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Fox Sports got through the thorniest part of its FS1 launch, convincing DirecTV, Dish Network, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks to carry the all-sports channel when it launches on Saturday. The deals, which were announced via press release this morning, ensure the new net will achieve its goal to launch in nearly 90 million U.S. homes, something Fox is calling "one of the largest network launches ever." Fox Networks Group President of Distribution Mike Hopkins was quoted in the release as saying, "We are thrilled that virtually all pay-television customers across America will have access to Fox Sports 1." DirecTV, Dish, TWC and Bright House reached agreements late yesterday. Previously, distributors including Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Cox, Charter and Cablevision had said they would carry the channel. Fox also is rebranding Fuel into FS2 this Saturday. Those distributors that already had deals for Fuel TV will carry FS2, while those without are unlikely to carry it.
EVERYWHERE BUT HERE: FS1 will launch without its TV Everywhere application, Fox Sports Go. The app, which was widely expected to be available at launch, is not ready. "We're still testing it and working out the bugs," said Fox Sports VP/Communications Chris Bellitti. "It's a very complex app that will use one-of-a-kind authentication for live streaming. We want to make sure it's rock solid before we release it." There is no timeframe for when the app will be available. When it does launch, the app will feature live streaming to authenticated subscribers from FS1, over-the-air affiliates and Fox's RSNs. Network execs have promised about 1,100 live events a year on Fox Sports Go.
Regis Philbin will make his debut as a co-host of FS1's "Crowd Goes Wild" Monday afternoon, and giving the longtime TV personality his "chance as a sportscaster" is another attempt by the net to "differentiate itself from ESPN," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. The idea of Philbin hosting a sports show is "not completely far-fetched," as former viewers of “Live! With Regis and Kelly” know that Philbin "is a big sports fan, whose riffs would make his co-hosts’ eyes roll." Fox Senior Exec VP David Hill said, “Classic television is, ‘Expect the unexpected.’ Regis falls into that category. This is perfect for him.” Fox Sports co-President & co-COO Eric Shanks said that Philbin’s "appeal could help 'Crowd Goes Wild' secure any reluctant guests." Sandomir reports the goal for the show is to be an "entertainment show surrounded by sports, with invitations to celebrities like George Clooney to talk about his favorite team while pitching his latest film." But how long this "new experience will last is, apparently, up in the air." Philbin was asked about the length of his contract and said, “Five months. Twenty weeks. It ends after the Super Bowl.” But Fox Sports Senior VP/Original Programming Michael Bloom said, "There's no short-term contract" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/14). Philbin last night appeared on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" to discuss the show. Host John Oliver asked if Fox is "going to do to sports what they did to news?” Philbin said, “Everybody’s going into it. All the networks will have a sports channel before long." Philbin added that "Crowd Goes Wild" co-host Georgie Thompson is “a pretty blonde from London right next to me.” Oliver said, “I love the way you say that because that’s the way TV shows used to be pitched: ‘I’ve got a pretty blonde from London, put her next to Regis and you got a show’” ("The Daily Show," Comedy Central, 8/14).
RING THE BELL: UFC President Dana White called Saturday's UFC Fight Night 26: Mauricio Rua-Chael Sonnen event on FS1 "the best television card" in the promotion's history. USA TODAY's John Morgan writes UFC programming will be "one of the channel's core features, and Sonnen's marketability is a key reason for his role in the debut card's main event." Sonnen is "establishing himself as a top MMA analyst for Fox Sports as well" (USA TODAY, 8/15).
MEASURING SUCCESS: SPORTS ON EARTH's Will Leitch wrote FS1's success "all comes down to data. Specifically: Who has the games people want to watch?" All the new "personalities, shows and branding exercises -- it's all pointless, because the primary reason people watch sports networks is, of course, to watch live sports." The reason NBCSN and CBSSN have "struggled is not because they have dumb shows or poor brand strategies." It is "just that they don't have the live programming yet." Fox has "more sports rights than NBC does, with college football and the NFL and UFC and the World Cup and tons more things that can both be shown and promoted" on FS1. Meanwhile, ESPN "has a little bit of everything." That is "where these wars will be won." Leitch: "I'll be watching Fox Sports 1 when it launches, and if there's a show or two on there I like, I'll make sure to check it out occasionally. But I'll only make an appointment to watch the channel when there's a game I want to watch" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 8/14). Meanwhile, in West Palm Beach, Dave George writes competition from FS1 will make ESPN "better, not just increasingly wider." ESPN already has "added an extra hour" to “College GameDay," and the "bigshots at Bristol are holding extra meetings and pushing for brighter ideas" (PALM BEACH POST, 8/15).
NO NEED TO OVERREACT: Fox Sports Senior VP/Programming & Research Mike Mulvihill spoke at a trade conference yesterday and said he "won't overreact" to the ratings for FS1 "based on early numbers after launch." He also considers the net's first 100 days "a fair time to look" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 8/15).
