SBJ/January 23-29, 2012/Media

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  • Heggans starts film distribution company

    Derrick Heggans, managing director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Sports Business Initiative, has started a film distribution company that has found a niche in documentaries on minority athletes.

    Rose Park Productions represents an outgrowth of Heggans’ work helping develop and distribute “Third and Long,” a history of African-Americans in pro football that ran on CBS. Rose Park has struck an extensive deal with Wal-Mart in which the world’s largest retailer will distribute a series of similar sports documentaries for home video, likely branded under the name “Breakthrough Classics.”

    Heggans
    The first such film, “Uneven Fairways,” a Golf Channel documentary chronicling the history of segregation in pro golf, is set for release Feb. 7. Following that project will be a history of black surfers, “White Wash,” and a film on the late track star and Olympic hero Jesse Owens that will also run on PBS in May. Heggans expects at least four or five films to be released this year to Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores through Rose Park Productions and more in 2013.

    “There is a great run of creativity happening out there in the filmmaker community. Lots of great content is being created,” Heggans said. “But there is also sort of a dearth of strategic thought. So what I’m trying to do is help independent filmmakers and these important stories find an audience.”

    The Rose Park name is an homage to a park in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C., where Heggans spent much time as a youth and held a job as a summer camp counselor.

    Heggans declined to identify the other investors in Rose Park, but he has enlisted other industry executives as advisers to the new venture, including David Katz, founder and chief executive of ThePostGame.com; Doug Perlman, founder and chief executive of Sports Media Advisors; Derek Eiler, former senior vice president of IMG College; and Peter Zern, partner at Covington & Burling. Heggans is the sole Rose Park employee for now.

    “Derrick is moving in a strong entrepreneurial direction,” Katz said. “But what he’s doing is very smart, and having this advisory team to counsel him on all the things that inevitably come up in an independent venture like this is exactly the kind of thing I’ve done, too.”

    Rose Park Productions will not be limited to sports content. The company is involved in distributing “About Face,” a film on the culture of supermodels, and Heggans will be at the Sundance Film Festival this week in Utah to promote the project.

    Heggans remains involved in the Wharton Sports Business Initiative, a research and education-focused think tank. The group this June will start a new NFL-backed, three-day leadership program for elite high school student athletes.

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  • TWC-MSG fight threatens Sabres’ ratings lead

    The Buffalo Sabres have the NHL’s highest local TV ratings so far this season, but the team’s perch atop the local ratings list is precarious given MSG Network’s three-week-long carriage battle with Time Warner Cable.

    On Jan. 1, MSG Network and MSG Plus went dark in more than 2 million Time Warner Cable homes in the New York City and Buffalo markets. The two sides are negotiating a new deal but don’t appear close.

    Two weeks into the new year, the dispute hasn’t affected local TV ratings substantially, but with fewer homes accessing the networks, the potential for a greater effect does exist.

    “You have seen a slight drop-off in ratings,” as a result of the Time Warner Cable dispute, said MSG Media President Mike Bair. “But the ratings in Buffalo were so high to begin with.”

    The Sabres’ numbers may come as a surprise. Despite a strong fan base, the team has largely underperformed on the ice this year and is mired in fourth place in its Northeast Division. But that hasn’t stopped the team from posting an NHL-best average local TV rating of 7.77, representing 50,000 homes. That marks a 15 percent jump from the team’s midseason mark last year.

    The New York Rangers, who last week were tied atop the NHL in points and were featured in HBO’s “24/7” series this season, have seen a 7 percent increase, with a 0.87 average rating and 64,000 homes for its games. The other “24/7” participant, the Philadelphia Flyers, has seen a 65 percent ratings jump.

    Overall, the NHL’s local TV ratings are up 10 percent in the United States for the first half of the season.

    Nationally, ratings on NBC Sports Network are flat, though viewership is up. Through 40 telecasts this season, NBCSN is averaging a 0.2 U.S. rating and 330,000 viewers. The channel’s opening game, between the Flyers and Boston Bruins on Oct. 6, brought its biggest regular-season number ever, with 874,000 viewers. As of last week, seven games had topped 500,000 viewers on NBC Sports Network, compared to just three at this point last year.

    The league’s biggest feel-good story locally is in Boston, where the Bruins have carried over the momentum from their 2011 Stanley Cup win to post the biggest local TV ratings increase this season. NESN’s average rating of 5.25 (third-highest in the league) is up a whopping 89.5 percent from last year. The average of 125,000 homes that tune in to Bruins games is the highest in the NHL.

    On the downside, Dallas Stars games on FS Southwest have seen the biggest drop, down almost 43 percent to a 0.52 average rating. And MSG’s other two teams are not doing as well as the Rangers. The New York Islanders have the second-lowest average rating of U.S.-based NHL teams; the New Jersey Devils have the third-lowest. The Islanders’ 0.23 average rating is down 23 percent from last year; the Devils’ 0.27 average is off 39 percent.

    Hockey in Miami continues to underwhelm, as well. An average of just 3,000 homes are tuning in to Florida Panthers games on FS Florida.

