SBJ/Aug. 11-17, 2014/In Depth

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  • SEC schools get camera ready

    A year ago, the bowels of Bud Walton Arena at the University of Arkansas were filled with discarded filing cabinets, band instruments, old computers and merchandise that had been pulled from the shelves. It was an 11,000-square-foot collection area that had been forgotten.

    Now, that space represents some of the most vital and expensive square footage on campus. It’s the home of the Razorbacks’ SEC Network operations, where the school has built three control rooms, a half dozen edit bays, multiple studios for audio and replay, and office space for a staff of five producers, graphic designers and engineers.

    Arkansas spent $7 million on equipment and staff, tops among SEC schools. Here is the school’s main production room.
    Photo by: University of Arkansas
    What was once throw-away space resembles a thriving production house capable of creating TV-quality, high-definition programming. It also represents the kind of transformation many SEC schools have undergone in the past year to prepare for this week’s launch of the SEC Network.

    SBJ Podcast:
    College writer Michael Smith and editor Tom Stinson discuss what the SEC Network means to the conference's schools as it gets ready to launch.

    On Thursday, the newest conference channel will appear on dials throughout the SEC’s 11-state footprint and beyond. But what viewers won’t fully comprehend right away is the effort and expense required across 14 campuses to get ready for this week.

    “When we first toured the campuses a year ago, we knew there was a lot of growth that had to take place,” said Chris Turner, ESPN’s senior director of SEC programming. “Some schools had control rooms and needed to upgrade them. Some didn’t have control rooms at all.”

    ESPN’s executives and operations experts began touring SEC campuses last summer shortly after they announced plans to form the SEC Network. Schools were given a set of standards they needed to meet — a minimum of four HD cameras, control rooms with replay capabilities, fiber connectivity to athletic venues, and the ability to produce at least 40 events at TV quality. And they had a year to get ready.

    SEC schools cumulatively have spent $25 million to $30 million on their campuses — ranging from $700,000 at
    Florida to $7 million at Arkansas, depending on their needs — so they can produce events for the network at TV quality. ESPN’s operations experts, led by Rex Arends and Scott Hecht, worked with the schools, visiting some campuses as many as six times since last summer.

    ESPN will still produce the events going on the SEC Network’s linear channel, while the games produced by the schools will go on the network’s digital platforms. But it’s important for the schools to produce a TV-quality event because those games could jump from digital to the linear channel in midstream. In the cases of rainouts, blowouts or blackouts, the TV channel could switch to a game that started on digital, but only if the production is good enough.

    “No matter what platform it’s on, TV or digital, we want each broadcast to look like an SEC Network game,” said Justin Connolly, ESPN’s senior vice president of college networks and chief of the SEC Network. “We’d love to be able to switch a game over from digital to the linear channel and still have it look really good.”

    In its first year, the SEC Network plans 450 events on the linear channel and 560 on the digital platform. Each university has told ESPN that it plans to do more than the minimum of 40 required by ESPN.

    By comparison, the Pac-12 Networks’ multiple channels showed more than 1,200 events on linear TV and digital combined in 2013-14, the second year of the networks.

    “It’s amazing to think what has happened in the last 12 months,” Arends said. “It’s hard to look up from your feet right now because we’re about to launch, but even though this feels like the finish line, it’s just the start.”

    Extreme makeover: TV edition

    The makeover at Arkansas has been among the most extreme. The Razorbacks have spent $7 million to add staff and equipment, and renovate space, all within the past seven months. The athletic department used money from its reserves, so the withdrawal didn’t affect the annual $89 million budget.

    The Razorbacks could have spent less and still met ESPN’s requirements, but Athletic Director Jeff Long made the call to build out everything the school needed to create a state-of-the-art production house. These same facilities also will be used to create content on ArkansasRazorbacks.com and run the video boards at each of the Hogs’ athletic venues, so they have multiple purposes.

    Other schools, such as Alabama, Florida and Texas A&M, were ahead of their peers and had invested heavily in production facilities two to three years ago, before they knew there was going to be an SEC Network. The Gators, for example, teamed with the journalism school to build a control room so that they could produce content for their website and video boards, while also providing real-life production experience for students. Their upfront costs for the SEC Network were only $700,000.

