ESPN President John Skipper yesterday said that cable is in "no danger of de-bundling or significant decline -- and ESPN has no incentive to go a la carte," according to Josh Dickey of THE WRAP. Skipper, speaking at TheGrill -- The Wrap’s fourth annual Media Leadership Conference -- suggested that a "proliferation of video does not necessarily portend a cable erosion." Skipper: "It’s the best value in entertainment, and it’s not in a precipitous decline. Paid TV has for many years held almost all the good video. Now there are places where quality video exists outside this system. I think it will grow. The question is, Will it grow to the detriment of pay TV? So far, it hasn’t had any significant effects." He also was "quick to dismiss the media chatter -- fueled by Arizona Sen. John McCain’s bill proposal -- that an a la carte system is on the horizon." Skipper acknowledged that the marketplace "is rapidly shifting, but rejected that those changes are eroding cable." He said, "In the current environment, when you say there’s fragmentation -- what we’re really talking about is proliferation. I’m not dismissing that things are happening. There are new sources of video." However, the "appetite for content -- and sports content, in particular -- is essentially keeping pace." Skipper: "ESPN has pushed at the boundaries of how much sports content is relevant … there doesn’t seem to be any lack of appetite for more stuff" (THEWRAP.com, 9/24).
TOMORROWLAND: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Georg Szalai noted new TV deals "start kicking in for ESPN in 2014, drawing a question about the network's margin outlook." Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger said that ESPN "will not rest on its laurels and sees opportunities of growth despite increased competition." He "concluded that ESPN's 'best times' are still ahead of it." Iger, discussing int'l opportunities, said ESPN was "less likely to grow its brand outside of Latin America." The company recently "withdrew from Europe in what Iger called a 'near-exit.'" He explained that it "was 'really difficult' to grow ESPN internationally as many markets feature established pay TV platforms that acquire sports rights as a loss leader" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 9/24).
FS Prime Ticket has "decided to end" its game-day Dodgers TV programs when the regular season ends on Sunday, as they are "moving their broadcasts to Time Warner Cable next season," according to Bill Shaikin of the L.A. TIMES. A source said that FS Prime Ticket's decision "is strictly business." The source said that it would be "difficult to defray production costs for pregame and postgame shows based on ad sales ... because many advertisers want a package that includes commercials during the game." Under "normal circumstances, Fox would air pregame and postgame shows even at a financial loss" (LATIMES.com, 9/24).
THE VOICE: In L.A., Chris Erskine notes if the Dodgers advance in the playoffs, Fox' Joe Buck would call the World Series instead of team broadcaster Vin Scully. Erskine: "Nothing against Buck, for he's got baseball in the blood. ... Buck is a pro's pro. But he's no Scully. ... I could make a case Scully should be doing every World Series, but especially he should do a Dodgers World Series." However, Scully said that he has "no interest in getting in the way, and he's quite content to work the games only on radio." Fox said that plans are "still underway, and they need also to honor Tim McCarver, who is retiring." One possibility they have "considered is bringing other announcers into the booth to help honor McCarver, which could include Scully" (L.A. TIMES, 9/25).
Longhorn Network now is "affecting college basketball fans," as the Univ. of Oklahoma's Big 12 Conference opener against Texas is slated to air on the cable net, according to Berry Tramel of the OKLAHOMAN. Out of 90 conference games, "only seven have been bypassed by the ESPN brand." One of those seven games -- Oklahoma State-Kansas -- "will be on CBS." Tramel: "Basically, six games didn’t make the cut." ESPN, which owns LHN, has discovered there is "not enough quality programming to devote an entire television channel to just one college athletic program," and the public outcry for "such a channel is not strong, even with a fan base as mighty as Texas." Thus, ESPN set aside certain games "to draw more eyeballs or new subscribers" to LHN. The move "frankly is OK from the Texas side," but for fans of some other Big 12 schools, that means "either they can’t watch their team play, or they watch their team play under the brand of the opposition." However, ESPN is "not in the business of placating OU basketball fans," and LHN "needs inventory." If it means OU fans "don’t get to watch their conference opener, so be it." If it means "watching OU’s conference opener amid a cavalcade of Texas promotions, so be it." The move could "create a backlash," and not just from "basketball zealots, but from fans tired of Texas’ influence on the conference." The move by ESPN and LHN was made possible by the Big 12's decision "to forego a conference network and let schools branch out on their own." That is where OU "made its mistake." The school's alliance with Fox Sports "has proven to be fine and solid and good television for ardent OU fans." But Fox Sports "is not ESPN" (OKLAHOMAN, 9/23).