    NHL TEAMS’ RSN RATINGS

    AVERAGE RATING
    Top 5
    TEAM RSN AVG. RATING
    Buffalo Sabres MSG 7.77
    Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports 7.55
    Boston Bruins NESN 5.25
    Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago 3.23
    Philadelphia Flyers CSN Philadelphia 3.23
    Bottom 6
    Los Angeles Kings FS West 0.33
    Phoenix Coyotes FS Arizona 0.33
    Anaheim Ducks Prime Ticket 0.28
    New Jersey Devils MSG Plus 0.27
    New York Islanders MSG Plus 0.23
    Florida Panthers FS Florida 0.20
     
    RATING CHANGE FROM 2010-11
    Top 5
    TEAM RSN CHANGE
    Boston Bruins NESN +89.5%
    San Jose Sharks CSN California +81.6%
    Tampa Bay Lightning Sun Sports +66.7%
    Philadelphia Flyers CSN Philadelphia +64.8%
    Nashville Predators FS Tennessee +50.0%
    Bottom 5
    Los Angeles Kings FS West -25.0%
    Anaheim Ducks Prime Ticket -26.3%
    Phoenix Coyotes FS Arizona -34.0%
    New Jersey Devils MSG Plus -38.6%
    Dallas Stars FS Southwest -42.9%
     
    VIEWERSHIP
    Top 5
    TEAM RSN AVG. NO. OF HHS
    Boston Bruins NESN 125,000
    Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago 113,000
    Philadelphia Flyers CSN Philadelphia 97,000
    Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports 88,000
    New York Rangers MSG 64,000
    Bottom 5
    Dallas Stars FS Southwest 13,000
    Columbus Blue Jackets FS Ohio 9,000
    Nashville Predators FS Tennessee 6,500
    Phoenix Coyotes FS Arizona 6,000
    Florida Panthers FS Florida 3,000
     
    VIEWERSHIP CHANGE FROM 2010-11
    Top 5
    TEAM RSN CHANGE IN AVG. NO. OF HHS
    Boston Bruins NESN +57,000
    Philadelphia Flyers CSN Philadelphia +38,000
    Chicago Blackhawks CSN Chicago +24,000
    San Jose Sharks CSN California +16,000
    Minnesota Wild FS North +12,000
    Bottom 5
    Los Angeles Kings FS West -7,000
    Dallas Stars FS Southwest -11,000
    New Jersey Devils MSG Plus -13,000
    Pittsburgh Penguins Root Sports -17,000
    Detroit Red Wings FS Detroit -19,000

    Note: Viewership data for the Carolina Hurricanes and for the NHL’s seven Canadian teams was not available. In the event of a tie, teams are listed alphabetically. Compiled by John Ourand and David Broughton Source: Nielsen

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  • RSN talks ready to heat up in California

    California’s biggest satellite and telephone operators are bracing for a one-two sports TV punch, as the Pac-12 Conference and Time Warner Cable start to negotiate carriage deals for their planned sports channels.

    The Pac-12 already has started formal negotiations, and sources said the conference is looking to be paid more than 80 cents per subscriber a month in market, which would be on par with the Big Ten Network.

    The cost includes the Pac-12’s planned national channel and access to at least one of its planned six regional channels.

    “We spend the majority of our time in these meetings talking about how compelling our content is. That’s what will carry the day.”
    Gary Stevenson
    Pac-12 Enterprises President
    Photo by: PAC-12 CONFERENCE
    “We’ve had conversations back and forth,” said Pac-12 Enterprises President Gary Stevenson.

    Meanwhile, Time Warner Cable has yet to send out formal offer sheets to distributors for its two planned regional sports networks that will carry Los Angeles Lakers and Galaxy games in English and Spanish.

    Distributors say they have received no indication about what Time Warner Cable will charge for the channels, but several said they expected the price tag to be about $3.50 a subscriber per month. According to SNL Kagan, only three RSNs cost higher than $3.50: Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, Fox Sports North and NESN. But the average cost of $1.75 a channel would be among the industry’s lowest.

    Time Warner Cable would not comment on negotiations.

    Both Time Warner Cable and the Pac-12 are entering these talks with several advantages. As the dominant cable operator in the Los Angeles market, Time Warner Cable’s RSNs will have guaranteed distribution throughout the market for its planned launch later this year. Time Warner Cable controls about 1.7 million of the 2.4 million cable homes in the market.

    The Pac-12 already has signed carriage deals with In Demand, a consortium of cable operators that include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox and Bright House. The cable operators will carry the new Pac-12 channels when they launch later this year.

    “We were looking at the competitive landscape when we came up with the plan,” said Chris Bevilacqua, who is a consultant with the Pac-12. “Achieving full distribution on a cable platform was critical.”

    Time Warner Cable may have some challenges creating a pitch to operators for its planned RSNs, especially if its carriage fight with MSG Networks continues in New York, where RSNs MSG and MSG Plus have been dark since Jan. 1.

    Distributors say they are keeping an eye on that carriage fight as they gear up for negotiations with Time Warner Cable’s RSNs. It could be hard to fight RSN pricing on one coast while negotiating carriage deals for high-priced RSNs on another coast.

    Time Warner Cable has said that price is only part of the reason for its MSG dispute and has assailed MSG’s decision to bundle a poorly rated music channel called Fuse with the RSNs.

    As of last week, a resolution appeared to be a long way off.

    “There really is nothing going on,” said MSG President Mike Bair. “I would term it as bleak at this point.”

    Distributors say that talks with the Pac-12 continue and that they have not hit significant snags. Stevenson would not confirm specifics, but said the conference’s pitch centers on the channels’ programming.

    “We spend the majority of our time in these meetings talking about how compelling our content is,” he said. “That’s what will carry the day.”

    Stevenson talks about a schedule that will include 35 football games, with each school appearing at least twice on the channel.

    “Every one of the conference’s games will be on national TV next year,” Stevenson said. “It’s important for potential distributors to understand that.”

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