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Volume 7 No. 149
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Hangin' With ... HBO Sports President Ken Hershman

KEN HERSHMAN is the president of HBO Sports and as such is responsible for the strategic direction of the division. Hershman, who was named president in Jan. '12, is a veteran sports TV exec and came to HBO from rival premium pay cable network Showtime. At Showtime, he was exec VP/GM of sports and event programming, a position that he held from Oct. '03 to Oct. '11. Hershman recently talked to SBD Global about the importance of boxing, attracting global audiences and technological changes.

On the importance of boxing and other sports rights that would fit HBO's portfolio...
Ken Hershman: Clearly boxing is the flagship property for HBO Sports. It is the centerpiece of what we work on every day at HBO Sports. When HBO first entered the world of boxing more than 40 years ago, we quickly became the standard of excellence in the coverage and presentation of the sport, and that standard is what we hold ourselves to on every show we do. Being a premium pay cable network, any sport we might consider would have to be first and foremost measured by how our subscriber base would welcome and embrace it as part of their monthly viewing habits and their expectations of HBO. Secondly, we would have to be confident that we could bring the same high production and storytelling values that we bring to our boxing coverage.

On the confusing structure of boxing...
Hershman: Although we have a mutual interest in the sport, HBO does not have discussions or negotiations with the various sanctioning bodies, as that is the purview of the promoter and the individual fighters. Boxing, like every sport, is comprised of both hardcore and casual fan bases. The over abundance of titles and weight classes does make it difficult for the casual fan to navigate and follow the sport. We have focused our attention not necessarily on titles, but rather on connecting our subscribers to the athletes and their particular storylines, both within the context of the fight but also the larger backstory of who they are and why the fans should root for them. Sometimes that storyline might include a title, but more often than not, the story is about so much more.

On HBO's global audience...
Hershman: With the exception of soccer, there isn't a more international sport than boxing. The international appeal of a boxer and/or a fight matchup is a factor in how a fight can be made and where it might take place. HBO has presented telecasts from every continent except Antarctica. HBO has on many occasions presented fights from overseas. Of late we have presented fights from different continents in the same telecast both live and on same-day tape delay. This has been a benefit to domestic and international fans of the sport. In November we go back to Macau with global superstar Manny Pacquiao for a pay-per-view event, and look forward to continuing to build our HBO stars globally.

On technological changes...
Hershman: We look at new technologies and social media as an effective vehicle to enhance what we already do with all of our shows, from Hard Knocks, to Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, to The Fight Game with Jim Lampley, State of Play, 24/7 and our documentaries -- that is to tell compelling and informative stories. We were first in the boxing arena to introduce Snappy real-time highlights and distribute them through our social media outlets. We produce Overtime features exclusive to the HBO.com platform to drive web traffic. We launched a new digital media initiative in boxing called "The Delta Force," which delivers bonus content to hungry fight fans. It is our content that generates buzz and for that we take great pride.

On HBO's position in the sports media landscape...
Hershman: HBO Sports is unique but it does not mean we are without competition. Many other sports networks are serving up first-rate documentaries and reality programming. That is why we have to continue to mine out distinctive and original programming initiatives. It's a competitive marketplace and that is why you have to set a strategy and a vision and adhere to it. You simply can't outbid everybody. But at the end of the day, as long as we execute at the highest level, and keep the goals we have set in sight, we will continue to stand out as the best in the business.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.