Who’ll sign rights deals with whom, and other 2014 predictions
■ ESPN and Turner will renew the NBA
ESPN and Turner will renew their NBA deals, each for more than $1 billion a year. The deals will be similar to the current ones, with ESPN producing games on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and Turner keeping the Thursday-night package. Turner will continue to oversee the league’s digital properties (NBA TV, NBA.com, NBA Mobile and NBA League Pass). The most interesting part of the deal will be a new package the league carves out for Fox Sports 1, which will carry a game production from one of its RSNs on Saturday nights.
■ ESPN will renew the Big Ten
ESPN will pre-emptively renew its Big Ten package earlier than expected. The conference will see a big increase in money, of course, but ESPN will not have as big a package of games. I see the Big Ten putting a better package of football and men’s basketball games on Big Ten Network and shopping the rest to Fox Sports. The conference will wind up making $30 million a school annually from its media deal — a record new TV deal.
■ The NFL will shop an eight-game package
Next year finally will be the year the NFL shops a package of eight end-of-season Thursday and Saturday night games. The package will start in 2015 and include one playoff game, as the NFL also will announce the expansion of the playoffs by one game per conference. The winning bidder will be the TV network group that spends the most money, and right now I have no idea who that will be. Turner has to be considered an early favorite, as does Fox Sports, which would put the package on FS1. But don’t discount the idea that CBS or NBC would buy the package for their broadcast channels.
■ DirecTV will renew its NFL Sunday Ticket deal
Most of my sources believe DirecTV will renew its NFL Sunday Ticket package, with a deal getting struck right around the Super Bowl. The deal will continue a relationship that started in 1994 and will be completed despite some interest from Google (talks started up again last month, sources say) and inquiries from the cable industry. The package is probably the most important retention tool DirecTV has.
■ Major channels will launch broadband video networks
You know the UFC’s digital streaming service that was announced earlier this month? It’s going to be the start of a trend. At some point in the first quarter, I expect at least one major sports network to roll out its own digital channel — with unique broadband-only content — to non-authenticated users. By the end of the year, several more channels will follow suit.
■ Google creates a subscription sports package
Before Google can make a splash with a big rights deal, it has to show that YouTube can handle a subscription package — and 2014 will be the year. Look for the company to set something up around U.S. and international soccer, potentially positioning the company as a player for rights in the next decade.
■ Distributors use sports surcharges more widely
The movement for a la carte is getting no traction in Washington, so cable and satellite operators increasingly will charge consumers a “surcharge” around regional sports networks. By the end of the year, I see half of U.S. pay-TV subscribers paying an extra couple of dollars a month to access local sports channels.
■ Cable carriage deals secured
Time Warner Cable will quietly cut a deal for YES Network in New York without much public rancor. … The Los Angeles Dodgers will have problems persuading DirecTV to carry their new channel. … Speaking of DirecTV, don’t expect deals for Pac-12 Networks, Longhorn Network or CSN Portland this year. CSN Houston will get a deal, but at a much lower rate than the MLB Astros expect. … SEC Network will have little problem persuading cable operators in SEC country to take the network. It’s the areas of the country outside of SEC territory where I foresee some problems. … Fox will begin to renew Fox Sports 1 at big increases, but far short of the 80 cents a subscriber per month it originally was seeking.
■ Quick hits
Expect huge ratings for the 2014 World Cup, breaking all viewing records. … Sochi’s time zone will cause a Winter Olympics TV ratings drop, but digital streams will be up significantly and will more than make up any TV ratings shortfall.