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Volume 24 No. 116
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SMT Conference: Stern, Skipper, Levy Give Their Insight On Sports Media

The ’12 Covington & Burling Sports Media & Technology conference got under way yesterday in N.Y. with a panel featuring three of the industry's heavy hitters -- NBA Commissioner David Stern, ESPN President John Skipper and Turner Broadcasting President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy. The panel, titled “From The Top: Insights On Sports Media,” saw Skipper comment on discussions between the network and league partners with regard to on-air talent: “When we’re doing games, we of course consult with our partners. We’re licensing their product to put on our air. I will state categorically that the decision not to hire Stan Van Gundy was my decision and only my decision. We looked at a number of people to put on our studio show. I wanted to bring in Bill Simmons, which we did. Simmons had a relationship with Jalen Rose. We brought Stan Van Gundy in to audition. He did very well. We did proceed with a discussion with him about potentially hiring him and then I decided not to. The only time I had a discussion with David [Stern] was when I told him, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’” Regarding TV Everywhere and cord cutting, Levy said, “The industry has done a poor job in saying what the value has been for the cable business. It’s good value for $80. And, by the way, TV Everywhere will make it even more valuable. Ultimately, you have to come up with opportunities to make sure that they don’t cut the cord. … 25% of the country now owns a tablet, 94% own a phone and 70% of those phones have video capabilities. If you allow these devices to have this content, and all you have to do is authenticate to get it, that’s giving huge value to all these technologies that people are buying.”

DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Skipper also discussed the decision to postpone the ING N.Y. Marathon, which was set to be aired on live TV (ESPN2) for the first time since ‘93. Skipper said, “We were not involved. Nobody asked our opinion. … I think ultimately they made the right decision, although I think the judgment about their decision-making process has been a little harsh. I think there is a point in time when a marathon would have been a spectacular rallying event for the city. That time is clearly not when you have limited resources and you’re having to decide where generators go and where police go. The main thing that matters is that they got to the right decision. But we were uninvolved.”

Skipper said canceling NY Marathon was right call


-- Skipper, on the shift of sports to cable TV: “The notion that the NBA gave up anything to come to ESPN and TNT is laughable. Look at the position of the league now. You’re not giving up audience by moving into what’s happening next. You actually lose audience by trying to hold onto what happened before.”

-- Stern, on new media companies like Apple, Google, etc.: “Ultimately, I think that they all are going to conclude that content is going to drive them because content is what has prevailed.” Levy, on new media companies becoming bidders for rights: “At some point, someone like a Google, a Microsoft or an Apple will step up and try to buy some rights. I don’t know if it will be the NBA or the NFL, but I believe it will be something they’ll try to get.” Skipper, on relationships with new media companies: “I don’t see Apple as a competitor. We’re growing our business by creating applications and content for tablets and iPhones. Last time I checked, ESPN had the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 sports apps on Apple devices. We’re putting ads on those and making money. And we have the same conversations with Microsoft. We were on the Surface (launch). We had a built-in application. And we’ll do the same thing with Samsung and Android.”

    -- Stern, on cord cutting: “It has to be a concern, for those of us who study the industry, that people may not be watching cable or satellite. Even if it’s only 1% to worry about. But that’s why it’s good to have a partner with an over-the-air network. That’s why it’s good to have a social media presence, in some shape or form.” Levy, on cord cutting: “What we’re more concerned about are what we call the ‘nevers.’ Those that are never going to get on cable. And we do believe that’s going to start happening with the younger generations. I’m not worried about the cord cutting, I’m worried about the ‘nevers.’”

      See the conference's full agenda and read more in our dedicated SMT blog.