SBJ/April 9 - 15, 2007/This Weeks News

USL featured on 2nd Turner subscription site

Turner Sports’ broadband strategy will become clearer this week as the company launches a subscription-based Internet channel dedicated to streaming soccer matches from the United Soccer Leagues’ 12-team first division.

The offering, USLlive.com, will mark the second such launch from Turner Sports’ PlayOn division, which operates broadband channels for sports and leagues that are not traditionally on TV. The division also runs ACCSelect.com, which streams select ACC games, such as baseball and lacrosse.

“This is a good opportunity to test our technology and build off our digital strategy,” said Turner Sports President David Levy.

Turner is grouping its broadband offerings into three tiers. The top tier involves sites with sports that are on Turner’s television schedule, such as NASCAR.com and PGA.com, both of which are operated by Turner. It also includes the broadband channel TNT Overtime, which is part of NBA.com.

The next tier involves sports Turner does not televise, such as PGATour.com, which Turner also operates. Turner does not have linear rights to PGA Tour events.

The third tier includes sites such as USLlive.com and features subscription models for sports that don’t have consistent TV coverage.

The USLlive.com site officially launches today. The first game — between the Rochester Raging Rhinos and the Puerto Rico Islanders — will be streamed Friday. Fans can either log in then or watch a replay on demand.

Turner would not get into specific numbers, but said the ACCSelect channel is seeing a 40 percent increase in signups per week. That broadband channel, a partnership among the ACC, Raycom Sports, Lincoln Financial Sports and Turner, has streamed more than 600 events since its launch last fall. Levy would not pin a number on how many subscriptions USLlive.com needs to be considered successful. Instead, he said he wants to see it carry the same upward trends as ACCSelect.com.

Subscribers can pay $49.99 for a yearlong pass, $9.99 a month or $3.99 a match. The pricing is the same as ACCSelect.com, which has no yearly subscription.

Turner is not paying USL a rights fee. Instead, the two are sharing revenue from the subscriptions. Turner will provide back-end support, distribution, marketing and customer support. USL will provide the content and the venues.

“It’s a standard deal,” said Phil Sharpe, head of Turner’s PlayOn division. “When you deal with leagues at this level, it’s not so much about a rights fee.”

Turner plans to promote the application through advertising on Turner networks outside prime time. The league will promote the channel through its own Web site and at its games, Sharpe said.

Levy would not elaborate on specific sports that Turner would target for future broadband channels.

“Any sport that has a built-in audience base that you won’t typically see on TV,” he said.

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