SBJ/May 5-11, 2014/Media

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  • Sports forecaster AccuScore sold to Finnish investors, who’ll point toward international expansion

    A group of Finnish investors has bought AccuScore, a Los Angeles-based provider of sports simulations and forecasts to media and fantasy sports outlets.

    The group, led by Tuomas Kanervala, an executive with European digital sports company Wall of Sport Ltd. and before that management consultancy Accenture, has purchased the decade-old company from investors Orion Data Analysis Corp. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the acquisition involved a mix of upfront payments and future revenue sharing.

    Helping drive the deal was a desire by ODAC investors to find an exit strategy, as well as fuel an international expansion for AccuScore. The company’s new owners are planning a broad European push, beginning this summer with projections around the coming World Cup.

    “We see a great deal of opportunity in Europe, particularly in soccer,” said Kanervala, now AccuScore’s chief executive.
    The company’s existing domestic operations will remain intact.

    AccuScore, which professes to offer a “fee-based sports betting system” in addition to its information-based sports projections, at times has struggled with the uneasy line that often exists in the U.S. between sports and gambling, even as it does not accept wagers or direct users to those that do. But with the continued growth of daily-oriented fantasy sports and many competing outfits such as Bloomberg now offering data-driven services to European entities involved in sports gambling, the sports data marketplace has matured around AccuScore.

    “I like to think we helped bring this market to the mainstream,” said Jason Manasse, AccuScore co-founder and former chief executive. Manasse left the company last year but remained a large shareholder until the sale and played a role in helping consummate the deal. “This company needed an international home, and I think this is the next logical step.”


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  • Sports rights a source of tension at cable show

    The cable industry met in Los Angeles for its annual trade show last week amid a glut of threats to its business, from online video and over-the-top programmers to Aereo and cord cutters.

    News that AT&T had reached out to buy DirecTV, which would create cable’s biggest potential competitor, hit in the middle of the convention.

    These threats lent a new backdrop to the same issues that the industry has been battling for decades: sports rights.

    As they have for the past several years, distribution executives complained that sports rights were too high and could cause consumers to dump cable for a competitor over price. Programming executives hit back, saying their prices reflect the value of live sports programming, which is the most important programming genre that is keeping people from cutting the cord.

    “A lot of the themes coming out of the conference this year are the same themes from five years ago and 10 years ago,” said Lou Borrelli, a cable pioneer and media investor, who attended the conference. “The cable business has always created a healthy tension between programmers and distributors.”

    The conference opened with the sports rights theme, as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pleaded for industry executives to find a solution for the carriage battles SportsNet LA is having. A month into the Dodgers’ season and the channel still hasn’t signed any carriage deals beyond Time Warner Cable, which is a partner in the channel. “I’m calling on all participants to resolve this,” Garcetti said during the convention’s welcoming address.

    Some convention attendees took note of the aggressive tone ESPN’s John Skipper took in defending his channel, which is the most expensive on cable. In years past, ESPN executives generally stayed quiet during these types of debates. Last week, Skipper addressed the issue head-on.

    “Our job is to create value and work with distributors,” Skipper said during a panel session. “ESPN is the product with the most value. Live sports is ascendant. Right now, it’s the most powerful form of programming on the planet.”

    BTIG Research media analyst Rich Greenfield also attended the event and said his main takeaway was that technology, more so than sports rights, will be the cable industry’s best way to deal with competitive threats. Greenfield especially was impressed with an application Comcast is developing that would allow its customers to live stream personal videos from their mobile phones back to their in-home TVs. Comcast demonstrated the service at the conference.

    “Comcast is building a platform that can integrate almost anything you can imagine,” he said.

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  • Next Golf Channel documentary will focus on Payne Stewart, debut around U.S. Open

    The late golfer Payne Stewart will be the subject of Golf Channel’s second documentary film project.

    The one-hour documentary called “Payne” is timed to debut around next month’s U.S. Open. It will premiere on NBC June 8 at 5 p.m. ET. It will re-air the following day on Golf Channel at 10 p.m. ET.

    The documentary comes nearly 15 years after Stewart died in a plane accident, which came just a few months after Stewart won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, the same course that will host this year’s event.

    The push at Golf Channel Films to invest in these types of high-quality documentaries marks a change in strategy at the 19-year-old channel. Golf Channel President Mike McCarley and executive producer Molly Solomon have invested more in high-quality shoulder programming around the channel’s live events.

    Golf Channel Film’s first documentary effort, “Arnie,” debuted three weeks ago and easily became the channel’s top-rated original film. The three-part series averaged 471,000 viewers on its first night, 341,000 viewers on the second and 320,000 viewers on the third — viewer numbers that helped Golf Channel post its best ever viewers numbers for April. The documentary generated heavy media coverage and was received well.

    “Payne” was developed by Golf Channel. Peter Franchella directed the film, which will feature interviews with Stewart’s family, friends and competitors. Franchella was an NBC Sports cameraman during the 1999 U.S. Open that Stewart won. Fritz Mitchell and Matt O’Connor co-produced the film, and Al Szymanski wrote it.

    Golf Channel plans to produce more documentaries through its Golf Channel Films division, but it does not have a specific number that it plans to produce each year.

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  • EPL’s final day will fill 10 nets

    Viewers of Syfy, Oxygen, E! and Bravo: Are you ready for some English Premier League soccer action?

    On Sunday, the final day of the EPL season, all 10 of the league’s scheduled games for that day will be presented live beginning at 10 a.m. ET by NBC Sports Group across 10 NBCUniversal networks.