    ESPN’s Arends said 10 of the 14 schools in the SEC were finalizing the construction of new control rooms, or enhancing the ones they already have, in the weeks leading up to the network’s launch. Each school will have the capability to produce two events at once, whether through multiple control rooms or a single control room plus a flypack, which is a mobile control room and can be set up at the venue.

    Some additional expenses, like bureau cameras, were mandatory for all 14 schools. The bureau camera is entirely operable from the SEC Network’s headquarters in Charlotte, making it simple to conduct an interview remotely.
    ESPN paid for the camera and installation, while the schools paid the expense of constructing the room and making sure it’s connected by fiber to the control room.

    Those schools with the most to do, such as Arkansas, Missouri and Vanderbilt, spent anywhere from the low seven
    The SEC Network’s studios in Charlotte will be the traffic cop for the new content flowing in from conference schools.
    Photo by: ESPN
    figures up to $7 million to build control rooms, install new equipment (such as audio and replay), hire technicians, establish a list of freelancers and students to work games, and create fiber connections to their sports venues.
    Arkansas also hired a staff of five in broadcast services, while South Carolina’s staff is three.

    “We had a lot of decisions to make on just how much to spend,” Long said. “We knew we had to take a big leap forward, and we could do it all at once or step by step. We decided to do it all at once.”

    Until this year, Arkansas produced live games for its all-access channel at ArkansasRazorbacks.com. Those broadcasts — one or two standard-definition cameras and audio from the radio broadcast — were crude compared to what they’ll be producing this year.

    “It’s so exciting to know what we’re capable of now,” said Michelle Glover, Arkansas’ director of broadcast services, and the person who has overseen the Razorbacks’ transformation.

    Arkansas, like many SEC schools, hired consultants to help them design control rooms and pick out the right equipment. WJHW, a Dallas firm that consults on TV and production projects, worked with the school. Another firm — Atlanta-based Comprehensive Technology Group — integrated the equipment into the school’s production space. CTG put together all of the production equipment in its Atlanta office in late July to make sure it worked before installing it at Arkansas. With the launch just weeks away, CTG knew there was little margin for error, Glover said.

    South Carolina, which spent more than $1 million to add HD cameras, graphics and staff, is taking more of a methodical approach, and will add a second control room in the coming years. Until then, the Gamecocks will go with one control room, the same one it uses to operate the video board at Williams-Brice Stadium.

    Charles Bloom, the senior associate athletic director at South Carolina, said the school will produce 110 to 120 events in 2014-15, all at TV network quality.

    “We have chosen to do all of our events at the highest standard,” Bloom said. “Not only will that create more of a quality broadcast, it will maximize our opportunities to get on the linear channel with highlights and live look-ins.”

    If a South Carolina pitcher has a no-hitter going, for example, the SEC Network or perhaps ESPN might pick up the live feed for “SEC Now,” “SportsCenter” or a live look-in, as long as the game is being broadcast at TV network quality.

    If a school decides not to put as many resources into a production, it can still use the old method to broadcast a game with video from a single camera married to the radio broadcast. But those games will not be eligible for any air time on the linear channel. Schools have committed to TV quality productions for most or all of their games.

    “This is groundbreaking, to have all 14 schools in a position to produce this much live programming and to do it at such a high level,” Arends said. “Some schools were at a much better starting point than others, but now they’re all able to produce really good content. … It really is amazing to see how far everyone has come in the last year.”

    The better the schools get at producing their own games, the more likely the SEC Network could use a school’s entire game broadcast on the linear channel.

    “It’ll really depend on how quickly the schools get their sea legs,” Arends said. “I could see us letting a school do a Sunday soccer match that’s going head-to-head against the NFL. That might be a time when a school could produce a game for linear, and it makes sense. … We’re trying to be as efficient as we can.”

    The payoff for schools

    There’s an incentive for schools to spend the money to produce a network-quality event. Those broadcasts will be eligible for airing on the linear channel, and ESPN also will reimburse the schools for a network broadcast — anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 per game, based on the expenses reported by the schools.

