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Volume 21 No. 1


It’s easy to see the influence NBC Sports has had on Comcast’s national sports networks since last year’s merger became official, from the renamed NBC Sports Network to the Golf Channel on NBC brand, but Comcast’s regional sports networks largely have remained unaffected.

Until now.

Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic will launch a daily talk show patterned after NBC’s “Sports-Talk” brand. “SportsTalk Live” debuts at 10:30 p.m. Jan. 23, with a logo, branding, graphics and music that mirror “NBC SportsTalk,” which is carried on NBC Sports Network. The set also will look the same.

Brian Mitchell (left) and Ivan Carter will host the program, which begins Jan. 23 on CSN Mid-Atlantic.
NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus described the half-hour show as a test, and said he expects other Comcast RSNs to roll it out eventually. It’s not clear when other markets will launch their own versions.

“We think there’s great content — news and information — that allows our entire portfolio to be a stronger voice in the sports world,” Lazarus said.

The local shows will not necessarily mirror the national show, which consists of former CSN Mid-Atlantic anchor Russ Thaler anchoring a news-based 30 minutes. Rather, “SportsTalk Live” will feature more opinions and debate, network executives said.

“When NBC Sports Network launched this show, we thought it had great branding and a great format to do at a local level,” said Rebecca Schulte, senior vice president and general manager of the RSN.

Network executives would not compare the new show with other ones, but it sounds similar to a cross between ESPN’s popular “Pardon the Interruption” and “NBC SportsTalk.”

Former Redskin Brian Mitchell and former Washington Post staff writer Ivan Carter will host the show, which essentially takes the place of “Washington Post Live,” which ended its five-year run on the network last month. It will focus on Mitchell’s and Carter’s opinions and debate. Unlike “Washington Post Live,” the show will not have many outside guests. When it uses guests, it will rely on the RSN’s reporters, as well as on-air talent on NBC’s other sports channels.

“We always wanted to do more with Brian,” said Cesar Aldama, senior director of news for CSN Mid-Atlantic. “They have great chemistry on-air together.”

The show will run Monday through Friday at 10:30 p.m. and will encore at 12:30 a.m. Like most shows launching these days, it will have a heavy social media component. Network executives were meeting last week to firm up those details.

Fox Sports Media Group has launched an original programming division to develop TV series similar to HBO’s “Hard Knocks” and Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper.”

The group recently hired Michael Bloom to be the senior vice president overseeing the division. He is based in Los Angeles and reports to Fox Sports co-presidents and COOs Randy Freer and Eric Shanks.

“My gut is that there is a gap between shows with people sitting in a studio and the beautiful documentaries that Ross Greenburg used to do at HBO,” said Fox Sports Chairman David Hill. “We decided that we needed to step it up. We needed to develop more personality.”

Initially, Bloom’s focus will be on developing shows that would run in prime time for Speed, Fox Soccer and Fuel TV.
“We’ve never had a development person here,” Hill said. “It’s about time that we did.”

The move to add Bloom comes amid several changes at the three channels. Last month, Speed’s longtime president, Hunter Nickell, resigned. He was replaced on an interim basis by Scott Ackerson. Meanwhile, rights deals for the FIFA World Cup and UFC added hundreds of hours of programming to Fox Soccer and Fuel TV, two channels that have a lot of room for growth. Fox Soccer is in 40 million homes; Fuel TV is in 36 million.

Bloom’s hiring also follows Fox’s move to hire John Entz from MLB Network to oversee studio and event production for channels that include Speed, Fox Soccer and Fuel TV.

Bloom’s first efforts to seed those channels with nonfiction programming will be ready by the summer. Bloom said Fox is negotiating with producers and athletes on new shows but has yet to sign anything concrete.

“We’re looking to create new programming to compete with other male-driven cable properties out there,” Bloom said, referring to shows like “Hard Knocks” and “24/7” on HBO along with Discovery’s “American Chopper.” “We can do it ourselves here at Fox and give it some of that Fox attitude.”

Hill said everything is being considered by the new group, suggesting that Fox could even decide to bring back its canceled daily show “Best Damn Sports Show Period.”

“If we’d done that show differently, would it still be alive?” Hill asked. “Those are questions we’re looking at Michael to answer.”

Bloom has worked for an eclectic group of channels — from AMC to Nickelodeon to MTV — and has worked on shows ranging from reality competition shows to one of Paris Hilton’s reality shows.

Bloom said that kind of varied experience has helped him learn how to tell stories.

“You learn how to tell real stories with characters that have fascinating lives,” he said. “Everyone is a potential nonfiction reality personality.”

Google’s YouTube streamed live the men’s ATP tennis tournament in Doha, Qatar, last week, an event that featured Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

YouTube has been making a push into live sports, featuring sports and events like Indian Premier League cricket, professional bull riding and badminton. The ATP event is believed to be the first tennis event shown on YouTube, though, and more events could be coming.

More ATP 250 tournaments could follow the Qatar event to YouTube.
The ATP does not control the international distribution of its lowest level of tourneys, the 250s, as they are called. While the Doha event, the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, is a 250, it pays hefty guarantees to attract top stars.

The top men’s and women’s tennis events worldwide pool their global rights through the respective tours, so it’s unlikely YouTube could gain access to these events, but the lower-level ones could be ripe. There are 40 of the ATP 250s spread across the globe.

ATP Media said the Doha event cut its deal with YouTube on its own and not through the ATP. As a result, the ATP made the tournament coverage free on its own website. All other tournaments available on the ATP website require payment for viewing.

For YouTube, it’s one more step in a push to become a player in showing live sports.

“We’re always talking with leagues and sporting events around the world, and we’re hoping to bring more tennis and many other sports to YouTube over the coming years,” said Claude Ruibal, YouTube’s global head of sports content.