SBD/February 21, 2014/Media

120 Sports Still Looking To Add Leagues, While Traffic Will Be Rolled Into SI.com Figures

Principals involved in the forthcoming digital network 120 Sports said they are looking to add more leagues beyond those currently participating, and have held discussions with every major U.S. pro property. The venture currently involves MLBAM, the NBA, NHL and NASCAR, as well as Campus Insiders and Time Inc. But MLBAM President & CEO Bob Bowman in a conference call on Thursday afternoon said no property has outright rejected the project. Bowman said, "We'd love to have all the leagues participate. I wouldn't read anything into the absence of anybody right now, and we continue to talk to all the major properties. We have critical mass right now, and we felt it was appropriate to launch this and move forward." NFL sources concurred, saying multiple conversations have occurred regarding potential future participation by the league. But the NFL is currently focused on its other digital ventures, including the forthcoming NFL Now over-the-top network. Meanwhile, the traffic from 120 Sports will be assigned to SI for purposes of third-party metrics reports, such as the ones comScore issues. The traffic assignment holds the potential to further shake up what has been a somewhat turbulent sports category over the past year. SI will be one of the exclusive sales agents for the venture along with the White Sox-owned Silver Chalice. Bowman: "We're all amalgamating content into this, and it's appropriate they're the ones instead of any particular league that should have the traffic." Silver Chalice COO Jason Coyle will be 120 Sports President (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).

WELCOME TO THE NEW AGE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's William Launder reports 120 Sports, which is "slated to launch this spring, will be aired on its own website and app but its content could also appear on third-party sites." Time Inc.'s investment is one of several steps it has "taken to ramp up online video, where changing consumer viewing habits have fueled hopes that more ad dollars will flow to the medium." Time Inc. Exec VP Todd Larsen said the investment is "one of many we hope to invest in as part of our plan to turn our brands into cross-platform powerhouses" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 2/21). In Chicago, Robert Channick notes 120 Sports -- like WatchESPN -- will be "available on a wide range of mobile devices." However, unlike WatchESPN, 120 Sports "won't require authentication." Another "major difference is that 120 Sports will not offer live game broadcasts." Coyle said that the net will have a "full-time production staff." He added, "We reconfigured the [office] space for this opportunity. We want the authority of television, but this is a digital-only product, so we had to really shape it just for the work flow and for what this concept was going to entail" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/21). Larsen said that the launch of 120 Sports is "a signal of Time Inc’s strategy as an independent company." He added, "At a time when the dynamic of how consumers are engaging with sports content across many devices is evolving rapidly, 120 Sports is the opportunity to play a meaningful role at the nexus of where all that is happening" (FT.com, 2/21).

DIGITAL GETDOWN: In N.Y., Kaja Whitehouse writes 120 Sports "joins a similar move by ESPN and the soon-to-launch NFL Now app in trying to attract eyeballs of sports fans through their smartphones and tablets." The effort by the leagues to "go directly to the fans, as opposed to selling rights through a network like ESPN, shows that they are getting more aggressive" (N.Y. POST, 2/21). VARIETY's Todd Spangler wrote 120 Sports is "looking to create a kind of next-gen ESPN -- but without any live games, and lacking content from the NFL." The venture has "more than 100 full-time production, talent and marketing staff" (VARIETY.com, 2/20). RECODE.net's Peter Kafka writes the news of 120 Sports' launch, "at a minimum," is "interesting because it represents the first digital investment Time Inc. has made in quite a long time" (RECODE.net, 2/20).

NOT THAT IMPRESSED: WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY's Alexandra Steigrad writes despite the net's "fancy facility and the big names behind the venture, none of this sounds particularly revolutionary." Most sports-centric sites "already have live-streamed content available on multiplatforms," which "could make grabbing share from competitors such as ESPN a tall order." However, 120 Sports brass said that the venture is "'different' because content is produced solely for a digital audience, meaning, at the very least, it will be produced quicker" (WWD.com, 2/21).
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