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Block conducted a Q&A with Fox Sports Media Group co-Presidents & co-COOs Randy Freer and Eric Shanks, who are "shepherding the launch" of FS1. Below are excerpts from the conversation.

Q: There are more sports on TV than ever. Will the audience for Fox Sports 1 justify the huge expense?
Freer: When you go back to when there was CNN, and Fox News and MSNBC launched, the marketplace expanded. Today, the sports marketplace has expanded rather dramatically, so there's lots of room to exploit that.
Shanks: If you don't have a multisport national outlet, you don't really have the ability to compete for the rights packages out there. That was one of the deciding factors. You need to have shelf space on a national sports network.

Q: How will FS1 be different from ESPN?
Freer: This is not about Fox Sports 1 versus ESPN, NBC or anyone. This is about the collective Fox Sports, on the broadcast network.
Shanks: We have always lived by the mantra that we're going to coat the information pill with a little bit of entertainment. ... I think that's where the Fox attitude does come in. Fans know when they see the Fox Sports shield that they are going to get something that is probably a little bit different, done a different way ... and you're going to have a little bit of fun.

Q: Why did Fox lose the L.A. Dodgers TV rights to Time Warner Cable?
Freer: Look, deals are deals. They get complicated. In the end, it wasn't that hard because the Guggenheim folks were very clear about what they were trying to achieve. We were pretty clear on what we could do. We weren't able to marry those two, and they did what they needed to do with someone else -- who, by the way, is a distributor that complains first and foremost about the cost of sports rights.

Q: There are Fox sports channels all over the world. Will you coordinate with them and share rights?
Freer: We truly are the only company out there -- certainly in sports -- that has a global reach. ... That's one of the exciting things about 21st Century Fox. Somebody who is looking to expand globally can come to us because we're a place they can do it under one umbrella. We can coordinate and create real value across the globe (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 8/2 issue).

BALANCING ACT: FS1 on Thursday formally announced the cast for its nightly "Fox Sports Live," and in L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes he "can't be sure if this won't just smell a lot like the 'Best Damn Sports Show Period' all over again." Show Exec Producer Mike Hughes said, "Where 'Best Damn' took a lot of liberties in scripted comedy and skits, this has a different stance. There are parallels in that the camaraderie of the cast is probably people you'd want to hang out with. But that's where it ends." Former "BDSSP" co-host Charissa Thompson, who will host "Fox Sports Live," said, "We won't be having as much cheeky fun as we did. That was a much more relaxed and looser format. This will follow more under the news and analysis rule." Hoffarth notes if FS1 is to "be taken seriously, it has to be serious in how it breaks away from its past and creates newness on a landscape where ESPN and family already have established a long-term comfort zone." This "Fox Sports Live" show likely will "set a tone as to where the channel goes and how it's received" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 7/26).

MONEY TO BE MADE FROM NEWS: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Sharma & Futterman write one of Fox' major challenges for new programming such as "Fox Sports Live" will be "building large and loyal audiences." But establishing "successful news and talk shows is also a critical part of the business." Kantar Media data shows that at ESPN, such programming "accounted for 43% of the $2.8 billion in ad spending it attracted" in '12. Sharma & Futterman: "Done right, studio shows can be hits." ESPN said that "SportsCenter" has "averaged 842,000 viewers so far this year, making it the second top-rated show on ESPN behind its rapid-fire debate show 'Pardon the Interruption'" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 7/26).

SAY MY NAME, SAY MY NAME: FS1's Regis Philbin appeared on CBS' "Late Show" on Thursday and discussed his new "Crowd Goes Wild" show that debuts Aug. 19. Letterman asked, "Don't read anything into this, but why would you do this?" Philbin: "I've been out of it for about a year-and-a-half and I thought, 'Sports? I love sports.'" Letterman replied, "This is just to get you out of the house. That's all this is, isn't it?" Philbin said his co-host is a "great big defensive end who (played) 14 years in the NFL" but then could not remember his name. Philbin: "I know the guy. I just spent the weekend with him. Travis ... Honest to God, this is really embarrassing." Someone off-camera then prompted Philbin that it was Trevor Pryce, and Philbin said, "Trevor Pryce! Dammit!" Letterman then noted, "This is the kind of thing you're going to get every night on the Fox Sports Network" ("Late Show," CBS, 7/25). Pryce on his Twitter feed wrote, "Yep. Regis just called me 'Travis' on the Dave Letterman Show...after he forgot my name. @CGW Reeeeeg..."
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