    That money is in addition to the rights fee that ESPN pays the SEC as part of their broadcast agreement. The new
    Graphics highlighting school traditions will be used for event, studio coverage and other segments.
    Photo by: ESPN Images
    deal, an extension of the previous $2.25 billion, 15-year contract, now runs through 2034 for games on ESPN’s platforms. ESPN also owns the SEC Network and it will share profits with the conference evenly.

    Beginning last summer, after plans for the SEC Network were announced, ESPN executives visited each campus to deliver a set of minimum requirements each school had to meet for a TV quality broadcast.

    The school has to cover the event with a minimum of four HD cameras. Some schools plan on using as many as seven cameras on a broadcast to improve the quality.

    Announcers, hired by the school, must deliver a completely neutral play-by-play and analysis. No cheering in the press box. They’ll wear polo shirts with the SEC Network marks, just like ESPN’s talent. No school marks will be visible on the graphics or any other aspect of the presentation.

    The school’s production team has to use the same SEC Network graphics package as ESPN, which required each school to buy the graphics software that ESPN uses.

    The producer must have “talk-back” capability, meaning two-way communication between the control room and the announcers. Schools in the past have mostly produced games using the radio broadcast with the video. For the most part, those days are gone.

    The schools aren’t just delivering a feed to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., or SEC Network headquarters in Charlotte; they’re sending in a fully produced broadcast that ideally requires nothing of the network, other than putting it on the air.

    “It’s a unique model, but it’s one we thought would enable the schools to maximize their exposure,” said Charlie Hussey, the conference’s associate commissioner for SEC Network relations. He’s the SEC’s point person for the schools and ESPN.

    Turner is his counterpart at ESPN. He oversees the relationship with the SEC for ESPN.

    “When we toured each school last year, we knew that they were doing some sort of production already, but their capabilities were very different from one school to another,” Turner said. “Their productions were fine for a big video board or a one-camera shoot for the school’s website. But we were talking about building your own production house on campus.”

    The finishing touches

    Thursday night’s exhibition women’s soccer match between Arkansas and Creighton was supposed to be a trial run. It would give the school’s new producer, graphic designer and camera operators a chance to produce a game, and no one would ever see it.

    Remember, the SEC Network’s original launch date was Aug. 21. When the date was pushed up to Aug. 14, the Razorbacks’ soccer match became part of the content for the opening three-hour “SEC Now,” which will whip around to all 14 campuses during its initial broadcast.

    “This was going to be our practice game,” Mike Waddell, Arkansas’ senior associate AD, said with a laugh. “It’s an exhibition, and it’s going on linear.”

    The schools say ESPN has kept the surprises to a minimum. Weekly conference calls have facilitated a steady exchange of information, which has helped avoid unexpected situations.

    On a call the last week in July, just a few weeks before launch, an SEC administrator brought up one point that apparently had not been covered: “What should the announcers wear?”

    After some back-and-forth about whether a white polo shirt or a blue one would look better, they settled on blue. SEC Network logos were hastily sent to each school for embroidering.

    The most significant of the challenges, however, was much more costly and disruptive. Each athletic venue had to have fiber connectivity to the control room.

    Arkansas’ control room is in its basketball arena, which is next to the football stadium, so no problem. But its baseball stadium is a mile away and across a major thoroughfare.

    South Carolina’s control room is in Williams-Brice Stadium, which is off campus and a mile or two away from baseball, softball and soccer venues.

    “Any time you start talking about digging up sidewalks and laying fiber under streets, that brings an entirely new element into play,” ESPN’s Turner said. “Now you’re talking about dealing with city government to get things done.”

    In some cases, those venues might already be connected, or there might be fiber in place that can be used. Finding the blueprint for that fiber, however, is more challenging than you’d think.

    “Finding the person on campus who has the blueprint, well, in some cases it’s in someone’s head,” Turner said. “Fiber connectivity became a real hurdle at some places.”

    Such is life as a startup.

    When the channel launches this week, not every staff position will be filled. Not every shirt will have the right SEC Network logo, and not every graphic will line up on the screen just right.

