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  • Sports Media from the Distributors' POV

    How can distributors craft a business model that brings in profits despite the rising cost of sports channels? Top execs from some of the country’s biggest distributors came together to discuss the issue during the second day of the 2012 Sports Media & Technology conference.

    Sports Media Distributors


    Michael Hopkins, Fox Networks
    Ryan O'Hara, The Topps Co.
    Jeffrey Weber, AT&T
    Melinda Witmer, Time Warner Cable

    Jeff Weber, president of content and advertising sales for AT&t, said of the deal his company struck with Time Warner Cable for its L.A.-based regional sports networks: “The issue is sports rights and the cost of those rights. In the case of the Lakers, as in the case of all the deals we’re looking at, we take a much harder look at each of the content choices we’re making. Twenty-four months ago, we weren’t making choices. We were negotiating rates in a different way. You really just took the content, but now we are really making a decision on viewership, usage and intensity of viewership to decide whether to take it on or not. In the case of the Lakers, we made a decision that it was in the best interests of our customers.”

    Melinda Witmer, chief video and content officer for Time Warner Cable, talked about being on the other side of the regional sports network equation, as an owner:
    “It has been an illuminating experience in a lot of ways. Not the least of which has been coming to understand better the challenges that other distributors have. We understand cable really well. We understand the way we package really well. But it has given us an opportunity to understand better how others are addressing and serving their consumers. More than anything, we said we know the value assessments we make, and we have to deliver value that Time Warner Cable would justify on the other side or we’ll end up being the only ones distributing the product. It’s why we did what we did in Spanish, and it also allowed us to create a Korean feed for Lakers games.”

    Fox President of Distribution Mike Hopkins discussed the loss of the Lakers to Time Warner Cable, and said, “It’s a valuable product. The Lakers have a passionate fan base. Obviously, we’re disappointed to lose them, but at the end of the day, you look at live sports and the passion behind it. We have a lot of teams in a lot of markets. The fact that distributors are valuing content as highly as they are, we think it’s good for us in the long run. We have a lot of teams locked up for a lot of years. We’re looking forward to the future because regional sports and sports in general are the places where you’ll find passion and rabidity. Not every team in every market. But sports is one of those things that consumers pay distributors for.”

    Weber also jokingly responded to Witmer when she reminded him that AT&T had also bid on the Lakers’ rights, saying, “Yeah, but we stopped when it got crazy.”

    Tags: Media, Time Warner, TES
  • Paul Tagliabue on technology, innovation and the value of conflict in an organization

    Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (right) was interviewed by SBJ/SBD Executive Editor Abraham Madkour.

    To build a successful media strategy and maximize rights fees, properties need to foster competition and invest in technology, said former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue during a one-on-one interview. Tagliabue pointed to moves he made at the NFL as an example of what he meant. When he took over as NFL commissioner in 1989, the league had broadcast rights agreements with CBS and NBC and a small, new agreement with ESPN. There was little competition in the marketplace, but the league fostered competition on the broadcast side by selling rights to Fox and on the cable side by selling rights to TNT. The league also invested in technology by partnering with DirecTV to make all games available on a “Sunday Ticket” package. Tagliabue said, “When you deploy your rights, you have to understand you can encourage technology and structure competition in a way that gives you a sustainable environment over the long run. You can’t just focus on what your rights fee is going to be or what your audience is going to be. You’ve got to, as a rightsholder, invest in technology – directly or indirectly - and invest in competition. As long as you keep investing in innovation, technology and competition, you’ll be OK if you have a product that drives that.”

    Quick hits:

    On the potential for YouTube, NetFlix, Apple and others to become bidders for sports rights:
    “Each company presents a different set of issues. Some are going to be taken over by technology. Some are going to be the cutting edge of technology. As I look at the world right now ... the same three issues are present in higher education, business and sports: technology and the pace of innovation and the ROI for new technologies; globalization, which creates massive new markets and also massive innovators, which creates the opportunity for conflict or collaboration; and value, which the other part of value is cost. You can use the technologies, you can use globalization, you can use partnerships to deliver better costs. But those three things – and I’m traveling all over the world, you can have breakfast with business people, lunch with people in sports and dinner with people in higher education – and those are the three things people are talking about.”