The USTA has begun discussions on alternative broadcast plans for the U.S. Open in the event CBS remains off the air in the N.Y. area because of the network’s dispute with Time Warner Cable. CBS has been off the air since early this month on TWC systems in several major media markets nationwide, including N.Y., over a retransmission fee dispute. “We are exploring ways for our fans in New York to see the Open,” said USTA Exec Dir & COO Gordon Smith. The event starts Aug. 26. It would not be the first time the USTA has had to move contractually obligated programming off CBS. In '10, CBS did not stay with the rain-delayed men's final on a Monday, and the USTA moved the finish to ESPN2. Smith did not rule out a similar scenario, but declined to say if talks with ESPN were included in the discussions of alternate plans. CBS is in the final two years of its contract with the USTA before ESPN secures full rights. CBS currently airs coverage over Labor Day weekend, along with the women’s and men’s semifinals and finals. ESPN and Tennis Channel broadcast the rest of the tournament. Many observers expect a resolution to the CBS-TWC dispute by the opening weekend of the NFL season, with the first Sunday of the regular season being Sept. 8. That would be in time to show the men's and women's finals in N.Y., but not the remainder of CBS' inventory. “We have expressed to CBS our desire that this dispute be concluded,” Smith said. “I think they know that.”
Comcast SportsNet Northwest, the Trail Blazers' "primary broadcast partner," today will announce it will be "available over Charter Communications for the first time starting Sept. 17," according to Allan Brettman of the Portland OREGONIAN. Charter is the "dominant cable-TV provider on much of the Oregon coast." Fans have to pay for "premium cable packages in those areas" to get the channel, and satellite providers and other cable companies "still remain blacked out from the network." The Blazers in '07 signed a 10-year deal with CSN, and team President Chris McGowan said that club officials "have heard often from fans impacted by the blackout." Brettman reports the Blazers were "not a participant in talks leading to this or any of the Comcast SportsNet agreements with other cable companies." McGowan: "They drive the ship on that and fortunately they got this done and we're happy." The carriage agreement comes two days after Moda Health signed a 10-year deal for naming rights to the former Rose Garden, but McGowan indicated that the "timing was unrelated" (Portland OREGONIAN, 8/15).
ESPN President John Skipper before the launch of FS1 on Saturday "capped a whirlwind month by snatching Fox Sports’ top digital talent and longtime ESPN nemesis Jason Whitlock," according to sources cited by Jason McIntyre of THE BIG LEAD. The move "culminates Skipper’s master plan to define ESPN as the Worldwide Leader in original sports thought and intellect, while letting his new challenger, Fox Sports 1, go the 'jockularity' route." Whitlock’s hiring comes after ESPN re-hired Keith Olbermann and landed N.Y. Times "statistical wunderkind " Nate Silver. That group along with Bill Simmons, Dan Le Batard, Jay Bilas and radio hosts Colin Cowherd and Scott Van Pelt "gives ESPN a formidable and unprecedented sports lineup of original thinkers and personalities." Skipper has "made it his goal to fix the network’s No. 1 problem: the perception that the lowest-common-denominator debate culture of First Take defined" ESPN. Sources said that this search "led Skipper to Whitlock in early August and a clandestine meeting" in L.A. Whitlock "has spent the past six years writing columns for Foxsports.com" after he left ESPN in '06. Whitlock’s return to ESPN "seems even more odd considering Fox Sports green lit a TV segment featuring him on its new network." He is "expected to appear on all ESPN platforms" (THEBIGLEAD.com, 8/14).
REUNION TOUR: Olbermann appears on one of four covers of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Aug. 23 issue, titled "The Sports Issue," and the magazine's Marisa Guthrie writes Olbermann's return to ESPN "marks one of the most improbable reunions in television history." The two-year "multimillion-dollar deal" was brokered by Olbermann's agent, Nick Khan of CAA, and his manager, Michael Price, and will "restore him to a network that despite Olbermann's 16-year hiatus still employs some of his fiercest detractors." It also will "give one of the more prominent serial feuders in the industry ... a perch with a bullhorn." Olbermann for ESPN "represents heavy-duty firepower," and he is "not about to let his personality get in the way of his prize." Skipper characterizes the hire as a "calculated gamble." Skipper: "It comes down to deciding if the potential upside will outweigh the potential downside. I am not naive going into this. I am optimistic; I believe it's going to work. And if it does work, there is very significant upside for us" (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 8/23 issue).
ESPN yesterday announced that filmmaker Peter Berg has created a new 90-second opening intro for "MNF" that pays tribute to the show's 44-year history. The intro will combine memorable moments from past "MNF" games with images of cultural events of the past 44 years. The new feature will debut prior to the Eagles-Redskins "MNF" regular-season opener on Sept. 9 at 7:00pm ET (ESPN). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Eriq Gardner notes the new opening, which has "been in the works for nine months, references Pac-Man, Madonna and Titanic, among other major cultural forces." ESPN execs have been "looking for a permanent opening since dropping Hank Williams Jr.'s classic 'Are You Ready for Some Football' intro" in '11. ESPN Senior VP & Exec Producer Jed Drake said that the net at the end of last season "quietly put out requests for proposals to creative firms before Berg offered the timeline concept." Berg was "hired and worked" with L.A.-based design firm Ignition Creative on the opening. The plan is to "regularly tweak the opening, adding and subtracting historical moments." One aspect of the montage that could "generate chatter is the Disney quotient." ESPN's parent company is "represented by Star Wars and Indiana Jones (Lucasfilm), Toy Story (Pixar) and Iron Man (Marvel)." Berg said, "Whether it be presidents being elected, great films, 9/11, Katrina -- these are moments that we all remember culturally and somehow dealt with on Monday Night Football" (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 8/23 issue). In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley reports video of former Packers LB Chris Gizzi running the American flag onto the field for the first "MNF" game after 9/11 "has been folded into" the new intro (JSONLINE.com, 8/14).