    There will be wrinkles left to iron out in the coming weeks. But from where each of the schools came a year ago, any of the challenges that remain seem simple enough.

    “As time goes on, you’re going to see a remarkable level of quality coming out of the schools,” Arends said. “Plus, they’re going to have control over the product they’re putting out. … The schools have been great about helping each other, but there’s also a competitive aspect to it. Each school wants to have the best broadcast.”

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  • Faces of the SEC Network

    REX ARENDS
    ESPN
    Perhaps no one has the perspective on a conference channel launch that Arends has. The 33-year TV veteran was at

    Photo by: Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images
    Fox Sports in 2007 when the Big Ten Network launched, and here he is, doing it all over again with the SEC Network. Arends is the prototypical behind-the-scenes guy. His expertise is in operations, or all of the technical details required to produce an event. Whenever a school has a question about its control room, cameras, replay equipment, audio or fiber, Arends is the first call. He and senior remote operations manager Scott Hecht have guided the schools through the intricacies of launching a network, while conveying to each school what will be expected of them, from a production standpoint.

    CHRIS TURNER
    ESPN, SEC NETWORK
    He might be based in ESPN’s Charlotte office, but no one from ESPN has spent
    more time in the SEC’s Birmingham, Ala., headquarters than Turner. When ESPN struck its landmark broadcast deal with the SEC in 2008, Turner was assigned to be the network’s liaison with the conference. He worked on programming to make sure that all terms of the contract were being fulfilled. That job — senior director of SEC programming — now extends to the SEC Network, where the 19-year ESPN veteran is working with the schools and the conference office to make sure the network is hitting its marks in terms of live events and other shows.

    SEAN BREEN
    DISNEY, ESPN NETWORKS
    Fights between networks and distributors are common when channels launch. That surprisingly hasn’t been the case
    with the SEC Network, thanks largely to Breen. Nine months before its planned launch, ESPN signed AT&T U-verse to a deal. Two months later, Dish Network signed up. By the time the channel launches, it will be fully distributed with DirecTV and Time Warner Cable, distributors that have held a hard line with other networks. Breen joined ESPN in 2000 and has handled many of the most ticklish negotiations, including retransmission consent.

    MICHELLE BERRY
    ESPN
    Photo by: Scott Clarke / ESPN Images
    Generating excitement for the SEC Network among SEC fans doesn’t sound like that tough of a job, but someone had to bring that passion to life, and target it in such a way that it would drive support for the new network. Berry, ESPN’s New York-based senior director of marketing, took that job head-on. She vetted the SEC Network’s ad agency, North Carolina-based McKinney, and helped engineer ad campaigns that included all 14 SEC schools. Notable among those was the “Take It All In” series of spots that highlight traditions on each of the campuses.

    CHARLIE HUSSEY
    SEC
    When conference Commissioner Mike Slive needed someone to
    Photo by: SEC
    runpoint on the SEC Network’s development, he selected Hussey, a 15-year veteran in the league office. Hussey has emerged as the SEC’s point of contact for both the schools and ESPN. Hussey is SEC through and through. He grew up in Oxford, Miss., the son of a University of Mississippi chemistry professor. After graduating from Ole Miss in 1999, he went to work in the SEC office and since then has touched nearly every aspect of the conference’s business, starting in ticketing, advancing to championships and, in 2008, joining the SEC’s team of associate commissioners, led by Mark Whitworth, that oversees relationships with ESPN and CBS. The game-changer for Hussey came when Slive invited him to sit in on the 2008 negotiations with both network partners. Network relations has been central to his duties ever since.

    MARIA TAYLOR
    SEC NETWORK
    Photo by: Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images
    Taylor is set up to be a face of the SEC Network, having signed a multiyear deal in April to be a host, sideline reporter and analyst. She will be assigned high-profile games as a sideline reporter for football and will be an analyst for volleyball and women’s basketball. Taylor had been a basketball analyst and reporter for ESPN before taking the SEC Network gig.

    MEG ARONOWITZ
    ESPN, SEC NETWORK

    A big reason that the SEC and ESPN wanted to launch the SEC Network is to promote Olympic sports, and the network plans to produce at least 120 Olympic events per year for the channel. ESPN’s Aronowitz will oversee that action as coordinating producer.