    On the challenges of leading an organization: “What keeps you up at night is all the conflict you have at an organization. It’s not only internal conflict. It’s conflict with outside partners. Managing conflict is very hard. It’s stressful. It requires a lot of thought. It requires a lot of creativity. It requires a lot of confrontation. But it’s healthy. If you don’t have conflicting ideas coming up, odds are you have a comatose organization, which is not a good place to be. Conflict in this sense means conflicting idea. You have to have a balance between people who are entrepreneurial and people who understand the value of teamwork and building consensus. There was a great World War II general who said, ‘When everybody on my staff is thinking alike, I know nobody is thinking.’ You have to have different ideas bubbling up in your organization.”

    Tags: Media, NFL, One-on-One, DC, CBS, NBC, ESPN, Fox, DirecTV, USTA, Audi
  • From the Top: Levy, Skipper, Stern give Insights on Sports Media

    The opening panel of the 2012 Sports Media & Technology conference featured three of the top executives in sports. Above is the full video of the panel, which includes, from left, David Levy of the Turner Broadcasting System, John Skipper of ESPN, David Stern of the NBA, and moderator John Ourand of SportsBusiness Journal/Daily.

    Tags: Media
  • WWE posts photos from 2012 SMT

    Stephanie McMahon, WWE executive vice president, creative, was the subject of a one-on-one interview at #sbjsmt.
    Photo by Marc Bryan-Brown

    The WWE's Stephanie McMahon was the subject of a featured one-on-one interview during day one of the conference, and the company sent along a photographer to get shots of McMahon; WWE Executive VP Perkins Miller, who was a panelist during another session; and wrestler Mark Henry, who posed with conference attendees during the networking reception at the end of the day.

    You can take a look at the WWE's photos HERE.

    Tags: One-on-One
  • Top execs discuss the state of sports media

    Fox Sports Media Group's Eric Shanks talks about the importance of owning local streaming rights to live games.

    From evolving sports rights to consumption patterns to the at-home vs. in-venue experience, the opening panel of the second day of the ’12 Sports Media & Technology conference tackled a long list of issues facing the industry.

    Here are some quick hits from the session:

    MLB Exec VP/Business Tim Brosnan, whose league just wrapped up national TV rights deals with ESPN, Fox and TBS, on what’s next for the league: “MLB Network is 4 years old now, and our affiliate agreements are for 5 years. We’ve been working on and are now getting to the point where we’re going to make commitments on how you approach the affiliate marketplace. It’s going to be an interesting process. We expect to do well in that marketplace. What we promised the affiliates when we launched MLB Network, we have over-delivered and then some. So we’re going to get into the question about what sort of compensation ought to be paid for the network. I think that you’re going to see us do some things that allow us to have the leverage that we need in the marketplace to get the carriage we think we deserve at the prices we think are fair to us and fair to consumers.”

    The State of Sports Media


    David Berson, CBS Sports Network
    Tim Brosnan, MLB Enterprises
    John Collins, NHL
    Doug Gibson, Covington & Burling
    Brian Rolapp, NFL Media
    Eric Shanks, Fox Sports Media Group


    Asked for examples of leverage, Brosnan said, “When you go back and study the original carriage we got for the network, what was a real piece of leverage was the Extra Innings package. 600,000 subscribers helped us drive 50 million subs. If you look at how that out-of-market business has evolved, it’s really a marketplace for both broadcast and online. It’s robust in both places. I think you’ll perhaps see a combining of those packages and using that as a lever to help drive distribution for the network.”

    NHL COO John Collins, on the effects of the NHL lockout: “We’re clearly at an important moment right now. We’ve already cancelled games for October and November and last week cancelled the Winter Classic, which is just another regular-season game, but symbolic for us. We’ve got three days, including today, of extended negotiations, so we’re very hopeful.” Collins also discussed how NHL Network and NHL.com were covering the lockout:
    CBS Sports' David Berson talks about changes that have been made and are in the works for CBS Sports Network.

    We were watching all the other networks to see how they handled the lockouts on their networks. [NFL Network] looked at it like it was really an external news organization and really went out of their way to not only give the league perspective, but also the players, which I thought was great. The NBA went a different direction based on certain restrictions their bargaining agreement may have. For us, we haven’t really covered the lockout on our platforms from a news standpoint. We haven’t used it as a bully pulpit to get the league’s message out there. We’ve sort of been very quiet throughout this negotiation and I think we’ll remain that way.”

