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Volume 21 No. 1


Golf Digest and Golf Channel are teaming up for the first time to create a block of branded programming this week featuring the magazine’s “Hot List” equipment review.

Beginning Monday and running each day of the week on Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive,” the show’s co-hosts will talk with Golf Digest editors to explain how the magazine tests equipment and comes up with its club ratings.

From drivers to wedges and everything in between, Golf Digest’s “Hot List” analyzes 250 golf clubs in all, and gives gold and silver ratings to the 106 clubs that become part of the “Hot List.” Golf Digest’s ratings and reviews have been running under the “Hot List” label for 11 years.

“Morning Drive,” a two-hour daily show, will expand to three hours on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, and four hours on Thursday to accommodate the show’s additional content.

Jeff Neubarth, coordinating producer for “Morning Drive,” said he wants to make sure the live show has enough time to touch on all 106 clubs on the “Hot List” and respond to viewer feedback on social media. He has worked with Craig Bestrom, Golf Digest’s editorial director, to coordinate the segment, and Golf Digest editors Mike Stachura, Mike Johnson and Ashley Mayo will appear on the show.

“We have a great opportunity to show the viewers how the ‘Hot List’ is developed,” said Neubarth, who helped oversee the relaunch of “Morning Drive” last year in its new Orlando studio.

Equipment has become a core topic for the show — the relaunch has included regular equipment segments. It’s becoming common, Neubarth said, for manufacturers to announce player deals and product launches on “Morning Drive.”

But “Hot List” will go deeper into equipment analysis than the show has gone before. Neubarth said Golf Channel cameras were with the Golf Digest panel of experts throughout October when the club testing was done, and the show will delve into the magazine’s evaluation process.

Bestrom said he hopes the “Hot List” will become an annual feature on the network.

New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has selected seven team governors to advise him on the league’s coming media talks, providing the surest sign yet that those negotiations are about to become much more intense.

An exclusive negotiating window for the NBA’s current media partners does not open for another year, sources said. But the league has told ESPN and Turner executives that they plan to start negotiating a new deal in the second half of the current season.

Silver is no stranger to TV negotiations, having played a key role in prior league media deals, but his decision to create a formal media committee pegged to the upcoming deals represents a more inclusive approach from past negotiations that he led with former commissioner David Stern. Also noteworthy is that the group is called a “media committee” and not a “television committee,” as the NBA is expected to add other digital rights as part of its new deal.

The league recently informed teams about the creation of the media committee, saying it will “provide direction to the League Office and be involved in the negotiations.”

Silver’s creation of the seven-member group is a first step to those negotiations, with the committee providing a cross-section of the NBA’s landscape. There are executives from both small and large markets, with Utah’s Greg Miller and Chicago’s Michael Reinsdorf included. The selections also provide a range of media experience — from cable distribution and programming (New York’s James Dolan) to digital distribution and programming (Washington’s Ted Leonsis). Boston’s Wyc Grousbeck, San Antonio’s Peter Holt and Oklahoma City’s Clay Bennett round out the group, bringing their diverse business backgrounds, their teams’ varied market sizes and their history with key league-level decisions.

The committee will work with Silver and new NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum in representing teams as the league looks to land a new deal expected to be a windfall for the owners.

ESPN and Turner have 2 1/2 years remaining on their eight-year, $7.5 billion deal that expires after the 2015-16 season. But sources with both media companies have said that they would like to renegotiate their deals early to keep the NBA from taking its rights to the open market — where the presence of other media companies like Fox Sports Group and NBC Sports Group could create a bidding war.

On the NBA’s side, it is interested in cutting a deal early to take advantage of the current red-hot market for live sports TV rights. There’s no certainty that the market will be as strong, or that there will be as many serious bidders, if the league waits until 2016.

The new deal stands at the top of Silver’s to-do list as he begins his tenure as NBA commissioner. That transfer from Stern to Silver officially occurred this past Saturday.

The NFL’s high-profile move last week to create NFL Now, an over-the-top digital content network, is certain to anger the league’s existing broadcast and cable distribution partners.

Announced during last week’s run-up to Super Bowl XLVIII in New York, NFL Now will feature highlights, archival content, news, behind-the-scenes programming and other material, all delivered digitally to most streaming devices, mostly for free.

Roger Goodell announces the NFL Now network.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
League executives said they did not consult TV networks or cable operators while developing NFL Now.

Already, distributors privately have expressed concern over the product. They think over-the-top services such as NFL Now and the recently announced WWE Network, which don’t require a cable or satellite subscription to access, hold the potential to undermine the pay-TV business and mark the industry’s first step toward a la carte programming.

To that end, one distributor grumbled last week that just as soon as the NFL Network, in more than 70 million homes and one of the most expensive nationally distributed networks in the business, is approaching full distribution, the NFL is now creating this digital network and also seeking to take live Thursday night games off the linear channel.

NFL Now also represents a major source of free NFL content at a time when TV networks collectively pay more than $4 billion a year for league rights.

The NFL is not publicly concerned, in part because it has seen similar rancor over the creation of the NFL Network and NFL RedZone, only to see both grow into thriving businesses, at the same time as its network partners posted record ad revenue from higher game ratings. NFL Now will not contain any live games, and instead is designed to be a source for shorter-form content.