    SCOTT WILLIAMS
    ESPN, SEC NETWORK

    Hired in May from the Atlanta Braves to focus on regional sales for the SEC Network, Williams has joined a team that has been tying network sponsorships to seasonlong ad buys. As with ESPN’s overall ad sales efforts, the SEC Network will have a big digital component, which Williams will handle from ESPN’s Atlanta sales office.

    BEN MAY
    ESPN, SEC NETWORK
    SEC roots run deep among many of those tied to the new network. Here Ben May is joined by son Ben Jr. as younger son Andrew graduates from Auburn.
    Photo by: Ben May
    One of the critical components of ESPN’s negotiation with the SEC was the corporate partner program and sponsorship sales. Those rights belonged to IMG College and had for several years. May had overseen that relationship and SEC sponsorship sales throughout that time. So when ESPN acquired the sponsorship rights last year, one of the network’s first calls went out to May, who was hired to continue running the partner program because of his experience and long-term relationships. May is primarily focused on a small set of blue-chip SEC partners, like AT&T and Dr Pepper, and their activation, especially at the SEC football championship game in Atlanta and the conference basketball tournament.



    DAN MARGULIS
    ESPN, SEC NETWORK
    The longtime ESPN programmer is one of the executives in charge of
    choosing the games that will be featured on the SEC Network — choices that often have a lot of strategy behind them. For example, the channel’s first football game will be between South Carolina and Texas A&M — two schools deep in Time Warner Cable markets. Its next game will be between Vanderbilt and Temple — two schools in Comcast markets. It’s no coincidence that Comcast and Time Warner Cable both signed deals to carry the channel at its launch.

    SBJ Podcast:
    College writer Michael Smith and editor Tom Stinson discuss what the SEC Network means to the conference's schools as it gets ready to launch.


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  • Conference TV roundup

    BIG TEN NETWORK
    The first of the current college conference networks, Big Ten Network launched before the 2007 college football

    season. Owned 51 percent by Fox and 49 percent by the Big Ten Conference, BTN went through bruising public battles with the country’s two biggest cable operators, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which did not carry the channel for the first year. Now, the network has become so established that the conference’s addition of Rutgers and Maryland barely caused a ripple, even though Comcast (Washington, D.C.) and Time Warner Cable (New York) had to move the channel onto an expanded basic tier this year. Given the Big Ten’s deep relationship with Fox on the channel, it will be interesting to see what kind of challenge Fox poses to ESPN for the Big Ten’s broadcast rights, which are up in 2016.

    PAC-12 NETWORKS
    When the Pac-12 launched its seven channels — one national channel and six regional ones — before the 2012
    college football season, it was considered an instant success. The conference signed carriage deals with Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox and eventually added Dish Network. Two years on, however, and the network’s distribution story does not look as good. DirecTV has not signed a deal and does not appear close to getting one done. And the cable operators have not rolled the channel out to their entire subscriber base. Unlike the other conference channels, Pac-12 Networks does not have a media partner on the channel, which puts more of the risk — and reward — on the conference’s shoulders.

    SEC NETWORK
    Launching this month to more than 75 million subscribers, SEC Network is set up to be the biggest cable channel
    startup in history. The channel is part of a 20-year deal between ESPN and the Southeastern Conference, which runs through 2034, and will produce 45 football games, 100 men’s basketball games and 60 women’s basketball games each year. More than 1,000 events in total will be broadcast on the linear TV channel and digital platforms. The channel’s launch will go across all of the nation’s biggest distributors, including satellite operators DirecTV and Dish Network, plus top cable operators Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter.

    BIG 12
    The conference gave its member schools the flexibility to launch their own channels rather than trying to start a
    conference-branded channel. Big 12 schools have the right to exploit any home games that are not picked up by conference TV partners Fox and ESPN. That has resulted in several university launches. Texas launched the Longhorn Network before the 2011 college football season. Oklahoma is one of six schools that has sold branded blocks of programming to Fox Sports’ regional channels. ESPN pays Texas $300 million over 20 years for the rights to launch the Longhorn Network. Meanwhile, Fox pays Oklahoma $58 million over 10 years. Kansas tried a different approach, creating branded programming for Time Warner Cable’s sports channel, which will result in the broadcast of more than 50 events this year in the KU footprint.

