SBJ/July 15-21, 2013/Media

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  • FS1 carriage talks sticky a month out

    A month before launching its much publicized all-sports network, Fox has yet to cut carriage deals with three of the country’s four biggest distributors, raising the possibility that its August launch of Fox Sports 1 will fall short of the 90 million homes the channel is expected to have.

    DirecTV, Dish Network and Time Warner Cable — representing more than 46 million subscribers — still are negotiating to carry FS1 on Aug. 17, which is when Fox will turn its motorsports channel, Speed, into a multisport network.

    The fact that so many deals are open a month before a network launch is not unusual in the cable industry. Typically, carriage deals like FS1’s get finalized in the days leading up to or just after a channel’s launch.

    Though talks have been described as amicable for the most part, news that some big deals aren’t done runs counter to the widespread belief in the sports industry that FS1 will flip a switch next month and launch to 90 million homes. While neither Fox nor distributors would comment about the state of talks, ticklish carriage negotiations and a new FS1 rate fee are slowing the process.

    As with other sports TV deals these days, one of the main snags is over price. Distributors currently pay around 23 cents per subscriber per month for Speed, according to SNL Kagan. Sources say FS1 is being offered at 80 cents per subscriber per month at first, with increases that would push the fee to the $1.50 range over the life of a multiyear carriage deal.

    Originally, distribution executives believed they would be able to carry FS1 at the same lower rate they pay for Speed until their Speed contracts end, but sources say Fox has not made that offer to any distributor that hasn’t signed new carriage deals.

    Also complicating matters is the presence of other Fox-owned networks in the talks. For example, Fox also is converting Fox Soccer Channel into an entertainment channel called FXX and has to convince distributors to approve that change, too. Other Fox sports channels are part of the discussions, as well.

    Take Time Warner Cable, for example. The cable operator does not carry the Fox-owned regional sports network FS San Diego. Time Warner Cable’s deal with YES Network, in which Fox holds an equity stake, ends after this season. Time Warner Cable executives were in Los Angeles last week talking to Fox about all these deals, sources said.

    One of the main issues Fox is facing concerns the atmosphere around the high cost of sports rights. Several distributors recently have become emboldened by keeping sports channels off their systems. DirecTV has not reached an agreement for several regional sports networks, like CSN Houston, CSN Portland, Longhorn Network and the Pac-12 Networks. Dish Network has not cut deals with several RSNs, including YES Network and TWC SportsNet.

    Since David Hill and Fox announced the coming of FS1, it has been seen as a competitor for ESPN.
    Photo by: WILLIAM HAUSER / FOX SPORTS 1
    But FS1 expects to be different, positioning itself as an alternative that could help distributors keep the high-priced ESPN in check. Fox executives have billed the new channel not as a launch but as a rebrand, of Speed, and the new multisport network is seen as the biggest challenge yet to ESPN.

    If FS1 launches to less than full distribution, some of the wind could be taken out of its promotional sails at the outset.

    One unanswered question is what will happen if a distributor fails to reach an agreement for FS1. Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish Network have contracts that call for carriage of a Fox-produced motorsports channel. If Fox simply goes dark, it could be in violation of those deals, sources said.

    It’s not clear what Fox will provide distributors that don’t cut FS1 deals but still have contracts to carry Speed. Distributors say they’ve been told that one option is that Fox will provide a watered-down motorsports channel that would run in place of Speed, possibly even keeping the Speed name. There’s precedence for such a move: When Fox switched Fox Reality Channel into NatGeo Wild last year, it provided a several-hour loop of reality programming for the distributors that did not sign deals for NatGeo Wild.

    The increased distribution and affiliate fees are important to Fox. Its executives have said that they expect FS1 to be profitable in the next two or three years, something that can only be achieved once they work out the affiliate deals.

    Fox is counting on the strength of FS1’s schedule, which includes 5,000 hours of live-event programming a year, and FS1’s TV Everywhere components to convince distributors to cut deals.

    Fox’s president of distribution, Mike Hopkins, is leading the affiliate negotiations for the broadcaster.

