SBJ/January 21-27, 2013/Media

PGA Tour leaps into new era of free simulcasts

Calling it a “historic” and “bold step into a new era,” the PGA Tour this week will begin simulcasting most of its tournaments for free without authentication.

CBS’s broadcast of the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego this weekend will run live on PGATour.com and CBSSports.com for the first time, as well as CBS apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android networks. Future tournaments that are broadcast on the tour’s two network partners — CBS and NBC — also will be simulcast free of charge. Tournaments televised by NBC will simulcast only on GolfChannel.com, in addition to PGATour.com.

Tournament broadcasts that are on the Golf Channel are a more complicated proposition. Those rounds will be simulcast on GolfChannel.com for Comcast subscribers only. All other pay-TV subscribers will not have access to those Golf Channel simulcasts, and Comcast subscribers must go through an authentication process in order to see it.

Users who go to PGATour.com or CBS-Sports.com for this weekend’s Farmers simulcast will be directed to a co-branded video player to watch the third- and fourth-round action.

“This is a significant milestone for our digital and TV business,” said Paul Johnson, the tour’s senior vice president of new media. “Viewers will be able to have the same experience as you get from watching on TV, except, obviously, for the size of the screen. This has been an important piece of our relationship with our TV partners, to activate this content for a bigger audience to consume in a different way.”

The tour negotiated the simulcast rights into its most recent TV deal with CBS and NBC, which kicked in this year and runs through 2021.

The first three tournaments of the season were televised by Golf Channel and were available to Comcast subscribers only. Because of the limited availability, the PGA Tour did not promote these efforts because viewers had to authenticate.
But future simulcasts from CBS and NBC will not require authentication, the tour said. The tour will promote the simulcast in the TV broadcasts.

Jason Kint, senior vice president and general manager at CBSSports.com, said the network does not expect pushback from cable operators for distributing the content for free. His site streams 20,000 live events per year, he said, although not all of them are simulcasts.

“It’s very clear from the research that sports viewers will watch the biggest screen available,” Kint said. “With the streaming, you’ve either got a second-screen experience or someone is watching who doesn’t have access to a TV. It’s all complementary.”

The tour hopes to make the Golf Channel simulcasts available to subscribers of other cable systems as well, although authentication will still be required because the simulcast is coming from a cable channel. Golf Channel typically televises first- and second-round coverage on Thursdays and Fridays.

“This is a big step in the way our product is presented, sold and distributed,” said Rick Anderson, the tour’s executive vice president of television. “This is the kind of thing that gives us an opportunity to be a leader among sports [properties] in digital.”

The simulcast presents the tour and its broadcast partners with new exposure and revenue opportunities. In addition to reaching more golf fans through mobile, tablet and websites, the tour and the networks have all new advertising inventory to sell. Category exclusivity will be provided for event title sponsors during their tournament and for umbrella sponsor FedEx.

The simulcast will contain roughly the same number of ad units as a TV broadcast. Those units are being sold jointly by the digital sales team at the PGA Tour and the networks’ own sales teams. Lee Bushkell, vice president of media sales, heads up the tour’s digital sales team.

Johnson wouldn’t identify how many people are now on the digital sales team, but he said the tour has added sales positions in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The tour also would not discuss the costs associated with simulcasting or how much the spots sell for.

PGA Tour CMO Tom Wade’s business development group has a hand in the sales process as well.

There is an expectation, the tour said, that the digital simulcast will present some unique advertising options.

“Sometimes in the digital world, you’re more likely to see a minute-long spot or maybe something like a vignette,” Johnson said. “The TV side [networks] also has a blend of digital and TV teams packaging this inventory.”

So far, sales have produced interest from categories that are familiar to golf viewers, such as equipment makers, financial services and auto. Johnson wouldn’t say if all of the inventory sold, but he described the marketplace as very interested in the spots and he said results are off to a solid start.

Title sponsors and FedEx will maintain the same position in the broadcast that they enjoy on TV, with integration into graphics and other features. Anderson described the simulcast as a “value-add” for those sponsors, with no additional cost.

“It’s an additional layer of exposure that we can now offer,” Anderson said, adding that the London Olympics provided something of a road map because all of NBC’s coverage was available online.
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