    ACC
    With a footprint that includes 43 million TV homes — the biggest such footprint among all college conferences —
    the ACC already has made moves to shore up its rights, with an eye on starting a network in the next three years. The league signed an agreement with all 15 of its schools to grant their TV rights to the ACC, providing the stability and the content for a channel. It also renewed its media rights deal with ESPN worth nearly $4 billion through 2026-27. The deal includes all game inventory, digital rights and corporate sponsorship. The challenge to an ACC channel rests in a couple of sublicensing deals ESPN signed to give games to Raycom and Fox regional networks. That game inventory likely would be needed to start a network.

    SBJ Podcast:
    College writer Michael Smith and editor Tom Stinson discuss what the SEC Network means to the conference's schools as it gets ready to launch.

    Print | Tags: In-Depth, Media, College Football Preview, Colleges
  • Capitalize on sports media megatrends and own the future

    Sports media megatrends facilitated the launch of dozens of new sports networks over more than a decade, including the Los Angeles Lakers’ landmark deal with Time Warner Cable. That deal capitalized on several megatrends including: (1) cable distributor ownership of RSNs had proved to be a valuable branding, business-building, and cost-management tool; (2) competition from telco operators (AT&T/Verizon) was increasing, challenging cable with their own “triple play” to retain phone customers; (3) media companies were recognizing the fast-growing and underserved Spanish-speaking market; (4) bandwidth was increasing from infrastructure rebuilds and digitization; (5) cable distributors were consolidating within designated market areas; and (6) teams’ ambitions were growing to expand video coverage beyond just games and enhance brand control.

    SBJ Podcast:
    College writer Michael Smith and editor Tom Stinson discuss what the SEC Network means to the conference's schools as it gets ready to launch.

    TWC’s dominance in the Los Angeles market and the strength of the Lakers’ brand combined to create the eye-popping terms that launched TWC SportsNet and Spanish-language twin TWC Deportes in 2012. The new SEC Network is the current bookend for this trend, which started in 1999 with NBA TV, the first league-owned network, which I conceptualized and launched while at the NBA.

    What are today’s megatrends, the tectonic shifts that propel change, shape the ecosystem, and fuel the industry? Maximizing value and creating opportunities for your franchise/league/property requires you to expertly harness these:

    ■ Cord Cutters/Shavers/Nevers. Increases in multichannel video programming distributors’ (aka cable, telco and satellite companies) retail pricing, partly due to growing sports costs, are changing the distribution business.
    Pay-TV penetration has peaked, with higher prices (and the Great Recession) causing cord-cutting disconnects. Other customers have shaved their subscriptions, eliminating premium networks and/or downgrading to family or essentials packages without high-priced sports. Thus expanded basic service penetration, where RSNs and ESPN, FS1 and NBCSN are packaged, has declined. Sports network subscriber growth is now more dependent upon new household formation than penetration increases. “Nevers” are young adults newly out on their own that have never paid for their own MVPD subscriptions, and don’t see the need due to cost and a tendency to consume their video online. Will nevers numbers grow over time or will they enter the MVPD fold in ensuing life stages?

    ■ TV Everywhere. To satisfy consumers’ thirst for access to live programming on computers, tablets and mobile
    Video-on-demand services are among the forces that could reshape the sports media landscape.
    Photo by: Getty Images
    platforms, MVPDs have advanced TV Everywhere to maintain their place as the primary programming retailers. Through authenticated access, fans can get their games everywhere, provided they subscribe to an MVPD that has rights beyond its own distribution platform. This provides more value to fans, which aids in boosting subscriber satisfaction and retention. Improved network bandwidth, 4G, apps like WatchESPN, and larger smartphone screens are increasing real-time accessibility and starting to expand linear sports network viewing.

