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Disney and Dish Network yesterday announced a long-term distribution agreement that will see the satellite TV company carry both Longhorn Network and SEC Network upon its August launch. Dish also gets the rights to stream cleared linear and VOD content from ABC-owned broadcast stations, including ESPN and ESPN2. Dish customers for the first time will be able to access Disney's authenticated live and VOD productions, including WatchESPN. Dish will make available ESPN Goal Line and ESPN Buzzer Beater. In addition, Dish, ESPN and ESPN Deportes customers will have access to the live and VOD channel ESPN3. Dish as part of the agreement will launch ESPNews, ESPNU, Disney Channel and ABC Family in HD. ESPN Classic will be reintroduced as a VOD channel (Dish). VARIETY's Todd Spangler noted Dish has "agreed to disable the ad-skipping function in its Hopper digital video recorder for three days for ABC programming." The agreement also covers "other advertising models, including dynamic ad insertion, advertising on mobile devices and extended advertising measurement periods" (VARIETY.com, 3/3).
GRABBING THE BULL BY THE HORNS: In Austin, Brian Davis noted the Disney-Dish deal is an "important milestone" for LHN, as the channel now will "be carried on one of the two major satellite distributors all over the nation." The Dish agreement will "give ESPN and Texas officials more firepower to go after DirecTV" and is a "shot in the arm for LHN" (STATESMAN.com, 3/3). In Houston, David Barron noted the agreement "leaves DirecTV, Suddenlink and Comcast as the largest holdouts not carrying" LHN within the state of Texas. Dish has "about 290,000 customers in Houston and about 95,000 customers in Austin" (CHRON.com, 3/3).
ONE STEP CLOSER: RECODE.net's Peter Kafka wrote the deal may allow Dish to be "first to launch a real 'over the top' TV service, which would deliver actual network programming you want to see, over the Web." Disney is still requiring Dish to "sell its stuff on the Web as a bundle." But that "does mean you don’t have to pay for ESPN2 through ESPN12." Dish Network Chair & CEO Charlie Ergen could "theoretically offer his subscribers a 'skinnier' -- and less expensive -- bundle on the Web" (RECODE.net, 3/3).
Fox Sports execs said that the company has known that Joe Buck, Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci "would be its lead MLB team for a couple of months after the three had a practice broadcast together in St. Louis late last year," according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Rehearsal games "often do not go well in sports broadcasting, but management said it was particularly impressed by the chemistry between the three men." Fox execs said that they "did not enter the search with a preconceived notion about using a two-person or three-person booth." Fox Sports Exec Producer John Entz said that he was "impressed by the hundreds of hours Verducci and Reynolds worked together in the studio at MLB Network." Buck said that he was "nervous during the practice broadcasts because he had developed such an innate feel" with retired Fox broadcaster Tim McCarver "over 18 years together." Buck said, "I can tell you literally, within five minutes, this was going to be the combination if my opinion had anything to do with it. This felt very easy, and three-man booths are not easy." Reynolds said that "having to offer commentary during live look-ins on MLB Network helped sharpen his mindset from studio to game work." Meanwhile, Deitsch noted Fox "will have a second national broadcast team that will include some combination of Kenny Albert, Thom Brennaman, Eric Karros, regional broadcasters and potentially John Smoltz, with whom Fox Sports is currently in discussions to be an in-game analyst" (SI.com, 3/3). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes the lead team of Buck, Reynolds and Verducci "will not be together every week of the season." The team "at the least" will call "eight prime-time games on the Fox broadcast network between May 24 and July 12, along with the All-Star Game and the postseason" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/4). In Oklahoma City, Mel Bracht noted the trio "will make their debut" at 3:00pm CT on April 5 with Giants-Dodgers on FS1 (NEWSOK.com, 3/3).
As ESPN enters the run-up to its final FIFA World Cup, the network’s top programming execs say they remain committed to soccer even without the sport’s biggest event. Although Fox Sports snatched the rights to the next two World Cup events in '18 and '22, ESPN will continue to be an aggressive bidder for domestic and int'l soccer rights, said ESPN Senior VP/Programming Scott Guglielmino. In addition to a pending deal for MLS and the U.S. men’s national team World Cup qualifying games, ESPN touts other high-profile int'l deals, including rights to the Mexican national team’s games (through Univision) and about 350 UEFA games that include World Cup qualifiers. Both of those deals run through '18. ESPN holds rights to the Euro '16 tournament and will be at the table for other European leagues as they come up, Guglielmino said. “From a European league perspective, we’re always interested,” he said. “We’re going to take a look at those rights when they come up. We’re going to be smart about the kind of deals that we do.” Guglielmino pointed to the run-up to this summer’s World Cup as the surest sign of the company’s commitment to soccer. ESPN plans to demonstrate that commitment with a marketing push starting this week that marks 100 days until the event starts in Brazil. ESPN will carry all 64 matches live across ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. ESPN will carry the U.S. team’s three games in the group stage, two of which are scheduled to start at 6:00pm ET. “It’s bittersweet,” Guglielmino said of ESPN’s final World Cup for at least the next 12 years. “We’re going to swing all the way through on this World Cup. We’re going to do it justice.”