Fox Sports, in negotiating a deal with the USGA to carry the U.S. Open starting in '15, "apparently had the inside track, partly because it was a novice in golf," according to an in-depth examination of the deal by Ron Sirak of GOLF DIGEST. The competition was "ostensibly" between NBC/Golf Channel and ESPN, but USGA negotiators found Fox to be "a platform unlike any other." The USGA in Fox "could have a loud voice in entertainment, news and sports with only one golf property to ballyhoo." The loss of EPL soccer "created a content issue" for Fox, and the USGA "has 16 championships that can help fill that void." The USGA in May "got a sense of what its product might be worth when ESPN took the U.S. Open tennis tournament from CBS" beginning in '15 in an 11-year, $825M deal. The USGA "believed that U.S. Open golf was worth at least as much as U.S. Open tennis." The atmosphere of this "bidding war provided rich air for the USGA to breathe, and it was determined to take advantage." The idea with the Fox deal was "to expose the USGA product to the casual golf fan and even the general sports fan" on FS1. While USGA Managing Dir of Communications Joe Goode said that there was "unanimity" among the USGA Exec Committee, consultants and the negotiating team on the deal, there is "clearly a split between the old and new USGA." Even many supportive of the move"have issues with how ESPN and NBC were treated after years of loyalty." Sirak asks, "Will bringing fresh eyes into the game help jazz up broadcasting?" Fox "has not been shy about experimenting." One thing Fox has is "the time to make mistakes," while the USGA has "the money to endure mistakes." What is clear is that the USGA will have Fox "all to itself for the time being as a golf property." The PGA Tour is signed with NBC, CBS and Golf Channel through '21, while CBS has the PGA Championship through '19 and ESPN has the British Open through '17 (GOLF DIGEST, 11'/13 issue).
BY THE NUMBERS: GOLFWEEK's Martin Kaufmann writes NBC's broadcasters are "good business partners for FedEx and the PGA Tour." Dan Hicks "breathlessly opened" the net's Tour Championship broadcast on Sunday by saying, "It is one of the most exciting, riveting and pressure-packed days in all of sport with all the money that's on the line." It was left to analyst Steve Sands to "explain the various [FedExCup] scenarios." NBC this year "upgraded Sands from the whiteboard to a nifty touch-screen display, and he again handled it like the smartest student in the class." But "if you need an announcer to explain who might win, you have less of a sporting contest than a math problem." That is a "big hurdle for the broadcaster to overcome" (GOLFWEEK, 9/27 issue).
USA TODAY's Rem Rieder wrote ESPN's Tony Kornheiser is "on to something with his suggestion that TV newscasts 'steal' an idea from 'PTI' and employ fact-checkers to call them out on their mistakes ... on air and in real time." Kornheiser on Sunday "issued the challenge to his more serious TV colleagues" during a segment of CNN's "Reliable Sources" "showcasing PTI's very own fact-checker, Tony Reali." TV news has been "a laggard when it comes to setting the record straight," and the idea of "pointing out the mistakes on the program where they took place is perfect for the digital age" (USA TODAY, 9/25).
THREE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER: NBC Sports Group is launching an NFL-themed show across its RSNs next week. The 30-minute "3 and Out" debuts Tuesday and is described as an analysis-and-debate program that discusses three storylines for the upcoming week. NBC will use analysts that already are on-air at the RSNs they operate. CSN Houston's Kelli Johnson, CSN Mid-Atlantic's Brian Mitchell, CSN New England's Mike Felger and CSN Bay Area's Ray Ratto will be regular guests (John Ourand, Staff Writer). QUICK LOOK: In Las Vegas, Ron Kantowski writes, "There is much to like in 'Flat Out,' the new AOL docu-series that focuses on Dylan Kwasniewski, the 18-year-old NASCAR phenom from Las Vegas" who recently moved to Charlotte "to accelerate his career." There are 10 episodes, "but each lasts only a tightly edited seven minutes." The "most compelling" installment is Episode 4, in which Kwasniewski "discusses the death of his father," former Hard Rock Hotel President & CEO Randy Kwasniewski (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 9/25).
LOVE IT LIVE: PepsiCo CMO/Global Consumer Engagement Frank Cooper yesterday at the Advertising Week 2013 conference in N.Y. said that a "major reason for the growing interest in sports is the widespread belief that as programming, sports events are 'DVR-proof' because they are almost always watched live." In N.Y., Stuart Elliott reports Twitter Dir of Promoted Content & Sponsorships Glenn Brown "described how marketers associating themselves with live sports events ought to be 'ready for the unexpected' like the brief blackout during Super Bowl XLVII" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/25).