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  • NFL gets ‘Big Break’ on Golf Channel

    Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    Golf Channel is partnering with the NFL for its next “Big Break” series, with six former NFL players competing in the 20th version of the show, which wrapped up filming last month at the Dorado Beach Resort in Puerto Rico.

    The 11-episode weekly series debuts Oct. 8 and will air Tuesday nights on Golf Channel.

    The show, which features Jerry Rice and five other former NFL players, extends the league’s ties with NBC Sports Group, which owns Golf Channel.
    Photo by: MARK ASHMAN / GOLF CHANNEL
    The show is the latest example of the NFL expanding its brand to non-football TV outlets. The league has placed shows on networks like USA and Spike TV, even though neither holds rights to NFL games.

    The show also marks the extension of the NFL’s relationship with NBC Sports Group, which owns Golf Channel. NBC plans to promote the series heavily during its NFL programming, and Golf Channel will use “Sunday Night Football” sideline reporter Michele Tafoya as one of the series’ hosts, alongside Golf Channel’s Tom Abbott.

    “We generally haven’t done any programming where players are doing another sport, other than dancing shows,” said Tracy Perlman, vice president of entertainment, marketing and promotions for the NFL.

    Golf Channel’s executive producer Molly Solomon said the network started exploring using NFL players soon after Comcast’s acquisition of NBC became official in 2011. Golf Channel initiated talks with the NFL around 18 months ago, she said.

    “This is the 20th edition of ‘Big Break,’ and we wanted to do something unique to celebrate this milestone,” Solomon said.

    As part of the agreement, Golf Channel can use the NFL shield as part of the “Big Break” logo, which is something the league generally does not allow, Perlman said. It also allows the series to use league and team marks during the telecasts.

    “We have a massive fan base and want to make sure we reach all of our fans,” Perlman said. “For us, these kinds of shows pull the curtain back a little bit on how NFL players perform off the field.”

    Golf Channel has carried “Big Break” since 2003, making it the channel’s longest-running original program. The new series matches six former players with 12 former “Big Break” competitors. Each player will team with one male and one female “Big Break” competitor and compete as a team. The former players played for $50,000 that they gave to a designated charity; the “Big Break” competitors played for tournament exemptions, cash and other prizes.

    The NFL competitors are Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Chris Doleman, Mark Bulger, Mark Rypien and Al Del Greco. The golfers are a three-handicap or better.

    Rice, Rypien and Brown are scheduled to compete in Lake Tahoe’s American Century Championship on NBC this weekend.

    Chi Chi Rodriguez and NBC’s “Football Night In America” analyst Rodney Harrison will make guest appearances during the series.

    Golf Channel executives said they expect to produce similar “Big Break” concepts around other sports. Golf Channel is planning a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign around the series that would see spots on both NBC and non NBC-owned assets.

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  • Lack of deals, wins sends Astros’ ratings down

    Plagued by distribution problems and stuck with a team that has one of baseball’s worst records, CSN Houston is seeing MLB’s lowest local TV ratings in five years.

    The Houston Astros, in their first season on CSN Houston, are averaging a 0.43 rating and just 10,000 homes per game. Those marks are MLB’s lowest local numbers since the Washington Nationals pulled a 0.34 and 8,000 homes on MASN for the 2008 season, the year the team lost 102 games.

    Big distributors such as DirecTV do not carry the Astros’ RSN, CSN Houston.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The Astros’ average rating is also down 66 percent from what the team averaged last year on FS Houston, the biggest percentage drop among all U.S.-based MLB teams.

    The Astros and NBA Rockets cut a deal with Comcast to launch an RSN in the Houston market last fall. The channel, which is majority-owned by the two teams, has not been able to cut deals with several big distributors, like DirecTV and AT&T, due to disagreements over subscriber fees. That largely accounts for the ratings drop-off.

    But that doesn’t mean all carriage disputes result in lower numbers. Another RSN with distribution problems, FS San Diego, has posted the biggest percentage ratings increase this season among U.S.-based MLB teams. San Diego Padres games have the third-lowest average audience among teams monitored by SportsBusiness Journal, but the team’s 2.74 rating (29,000 homes) is up 52 percent from last year, somewhat surprising considering the team’s below-.500 record.