    While contender Liverpool takes on Newcastle United, other teams will try to avoid relegation.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

    “There is no precedent for it in sports broadcasting in this country and, as far as I can tell, anywhere in the world,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network.

    A lot will be at stake on that day in the EPL, which does not have a postseason traditional to U.S. leagues. Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City are in contention for the season championship. Spots also will be available to compete in the UEFA Champions League (the top four teams in the EPL qualify), while at the bottom of the standings, a half-dozen clubs are trying to fight off relegation from the EPL to England’s second-tier league. The bottom three teams are relegated.

    The matches to avoid relegation can be more dramatic than the ones to determine the champion.

    NBC Sports will announce its programming schedule for the 10 matches later this week, after the games from this past weekend have been played and the stakes for the season’s final day are known. Lead network NBC, however, will carry the match deemed to have the most significance — possibly Liverpool at home against Newcastle United. NBCSN will get the second-biggest match of the day.

    The remaining matches will be spread across NBCUniversal networks USA, CNBC, MSNBC and Esquire Network, along with Syfy, Oxygen, E! and Bravo.

    Spanish-language networks Telemundo and mun2, both also NBCUniversal channels, will televise one match each, as well.

    The idea of presenting all 10 Championship Sunday games across the NBCUniversal networks was suggested as part of NBC Sports’ successful negotiation in 2013 of a three-year television rights deal with the EPL that began this season.
    Through April, NBC and NBCSN’s EPL telecasts were averaging 439,000 viewers, almost double the numbers posted for the EPL’s 2012-13 season, when matches were on ESPN, ESPN2 and Fox Soccer.

    “We knew we had a great property, but the results from the first year have absolutely exceeded our expectations,” Miller said.

    Miller shared an anecdote about the day he realized the EPL and his networks were making an impact.

    “I had to have a conversation early in the EPL season with a gentleman who runs another sport — one of our partners, but I can’t say who — and it was going to be a very uncomfortable conversation,” Miller said. “He knew the call was coming, but he got on the phone and told me how much his family loves the Premier League and our coverage of it. I had no idea he was a fan, but it was really nice to hear. We ended up talking about the EPL for 20 minutes, then worked out a solution on the real dispute at hand in five minutes. I guess sometimes a little informal sports talk is all it takes to smooth things over.”


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  • When NFL Network looks at draft, it sees the Oscars

    NFL Network may cater to the hard-core football fan more than any other media outlet, but its NFL draft coverage this week is designed to attract more casual fans.

    The TV channel that is all things football plans to produce the draft’s first day Thursday as an awards show, complete with two reporters on the red carpet from Radio City Music Hall, camera time for some of the players’ mothers and even a live shot from space where astronauts will discuss the event.

    “The NFL draft as an event touches everybody,” said Eric Weinberger, NFL Network’s executive producer. “It’s not just the hard-core football fan that is paying attention.”

    The network’s executives point to the event’s TV viewership as evidence that it has been reaching more casual fans than some may think. Last year, NFL Network set viewer records when it averaged 1.5 million viewers on the draft’s first day, 973,000 on Day 2 and 611,000 on Day 3.

    The NFL draft audience is the channel’s biggest of the offseason, and when added to ESPN’s viewership shows that the event has the potential to draw in more casual fans.

    ESPN always brings in more viewers. Last year, ESPN averaged 6.2 million viewers on the draft’s first day and 3.2 million on Day 2; ESPN2 averaged 2.5 million viewers on Day 3.

    NFL Network is seeing a corresponding jump in ad sales, which are pacing ahead of last year. The channel signed Verizon (for the draft), Lexus (“Draft Kickoff” shows), GM (“Path to the Draft” shows) and Bridgestone (“Total Access” after the event) as presenting sponsors.

    This year’s event will be held in New York’s Radio City Music Hall. With 30 draftees attending the event, Weinberger said he wants to document everything from their arrival to their walk to the stage once they are selected.

    “It really becomes an awards show,” Weinberger said. “Much more time aesthetically is given to these kids going up on stage and saying hello to the commissioner. The sheer numbers of kids that are there — just their walk to the stage — takes up a lot of time and eats into some of the, maybe, overanalysis.”

    The move to produce the NFL draft as an awards show has its roots from a couple of years ago, when the network stopped tipping picks on air. “We wanted to model it after the Academy Award, where you open the envelope and find out from that presenter who won,” Weinberger said. “For us, that is a big part of ‘eventizing’ this. We’ve tried to clear the stage and make it so that when the kid comes out to see the commissioner, it’s just the two of them.”

    NFL Network will have Melissa Stark and Kevin Frazier at different spots on the red carpet outside Radio City, interviewing draftees as they arrive as part of an hourlong preshow. Because the draft is going to be held over Mother’s Day weekend, NFL Network is going to have the draftees walk the red carpet with their mothers.

    The network will also have elements that cater to hard-core fans. Rich Eisen will host all three days. Deion Sanders will interview the top picks right after their selection. NFL Network’s analysts, including Mike Mayock, Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner, will discuss the draft. Coaches Jimbo Fisher of Florida State, David Shaw of Stanford and Urban Meyer of Ohio State will be on camera from Radio City.

    NFL Network hopes to have fixed cameras in as many as 17 team draft rooms (last year, it was in 15), and plans to have reports from 22 team parties. “While it is maybe a six- to 10-second shot, it is a glimpse for the fan,” Weinberger said. “What they expect out of NFL Network is access.”


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