Horowitz' Fox Sports Legacy Appears Difficult To Gauge; Where Does FS1 Go Next?
Jamie Horowitz' dismissal from Fox Sports represented a "sudden fall for a mastermind of sports TV shouting," as Horowitz was "unafraid to disrupt the status quo in an effort to expand audience," according to Kevin Draper of the N.Y. TIMES. If Horowitz "did not invent shout shows for sports, he was among the first to cash in on them aggressively." The "final show he helped create" during his time at ESPN was “Olbermann,” with former “SportsCenter” anchor Keith Olbermann. Olbermann called Horowitz an "exceptional producer and an exceptional executive." Olbermann: "There was never any sense that it was conflict.” Asked if he had ever witnessed any untoward behavior from Horowitz or knew anything about his firing, Olbermann said, “No, nothing.” Draper notes it is "difficult to ascertain" whether Horowitz' strategy of hiring known on-air talent for debate shows "has been successful." Before Horowitz arrived, FS1’s viewership was "almost nonexistent," and the bar was "so low that even a modest audience might be interpreted as huge growth." But Horowitz’ FS1 was "rarely innovative." The strategy "replicated what he had done years earlier at ESPN: Find two hosts who tested well and run the cameras while they yell at each other" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/7).
COURSE OF ACTION: CNBC.com's Eric Jackson asked, "What do you do if you're Fox now that Horowitz is gone?" That task "falls on the shoulders" of Fox Sports President & COO Eric Shanks. But his options are not "particularly attractive." Shanks could "bet more on sports rights," but that is "unlikely until Fox' Sky deal is approved or not by British regulators which won't be until the fall." Then, there is the "problem that the big sports leagues are still a few years away from auctioning off their next packages of rights." Jackson also wondered if 21st Century Fox Exec Chair Rupert Murdoch and his sons "really want to go on a significant spending spree for a cable channel that might continue to bleed subscribers." Shanks could "cut expensive debate talent and go back to sports highlights," but Fox Sports has "already tried the nondebate approach and it didn't yield great ratings either." Jackson noted Shanks could also "'Cheddar'-ize FS1." Cheddar is a "private company who has so far raised" $32M to "create a CNBC-style business content network which is available in a direct-to-consumer fashion or via distribution partners like Fusion, Twitter, Sling, Amazon and Facebook for free." FS1 has "less in affiliate revenues" than ESPN, so it has "much less to lose." But FS1 "needs the cable bundle to continue to keep getting" its $1.3B a year in affiliate fee revenues. Jackson: "The most likely strategy for FS1 is the one it's been following for the last few years: status quo" (CNBC.com, 7/6).