    Fox Sports Media Group COO Eric Shanks, on losing EPL rights to NBC Sports Network, said, “That was a huge bummer for us. With Fox/News Corp. being the biggest distributor of soccer rights in the world, it was huge for us. We fought hard to try and keep it. We’re still big believers in soccer. We own rights to the World Cup after 2014, still have the [UEFA] Champions League, still have the FA Cup, still have Copa America. So it’s still a big part of our portfolio and we’re as committed to it as ever.”

    NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp, on finally wrapping up a distribution deal for NFL Network with Time Warner Cable: “[Time Warner Cable Exec VP and Chief Video & Content Officer] Melinda Witmer and I kid about it now, but it was our summer ritual where we would lose three weeks of our lives trying to come to an agreement. And it never came together for a lot of reasons. But I think this year was different, when we went to 13 live games on NFL Network, which really is as close to a full-season package as you can get. But it’s not the total number of games that matters, it’s that the package is spread out over the whole season. When we had an eight-game package that was spread out over around six weeks, if you were a cable operator, and you could just batten down the hatches and get through those six weeks, and tell your subscribers it’ll be OK, then maybe they thought they’ll be OK. That’s harder to do over the course of a whole season. What also helped were key renewals we had with Dish and AT&T, as well as the new deal with Cablevision. Time Warner was the last holdout. But to their credit, they saw the value. They knew for their business it was time.”

    Brosnan, on the high costs of sports rights, said, “This weekend I’ll go out to the movies, and if I take my four kids, maybe we’ll get out of there for around $100. That’s on a Saturday night for around three hours. And everyone complains about the cable bill, and we apologize for it. But I think that we should stop apologizing for it. Last Saturday, I finally got power back and was able to sit on my couch and watch three hours of college football on various networks, flipping back and forth. Unbelievably good entertainment and it kept me on the couch. And that was one day out of 30 that I pay a bill for.”


    Tags: Media, MLB, ESPN, Fox, TES, DC, NHL
  • TWC's Witmer responds to DirecTV criticism of new L.A. networks

    Witmer said DirecTV only thinks the system is broken "when the product doesn't belong to them."

    Time Warner Cable's carriage battle with DirecTV over TWC's new Los Angeles sports networks went public this week. Two days after DirecTV President Mike White bashed the pricetag of TWC's networks, Time Warner Cable Exec VP and Chief Video & Content Officer Melinda Witmer responded in kind.

    On his company's earnings call, White pointed to TWC SportsNet as an example of a "broken" regional sports network structure, where a company like Time Warner Cable buys rights "for three times the national average on a per-game basis." On Thursday, during the 2012 Sports Media & Technology conference in New York, Witmer responded: “Some of the math that Mike’s quoting, I’m not quite understanding. But most importantly, I’d remind Mike that he owns regional sports networks. And I’ll tell you, Time Warner Cable pays a lot more for the Root Sports networks than we’re asking DirecTV to pay for the Lakers. The system is broken and a mess when it’s not their product. We feel comfortable that we’re offering good value for fans.”

    Tags: Time Warner, DirecTV, TSN, Media
  • Figuring out the value of digital media

    ComScore, Panel Data and other measurement tools are only a starting point for figuring out the value of digital media, but brands are increasingly evaluating the return of a digital spend on objectives rather than reach, a group of researchers and digital ad buyers said during the ’12 Sports Media & Technology conference at a session called “Sports Sponsorship Investment in Digital Media.” Digitas SVP Media Adam Schlacter said, “Service-side data are great signals in terms of what to expect, but they’re not necessarily good predictors of performance. They’re good predictors of who you might reach. You have to use them to help inform a decision, but I don’t know how you can rely on them to determine what the outcome of a program is from brand to brand.”

