SBD/August 12, 2013/Media

Fox' Aggressive Strategy To Challenge ESPN Examined, Net Reportedly Hires Randy Moss

Fox is preparing the "most direct challenge yet to behemoth ESPN in the battle for lucrative sports programming, one of the few genres with the power to draw strong live audiences ... in a world where viewers increasingly record their favorite shows, to watch sans commercials at their convenience," according to a sports section cover story by Reid Cherner of USA TODAY. FS1 has "started aggressively, but it remains officially an upstart." ESPN is the "pacesetter in the industry, and anyone hoping to change that will have to add patience to deep pockets and a roster of stars." Syracuse Univ. Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture Dir Robert Thompson said ESPN has become the "generic term for sports programming," and they "dominate the market." But he added, "That was true of CNN and 24-hour cable news, and Fox changed that." Cherner writes Fox' agreement with the USGA to carry the U.S. Open beginning in '15 is "another shake-up to the sports TV industry." And the fact Fox is "converting an existing channel -- Speed -- into Fox Sports 1 means it does not have to start from scratch." But Fox "does have to show its upgraded channel is worth 80 cents per home." That is "more than triple the 20-25 cents Speed earned" (USA TODAY, 8/12). In L.A., Joe Flint wrote FS1 will be "starting this fight with one hand tied behind its back," as the net "still doesn't have distribution deals locked up with some of the nation's biggest pay-TV operators." Former ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Production CEO Mark Shapiro said, "It is not a hill they have to climb, it's the Grand Canyon. ESPN has built such a big moat around itself the Russian army of the Cold War couldn't get in." Fox Senior Exec VP David Hill: "The first thing we have to battle is inertia. For 30 years people have been watching ESPN. We understand that. We know it. We get it" (L.A. TIMES, 8/10).

ESPN FEELS CONFIDENT: ESPN President John Skipper addressed the launch of FS1 yesterday on CNN's "Reliable Sources" and said, "We have a great deal of respect for the News Corporation and for Fox. They’ve got some excellent rights, they make smart plays, News Corp. will make big bets, so we respect what they do and we’re cognizant. We, on the other hand, feel very confident in our strengths in the aggregation of rights that we have, our people, in our relationships with advertisers and our distribution deals. We are in a strong position” ("Reliable Sources," CNN, 8/11). Meanwhile, SI.com's Richard Deitsch noted several ESPN personalities have started to address the addition of a rival channel. Bill Simmons delivered a "straight right to Fox Sports 1 on Saturday night followed by a solid Fox Sports 1 counter followed by an uppercut from SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross mocking Fox Sports 1 executives for mentioning the word 'fun' in every interview" (SI.com, 8/11).

STRAIGHT CASH, HOMEY: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio cited a source as saying that former NFLer Randy Moss "has a tentative deal" to join FS1. The agreement "isn’t finalized, but no glitches currently are expected." Moss is expected to contribute to FS1's "Fox Football Daily," a show that will feature Curt Menefee, Jay Glazer, and former NFLers Brian Urlacher and Ronde Barber. Moss also could "appear on the new all-sports network on Sundays, too" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 8/9). Meanwhile, Fox announced former MLBer Gabe Kapler is joining the net as an analyst for "Fox Sports Live" (Fox).

BIDDING WAR: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote with Fox willing to cut a 12-year deal worth $100M annually with the USGA, "double what NBC was paying, imagine what they will pay for a sport that actually attracts big-time eyeballs -- like the NBA?" With Fox "opening the vault to acquire product for Fox Sports 1 ... ESPN and Turner are going to be forced to pay more than they ever expected to retain their NBA packages" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 8/10).
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