    ■ Over-the-top (OTT). Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus operate subscription video-on-demand services that stream a library of recorded entertainment content. Currently, they claim not to be interested in sports as their business models don’t support the purchase of live sports rights, leaving that turf for the linear networks for now. However, Sony and Dish are reportedly developing OTT services that will provide network programming without the need to buy an MVPD package. Google Fiber has launched and the company reportedly has had talks with the NFL about Sunday Ticket. The UFC and WWE have their own OTT services. Sooner or later, a nonconventional entrant is going to use the unique, proven power of live sports to differentiate, drive sampling and grow its customer base (like DirecTV did with the NFL). While Netflix has specifically eschewed interest in live sports, and Amazon’s platform is not able to deliver live programming, a Google or Amazon easily could make a huge investment in sports. Had the Supreme Court or Copyright Office found in their favor, Aereo would be just such a disruptive force today.

    ■ Social media.
    Sports is a major beneficiary of the burgeoning popularity of social media. Never before have such direct fan connections with athletes and other fans, as well as the free promotion of a live event via platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, been possible on such a mass scale. The communal experience of watching games in sports bars is replicated and enhanced digitally via social. Mobile and dual screens enable fans to discuss, debate, research and watch multiple games in real time.

    ■ Rising relative importance and value of live sports programming. The mainstay of the broader media business, scripted entertainment, has become less exclusive and more commoditized, with availability on a proliferation of first-run TV networks, re-run syndication, live Internet streams, downloads (iTunes), SVOD (subscription VOD services like Netflix and Amazon Prime), and ubiquitous DVRs, DVDs and traditional VOD. This has positioned live sports programming as a prime salvation for many linear networks. Sports is proprietary, topical, promotable, differentiated, ultra-local and essentially DVR-proof. Sports ratings are growing or holding while those for most entertainment programming have fallen to historic lows. High demand for scarce major live sports across linear networks continues to drive up sports rights fees.

    ■ Industry consolidation. Comcast is buying TWC. AT&T is buying DirecTV. Fox is trying to buy Time Warner. All are heavily involved in sports programming and/or distribution, so each deal will affect the sports media marketplace. We can expect other MVPDs like Cox, Charter, Cablevision, Verizon and Dish to be mixed and matched in some fashion, driven by the need for scale in negotiations with programmers and operating efficiencies versus their competitors. The same also might occur for other sports programming players, like Disney and CBS, in search of more critical mass in a new entertainment ecosystem. This should slow the creation of new sports programming networks and could lead to reduced competition if independents like MASN, Altitude, NESN and Pac-12 follow in the footsteps of YES and Sports Time Ohio, which were recently acquired by Fox.

    ■ Retransmission consent. Retrans is driving some consolidation in the local station marketplace (e.g., Tribune/Local TV; Gannett/Belo). Bigger station groups gain leverage in negotiations with MVPDs for carriage fees. Sports programming is a driver of many carriage negotiations (Fox uses its RSNs to help drive fees and distribution penetration for its nonsports networks). Retrans revenue may help return some sports to local over-the-air stations, re-enabled and motivated to financially compete with RSNs. Sports permits the stations to attract desirable audiences and amp up their retrans leverage with MVPDs. Retrans already has facilitated keeping Sunday afternoon NFL football on broadcast TV.

    ■ Emerging trends. There undoubtedly will be additional megatrends arising out of such forces as big data, technological advances in new devices and services (which often capitalize on sports), the multicultural demographic evolution in the U.S. population, and political influences (e.g., a la carte).

    These dynamic, interrelated forces are driving constant change at an accelerating rate throughout the entire sports media ecosystem. New technologies enable and empower fans and present increasingly complex challenges for all those invested in the future of sports. Expert understanding of these sports media megatrends is essential to solving your own unique puzzle, capitalizing on leveraging the power of media to maximize your opportunities now and in the future.

    Ed Desser, a 37-year veteran of the sports media business, is president of Desser Sports Media, a consulting firm serving teams, leagues, programmers and distributors. DSM has advised on and/or negotiated more than $25 billion in sports and media transactions, including all of the Los Angeles Lakers’ current media deals. Prior, Desser was president of NBA Television and New Media Ventures. John Thomas and Sue Hamilton also contributed to this article.

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