    Sports Sponsorship Investment in Digital Media


    David Coletti, ESPN
    Jeff Hackett, comScore
    Shaun Koiner, Sporting News
    Adam Schlachter, Digitas New York
    Colleen Soriano, Universal McCann


    Universal McCann Managing Partner & Senior VP, U.S. Integrated Investment and Digital Innovation Colleen Soriano pointed to her company’s work with Army and Chrysler as an example of how the importance of ComScore and other measurement services varies from brand to brand. Soriano said that with the Army, digital advertising is “much more about supporting their pillars: strategy, leadership, endurance. They want to bring those to life. A ‘brought to you by’ or shallow vignette doesn’t work for them.” By contrast, she said Chrysler measures the total number of views it gets for a Super Bowl spot on YouTube in the months after the games. SportingNews VP Marketing and Chief Creative Officer Shaun Koiner said a lot of that difference is rooted in brands’ move in recent years to create and own their own content. Koiner: “ComScore is going to be the starting place in the near future, but ... now you have brands who are content creators and the engagement there is different and it’s not measured in traditional ways. You have army creating content. We’ve worked with UPS to create a specific stat because they’re measuring logistics. … It’s a much deeper experience.”
    Recognizing the limitations of digital measurement, ESPN VP Digital Media Research and Analytics David Coletti noted that ESPN recently partnered with ComScore and Arbitron to create a measurement tool for radio, television, mobile phones, tablets and desktop computers that everyone could use in hopes that brands would have a reliable, cross-platform-measurement system. Measuring mobile traffic has been the most difficult for ESPN and others to do because the device being used varies from visitor to visitor. Coletti said, “It matters a great deal if you’re on an iPhone or Android device. It is something we absolutely have to solve. For example, on an NFL Sunday the last two months we’re seeing a 50-50 split between desktop and laptop traffic and mobile and tablet access. It’s imperative on us as an industry to get the measurement right to the extent we can because, for the ad community, I assume they need justification to make these investments.”

    Tags: Media, CHL, NEC, NTRA, Super Bowl, UPS
  • Claude Ruibal talks about Google/YouTube's four 'big rocks'

    Claude Ruibal talked about what Google/YouTube is doing in sports.
    Photo by Marc Bryan-Brown

    In the featured presentation on Wednesday afternoon, Claude Ruibal, Google/YouTube's global head of sports content, took the opportunity to tell his audience of more than 400 sports business executives what YouTube is and isn't. "We're a distribution platform,' said Ruibal. "There always seems to be confusion about what we're doing in sports. I was enjoying (ESPN's) John Skipper's conversation with David Stern at this morning's session, about whether Google or Facebook or others were going to be buying rights for distribution on their platforms -- whether a technology company could become a content company. We're not in the rights-buying business. We're a distribution company.

    "We partner with rights owners," Ruibal continued. "We partner with broadcasters to help them distribute across OUR platform using THEIR brand. We're not creators of content and we're not curators of content. We try to be additive, not competitive." Ruibal made it clear there will many more sports channels to come on YouTube: "They will be very niche-oriented. Yoga, wrestling, fencing, gymnastics. We think they'll be able to aggregate a global audience around these sports effectively because of our broad reach and scale." Ruibal cited deals with Major League Soccer (Kick TV), the U.S. Olympic Committee, Tony Hawk and WWE as recent examples of brands maximizing the benefits of having their own YouTube channels.

    Ruibal told the audience that YouTube is focused on four "big rocks." He identified them as:
    - Surround Live: "Working with existing content in a catch-up environment."
    - Serve Under-served Audiences: "Provide live content for audiences who currently can't get it where they live."
    - More Immersive Context: "More context around what we're showing on You Tube. A good example is what we're doing with America's Cup.”
    - Finding Undistributed Content: "Not just launching new content, but finding content with leagues and other organizations that isn't being broadcast today."
    With 800 million unique visitors per month and four billion hours of content per month, Ruibal said that YouTube is only getting started and welcomes all varieties of sports content.

    Tags: Audi, ESPN, Facebook, DC, Soccer
  • Fantasy Sports more than holding its own in a weak economy, panelists say

    Despite a weak economy, members of a Fantasy Sports panel said that they have not seen a real decrease in participation numbers. Stats Inc.‘s Greg Ambrosius said, “Our numbers are up 38% this year, and last year was up as well. The numbers keep growing and growing. … People still have a passion for fantasy football and everyone thinks they can win on draft day.” Fantasy Football Players Championship co-Founder Alex Kaganovsky, whose company has more than 1,000 teams in ’12 with cash prizes reaching the $1.2M mark, also noted, “This year, we saw absolutely no letup in participation. In fact, it has gone up incredibly.” The panelists also discussed ways to potentially grow interest in these high stakes games. Fulltime Fantasy Sports’ Emil Kadlec said, “The opportunity may not necessarily be in televising a draft, but in really following the characters. These people are from all walks of life. Professionals, students.” Ambrosius added that SiriusXM “has done a great job with their fantasy channel, and any time you’re on there, you’re reaching a hard-core audience of people. That’s been a great driver of new customers, as well.”

