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Volume 20 No. 42
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Bob Scanlon, Discovery Communications

Bob Scanlon, who was the 35th person hired at ESPN in 1979, has built his career around network launches and rebrands. He stayed in Bristol through ESPN2’s launch; he helped launch Speedvision and Outdoor Life Network; and he spent a year helping Steve Bornstein launch NFL Network. Now, he’s at Discovery, where for the past six years he has been overseeing the switch of Discovery HD Theater to Velocity, a vehicle-themed network that increasingly is looking at sports content as a way to grow.

I’m closely watching over-the-top delivery services and the ways that people are consuming media and television and bypassing traditional service providers. We want to structure delivery of programming to consumers that considers traditional service providers and viewers both as customers.

Photo by: VELOCITY
How can small channels dabble in sports?: You have to focus in on an underserved audience or audience segment. Formula One has been that type of sport historically. It’s a relatively small population of the general sports audience, and it’s a small population of the motorsports audience, but its audience is smart, educated, has a lot of disposable income and is very passionate.

Can Velocity afford live sports rights?: You’re seeing tape-delayed motorsports events on our schedule thanks to Discovery’s acquisition of Eurosport. We tested the British Superbike Championship, the European Rally Championship, the Silk Way Rally and one other desert off-road race rally on tape delay. Those series will be available next year live if we opt to carry them live.

Are sports overvalued?: Every time one of these cycles has hit its apex, the reaction has been the same: “Those people are crazy to pay that kind of money for sports programming. They’ll never survive doing it.” Yet in every one of those cycles, the numbers have worked out, and the rights holders make money on these incredibly expensive investments in sports.

How has Velocity’s distribution doubled to 56 million homes over the past four years?: We’ve been able to ride this wave of technological innovation from the cable operators’ point of view. They have essentially eliminated the duplication of standard-def signals and high-definition signals in the cable box. The fact that the set-top box is technically an HD box now makes Velocity a basic service, based on the old affiliate covenants that still are in effect from Discovery HD Theater.

— John Ourand