NEW WORLD CUP PROMO COMING THIS WEEK: ESPN this week is launching a World Cup spot that focuses on the beauty of the host country, Brazil, and pays homage to the country’s successful soccer history. The 30-second commercial ends with the tag, “But if you want to see true beauty, look at our stars” over images of members of Brazil’s national team. ESPN produced the commercial in-house and will run it across all of its networks. It also plans to insert a network graphic in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that counts down from 100 days to the event. ESPN will use the graphic during all of its soccer programming on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic. ESPN tomorrow will carry seven int'l friendly matches across its platforms, including a U.S. game against Ukraine that will be played in Cyprus. Other matches that day include Spain-Italy and Mexico-Nigeria. Guglielmino said these high-profile friendly games will do as much to market the World Cup as anything else. “Teams are working out who their new players are and who’s going to be making the trip to Brazil,” he said. “That’s the story. We’re going to tell that story all the way up to when airplanes leave for Brazil.” During the run-up to the World Cup, ESPN will supplement its live-game programming with televised and online vignettes on the players that will make up the U.S. team. “We want the American public and those that will be rooting for the U.S. team to understand who these players are and where they’re from and what their stories are,” he said. “We were successful in 2010 bringing in a much broader audience. That broader audience is the one that we’re interested in introducing and uncovering this time around, too.”
The Lakers right now are "unwatchable, but most folks in the greater Los Angeles area have no choice but to pay for such programming" on Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and with the recent debut of SportsNet LA, it is "the Dodgers’ turn to play everyone for a fool," according to T.J. Simers of the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. Simers writes, "Call it a cable bill if you like, but aren’t fees to watch the Dodgers and Lakers just another clever way of collecting public money for the welfare of our billionaire sports owners? ... Why isn’t there revolt in the streets at the thought of having to pay $8 or $9 a month for the rest of our TV viewing lives to tune in the Dodgers and Lakers?" Simers: "We're told it’s a good thing the Lakers have their own network because we can get a behind-the-scenes look at how they prepare to lose." Simers wrote of the Dodgers' SportsNet LA, "Do you want to pay for something that was previously free?" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 3/4). In California, Jim Alexander asks if Dodgers President & CEO Stan Kasten is "paying attention" to Dodger fans' complaints about difficulty accessing SportsNet LA due to limited distribution. Alexander: "This is your fan base that you're messing with." By taking fans' passion "for granted you're sending a dangerous message ... and it's not 'call your local cable/satellite operator'" (Riverside PRESS-ENTERPRISE, 3/4).
In Toledo, David Briggs reported the Big Ten "appears open to flipping on the lights in early November" and the Ohio State-Michigan State football game Nov. 8 "could be headed for primetime." ESPN/ABC execs would likely push for an 8:00pm ET start "if the Big Ten breaks from its longtime stand against night games in November." The league’s contract with its TV partners states that a "post-October game can kick off late only if the conference and both teams reach an agreement." OSU VP & AD Gene Smith said, "That would be Michigan State's call. They would call us and ask if we would be willing to do it, and I'd probably say yes" (TOLEDO BLADE, 3/3).
GARBAGE TIME: In N.Y., Bob Raissman noted MSG Network has "lost about a third of its Knicks audience" with the team on a seven-game losing streak and ranked 11th in the Eastern Conference. Knicks telecasts through 50 games on MSG averaged a 2.3 local rating, down 31% compared to the same number of games last season (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/2). Raissman noted with 5:11 left in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Bulls and the Knicks trailing 21-4, ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy sarcastically asked, “When does garbage time start?” After Van Gundy "delivered the word, viewers likely (and wisely) bailed out in droves." Advertisers, and ESPN’s sales departments, were "probably lamenting the mass exodus of eyeballs following JVG’s rhetorical question" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/4).
THERE'S AN APP FOR THAT: RECODE.net's Kara Swisher cited sources as saying that Yahoo has a "plan to turn part of the homepage into a kind of app platform in a project called 'Touchdown.'” The plan is "apparently many months in the making," and Yahoo apps -- "as well as third-party ones -- would be published on the highly trafficked site, in an effort helmed" by Yahoo Senior VP/Homepage & Verticals Mike Kerns (RECODE.net, 2/28).