    Fantasy Sports: Future of High Stakes Games


    Greg Ambrosius, Stats
    Emil Kadlec, Fulltime Fantasy Sports
    Alex Kaganovsky, Fantasy Football Players Championship
    Stacie Stern, Head2Head Sports


    A recurring theme during a discussion of high-stakes fantasy gaming was the black eye given the industry from certain companies not paying out on games in the past. Head2Head Sports GM Stacie Stern noted that the issue is always being discussed at the Fantasy Trade Sports Association and said, “I don’t know how much regulation we as an association can place on companies. The best thing is to put the power in consumers’ hands. Tell them, ‘Hey, check out this company. Look up their reputation, their history.’ … Unfortunately, people are going to be on the bad end of that. It happens in all businesses. I just don’t think we can regulate it.”

    Tags: Football, Champion, Champions, IBL, NEC, SiriusXM, Audi
  • Global Sports Media outlook: Challenges for NFL, UFC; soccer still hot

    Michael Payne on the challenges for UFC in the face of government resistance in some countries.

    When it comes to growth potential, UFC and the NFL have unique challenges, and soccer is still king, said a panel of experts discussing global media. Michael Payne said F1’s recent deal with NBC was largely over marketing potential, and added that F1 has been struggling with its presence in the U.S.: “It really was a case of looking at your partners to who would committ the most marketing muscle on a five-year plan. The deal was driven by marketing and promotion.” On growth properties globally, Joe Ravitch said, “We believe the UFC is the fastest growing global sport. It’s a very primal sport and it appeals to every country. It’s been a phenomenon in Brazil.” Payne agreed, but warned that some governments have pressured media companies about MMA programming.

    Global Media: Opportunities and Challenges


    Mike Dolan, IMG Worldwide
    Michael Payne, Payne Sports Media Strategies
    Joe Ravitch, Raine
    Oliver Slipper, PERFORM


    Payne: “You’re getting leaned on big time by government not to touch it. …Governments are sending strong signals what content they will accept or not.” UFC is probably the fastest growing sport, “but you have a lot of questions on it.” He added, “Rugby 7s is very much growing and it will really grow by being on the Olympic program.” Ravitch: “The NBA in China continues to go from strength to strength. You see this as you drive throughout the country. They are building more and more hoops all over the place. The NBA is firmly engrained in Chinese culture.”

    AND THE NFL: Asked about the NFL’s prospects for growing overseas, Oliver Slipper said he noticed traction gained by the league in London: “You get the sense that the NFL is growing in London. …. I think the NFL could franchise in London and I think there is a growing demand for the NFL.” But Ravitch said, “The NFL has a separate challenge, as it’s not a sport that is played anywhere else. ….
    I tell everyone the NFL is the first, second and third most popular sport in the U.S. So why bother trying to build a sport where no one plays it? The biggest question is how come sports like the NHL and MLB haven’t been able to grow internationally like the NBA has. … Those are sports that are played in those markets. … That’s a decision these leagues and owners are going to have to make.” Ravitch added it’s all about a league’s business plan: “The NBA made a conscious decision to invest internationally. It’s just a matter of someone choosing a direction and running after it.”

    LOOKING AHEAD: One sport that we should all be watching over the next five years? Mike Dolan: “It’s still soccer. Soccer is the international game, and so it becomes, after that, then what else and where?” Ravitch: “Baseball has a golden opportunity that it hasn’t taken advantage of to go globally.” Payne: “There is nothing out there that is up and coming, from the mainstream, that is getting everyone’s attention. Beyond the traditional sports at the moment, there is nothing jumping out at you.” Slipper: “Cricket. It is a sport with great excitement and it’s going global. It is starting to get more distribution in Europe. There are cricket pitches built on the campuses of Microsoft, Oracle and other tech companies in Silicon Valley.”


    Tags: UFC, NFL, Soccer, Media, NBC, TES, Brazil, Rugby, NBA, China, TRAC
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