    The main difference: AT&T and Dish Network started carrying FS San Diego this year; last year, they didn’t. That means Padres games can be seen by more San Diego subscribers than last year. Time Warner Cable remains the main holdout, refusing to carry FS San Diego.

    SportsBusiness Journal reviewed data from all 29 U.S.-based MLB teams. Only Toronto Blue Jays ratings were not available. Overall, 14 of the clubs showed local ratings increases; 15 showed decreases.

    Halfway through the season, MLB has experienced big ratings drops in some of the league’s largest markets. New York Yankees games on YES Network are down 39 percent and are averaging fewer than 200,000 homes for the first time in a decade — but, as expected in the country’s biggest TV market, they have the highest viewership in MLB.

    Similarly, among other big-market clubs, ratings for Phillies games on CSN Philadelphia are down 36 percent; White Sox games on CSN Chicago are down 33 percent; Mets games on SNY are down 29 percent; and Cubs games on CSN Chicago are down 24 percent.

    At the other end of the spectrum, the Detroit Tigers are poised to claim their second consecutive local TV ratings crown. The team’s 8.96 rating on FS Detroit ranks ahead of St. Louis Cardinals games on FS Midwest (8.07) and Cincinnati Reds games on FS Ohio (7.83), and the Tigers’ average is up from 2012 while the St. Louis and Cincinnati marks are down from last year.

    MLB teams’ RSN ratings

    AVERAGE RATING
    Top 5
    Team RSN Avg. rating (Change*)
    Detroit Tigers FS Detroit 8.96 (+3%)
    St. Louis Cardinals FS Midwest 8.07 (-2%)
    Cincinnati Reds FS Ohio 7.83 (-8%)
    Boston Red Sox NESN 6.89 (-7%)
    Pittsburgh Pirates Root Pittsburgh 6.14 (+17%)
    Bottom 5
    Los Angeles Angels FS West 1.22 (+13%)
    Chicago White Sox CSN Chicago 1.19 (-33%)
    Oakland A’s CSN California 1.15 (+1%)
    Miami Marlins FS Florida 1.14 (-49%)
    Houston Astros CSN Houston 0.43 (-66%)
     
    RATING CHANGE
    Top 5
    Team RSN Change in households watching*
    San Diego Padres FS San Diego +52% (2.74)
    Kansas City Royals FS Kansas City +44% (5.79)
    Baltimore Orioles MASN/MASN2 +33% (6.04)
    Atlanta Braves* FS South +29% (4.40)
    Wash. Nationals MASN/MASN2 +28% (2.85)
    Bottom 5
    Chicago White Sox CSN Chicago -33% (1.19)
    Philadelphia Phillies CSN Philadelphia -36% (3.81)
    New York Yankees YES Network -39% (2.51)
    Miami Marlins FS Florida -49% (1.14)
    Houston Astros CSN Houston -66% (0.43)
     
    AVERAGE AUDIENCE SIZE
    Top 5
    Team RSN Avg. No. of households (Change*)
    New York Yankees YES Network 185,000 (-39%)
    Detroit Tigers FS Detroit 165,000 (+3%)
    Boston Red Sox NESN 163,000 (-7%)
    New York Mets SNY 135,000 (-29%)
    Los Angeles Dodgers FS Prime Ticket 126,000 (+15%)
    Bottom 5
    Milwaukee Brewers FS Wisconsin 41,000 (-24%)
    San Diego Padres FS San Diego 29,000 (+52%)
    Oakland A’s CSN California 29,000 (+1%)
    Miami Marlins FS Florida 18,000 (-49%)
    Houston Astros CSN Houston 10,000 (-66%)

    * Numbers are for 37 games; an additional 42 games on SportSouth averaged a 4.02, +17%.
    Note: For games through July 5.
    Source: Nielsen

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  • Sports Illustrated rallies unprecedented assets behind King’s new football site ‘The MMQB’

    Sports Illustrated executives are branding “The MMQB,” the forthcoming football-only website led by Peter King, “one of the most important things we’ve launched in the company’s history.”

    The creation of “The MMQB” represents the latest step in an effort over the past two years by SI to increase the breadth and depth of its franchises, such as Sportsman of the Year, and more recent initiatives to turn its Swimsuit platform into a year-round endeavor.