“This is not a substitute for NFL Network,” said Brian Rolapp, NFL Media chief operating officer. “This is entirely different. We measure our business very easily: Is consumption going up and is everyone’s pie growing? This is designed to be additive, and I believe it will be. I don’t know if [cable operators and broadcast networks] will hate it. But if they understand it, I don’t think they should hate it.”

Unlike most of the NFL’s other media extensions that are national and league-focused, NFL Now will carry a high degree of personalization based on individual users’ favorite teams. Because of that, individual team websites’ audience figures could very well take a hit in the short run. But league Commissioner Roger Goodell last week said teams are highly enthused by the arrival of the new venture and its long-term prospects.

“We believe it’s critical to innovate and provide fans new opportunities to engage with the NFL,” Goodell said.

While other media networks were essentially shut out of the formation of NFL Now, the league did engage several of its foremost corporate partners. Verizon and Microsoft are each launch partners and will aid in the deployment of the new network through smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles, and Verizon will also take on a presenting sponsorship. Gillette also has signed on as a launch partner.

Yahoo, meanwhile, will be a distribution partner of the new venture and will direct users to NFL Now from its own online and mobile properties, providing an immediate potential audience of more than 800 million people for the new network. For Yahoo, the inclusion of additional NFL content into its business represents another major sports boost following a recent deal with NBC Sports to collaborate during the Sochi Games. The NFL and Yahoo declined to specify the terms of their partnership for NFL Now, but each said the alliance will create revenue opportunities for both sides.

“We think this is a tremendous concept,” said Ken Fuchs, head of Yahoo Sports. “You take the idea here with NFL Now of high-quality video and extensive amounts of personalization, that fit right in with what we’re doing through Yahoo. The timing is perfect.”

John Ourand
I’ll come out and say it now. Turner Sports will renew its NBA media deal this season for reasons that have nothing to do with Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson and the rest of TNT’s Emmy-winning on-air talent.

Rather, it’s Turner’s management of the NBA’s vast digital properties that will carry the most sway with the league.
Of course, Turner will have to pay enough money to renew its rights deal. But Turner’s handling of the NBA’s digital business, which is now in its sixth season, has become so extensive, encompassing everything from mobile and social to broadband and the NBA’s out-of-market package. It would be difficult for the league to unwind that structure.

“I often liken it to marriage: Turner’s 30-year relationship with the NBA is a long time, and we’ve consistently evolved the relationship,” said Christina Miller, NBA Digital’s senior vice president and general manager.

My opinion that Turner will renew its NBA deal was solidified on a Thursday night in early December when I hung out backstage while the “Inside the NBA” crew produced its studio shows from their Atlanta studios.
Tucked away in a building that resembled a warehouse, the TNT crew produced their show from a massive state-of-the-art set.

TNT and NBA TV frequently share talent and resources, an example of how Turner is intertwined with the property.
Even more impressive to me, though, was the fact that NBA TV’s main studio — another state-of-the-art structure with multiple sets — is just a few steps down the hall.

The proximity of the two studios for two channels demonstrated how closely intertwined Turner and NBA TV are, sharing talent and resources. TNT’s talent appears on NBA TV, and NBA TV’s talent appears on TNT. Turner has been very effective at putting its stamp on the NBA’s digital businesses, like NBA TV, while allowing the league to keep its branding on them.

While it would be difficult for the NBA to unwind this array of digital services from Turner, it’s not impossible or without precedent. NASCAR and the PGA Tour already have taken their digital rights back from Turner. In 2013, NASCAR bought back its digital rights from Turner and took over management of The same year, the PGA Tour opted not to renew its digital deal with Turner Sports, taking control of sales, marketing and operations back in-house.

But Miller stressed those two relationships were different than Turner’s long-standing ties to the NBA.
“With PGA Tour, it was PGA Tour’s website. With NASCAR, we had six races and we were managing their website,” Miller said. “On the NBA side of things, one of the differences is that it’s all-encompassing.”

Expect Turner to pitch the NBA on the growth of its digital business. NBA TV is in nearly 60 million homes. Three years ago, it was in 53 million homes. “Early on, we were about spreading our content across more screens than pretty much everybody else,” Miller said. “The last two years have been our highest-rated seasons for NBA TV. There’s definitely been growth there.”

Viewership is doing well. NBA TV saw its biggest all-time audience this season when the Heat played the Pacers on Dec. 10. The game averaged 920,000 viewers. But Turner also will pitch NBA Digital’s growth in broadband, mobile and social.

“We’re growing alongside the industry,” Miller said. “We have the youngest average audience out of any sports network. That alone means that our growth in broadband, mobile and social tends to be greater because we cater to early adopters.”

As for the rest of the NBA’s media package, I expect ESPN to renew its relationship. ESPN executives have been public about their desire to keep the NBA, and they certainly have deep enough pockets to cut a deal.

It would not be surprising to see either Fox Sports 1 or NBC Sports Network pick up a small package. Both companies have deep relationships with the NBA through their regional sports networks, and both have national sports networks that need to grow. I give Fox Sports the nod to pick up a national package, probably on Saturday nights, where it could use production from one of its regional sports networks.

John Ourand can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.