    Peter King’s new football-only site will debut on July 22.
    But given Peter King’s status as one of the most popular American sportswriters, as indicated in part by his 10 million average monthly page views for his “Monday Morning Quarterback” column during the NFL season and 1.1 million Twitter followers, the creation of the new site takes that concept to new heights. “The MMQB” is scheduled to debut July 22.

    “I don’t remember anything we’ve put as many assets against as this,” said Paul Fichtenbaum, Time Inc. Sports Group editor, a 24-year veteran of the magazine. “This in many ways represents a natural evolution of SI.”

    To that end, the site itself represents an expansion of many of the features already seen with King’s content on SI.com. Among the notable features:

    King’s Monday morning column will now reside on “The MMQB.” Extensive links and promotion on SI.com and other SI and Time Inc. assets will direct users toward the new site.

    A component of that Monday morning column — “10 Things I Think I Think” — will break out into its own daily feature with other writers also involved. At least half of the 10 individual entries each day will be fewer than 140 characters to allow for promotion and links on Twitter. The lists will post each day at 10 a.m. ET. A dedicated Twitter handle for “The MMQB” will also debut with the site launch.

    Another core feature on the site will be “3 @ 3” where each day an NFL player, coach or administrator will respond to three questions. The items will post daily at 3 p.m. ET.

    Long-form stories and profiles will frequently arrive with companion video segments providing additional behind-the-scenes content. Among the early subjects of that expanded treatment is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

    SI senior writer Don Banks will contribute a weekly column titled “The Conscience,” joining previously announced contributors.

    Writer Greg Bedard will file a weekly, extended notes column that will appear on Fridays and set users up for Sunday games. Fridays on “The MMQB” also will include a long-form feature, to be called “Going Long,” and fantasy football tips.

    Overall, the site will be more focused on analysis and features than breaking news. “I don’t want to get too caught up in things like signings and so forth,” said King, who later this week will begin his annual tour of NFL team training camps, with 24 stops planned. “I want stories on there that will live and breathe and not be dated in five minutes.”

    Company executives expect the majority of consumption for “The MMQB” either at launch or soon thereafter to be from tablets and smartphones.

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  • Outside looks to viewers to supply video for site

    Outside Television has revamped its website to operate less as a promotional vehicle for its channel and more as one where viewers can watch and share adventure-related video.

    Rob Faris, Outside’s senior vice president of programming and production, said the shift was made because, “We felt there was an opportunity for us to feature short-form content exclusively for a digital audience.”

    The revamped, video-heavy Outside Television website will include user-generated content.
    The channel’s carriage agreements with distributors limit the amount of video that can be shared between the channel and the website; cable and satellite operators don’t want to pay for television programming that’s available for free online. That means Outside will look to create new content and pay an undisclosed fee for some digital programming from companies like Red Bull Media House or IMG. It also will feature short-form adventure-related video from sponsors such as Oakley, GoPro, The North Face and Patagonia.

    Outside will depend on a lot of user-generated content on the site, which allows people to upload their own videos.
    “We think this is the best way to drive a digital audience to our brand,” Faris said. “This is an opportunity for us to separate our linear TV offering and reach a separate audience.”

    The change, which occurred last month, will curate tweets and is close to a deal with Spotify to feature music playlists around the outdoor programming genre. It has a deal with the micro-blogging tool Tout and eventually plans to feature updated weather reports for resorts.

    Outside executives expect some of its digital videos to be available on other sites, such as Yahoo or Hulu.

    “The channel’s website has not been a stand-alone entertainment experience,” said Mark Keys, Outside’s vice president of digital media. “That’s where we want to take this.”

    The website was redesigned internally. The site uses the Bright Cove video player for most of its videos, though users can embed videos through YouTube and Vimeo.

    Outside Television launched in the summer of 2010, taking over the feed from Resort Sports Network. The network’s programming focuses on adventure sports, including surfing and skiing.

    Last year, it signed its biggest distribution deal to date to be included on Comcast’s digital sports tier. Company executives say that it’s in roughly 10 million homes.

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