Progression of Cable Networks and their Digital Platforms (Part 1 of 3)

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The United States Golf Association announced that it had agreed to a 12-year deal with FOX Sports to carry the U.S. Open, which ends a long relationship the USGA had with NBC and ESPN. According to the New York Times, FOX will pay “at least double” the combined $37 million annual fee that will be paid through 2014 by NBC and ESPN. Fox Sports 1 will launch on August 17th, and FOX plans on airing nearly 5,000 hours of live events, news, and original programming annually. FOX now holds the rights to MLB, NASCAR, NFL, soccer, UFC, as well as Big 12, Pac-12, and Conference USA College Football rights. In addition to those conferences’ basketball rights, FOX Sports also has BIG EAST Men’s Basketball rights.

FOX Sports 1 is not the first attempt at a national cable network for FOX, but it is the first to feature all sports. In September, FOX will rebrand FOX Soccer as FXX, an entertainment channel. The decision to end FOX soccer comes after losing the English Premier League and Major League Soccer rights to NBC, and most other European leagues (La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga) to BeIN Sports. This left FOX with UEFA Champions League games and a handful of other international tournaments each year, hardly enough to warrant a 24/7 Soccer channel. FOX will quietly be launching FOX Sports 2 at the same time as the much publicized FOX Sports 1 to serve as an overflow channel. FOX Sports 2 will initially serve as the home to most UFC content.

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CBS Sports, currently has the CBS Sports Network, airing Arena Football, Major League Lacrosse, Professional Bowling Association, and Professional Bull Riders. They also hold media rights for conferences such as the A-10, Mountain West Conference, and Conference-USA. None of these rights would ever make it on broadcast. CBS Sports covers a number of live events on broadcast that would never allow them to broadcast on CBSSN including the US Open (tennis), The Masters, PGA Tour Championship, NFL, NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament,  also covers the US Open (Tennis), The Masters, PGA Tour Championship, and their NFL rights. The CBS Sports Network obviously will not be

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NBC Sports finds itself in a different situation, operating the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) by offering live content such as the English Premier League, Major League Soccer, and National Hockey League , for year-round live content with developed audiences. One can only wonder what the NBC Sports Group will do with the Golf Channel in light of losing the USGA rights to FOX. They released a statement saying  “The combination of NBC and Golf Channel will continue to be the dominant voice in golf coverage going forward. We’ve enjoyed our 19-year relationship with the USGA, and will continue to serve the golf fan every day,”. NBC supplements their NBCSN programming by using it to broadcast overflow for events such as Olympics on NBC, Thoroughbred Racing on NBC, Formula One, IndyCar Series, and the Tour de France. FOX will be the last of the major broadcast channels (CBS, NBC, and ABC) to add a cable channel, but they will be the first to really challenge ABC-ESPN because of the high-profile rights they have been able to secure.

FOX Sports 1 will challenge a mainstay at ESPN, SportsCenter, with a brand-new studio show, FOX SPORTS LIVE, airing nightly at 11:00pm ET.  The new Fox cable channel will enhance and supplement FOX Sports on broadcast TV. In the next 2 years, FOX will continue to carry NFL regular season games, playoffs, and Super Bowl XLVIII, regular season baseball, the All-Star Game, and World Series, as well as the Daytona 500, Big Ten and Pac-12 football championship games. Their commitment to adding talent and personalities to their staff, just proves that they intend to challenge ESPN, instead of settling for a smaller share of the market.

The battle of sports rights started on broadcast television with the NFL and MLB rights. It has now spread to the cable and digital landscapes. We saw how important mobile and digital were for NBC during the 2012 Olympics in London. They developed apps and had live streams available for every event, allowing fans to choose what they wanted to consume. Viewers no longer are limited by how many channels they have on their TV. Now with digital platforms such as ESPN3 and NBC Sports Live Extra, fans can watch all of their favorite teams and sports. ESPN3 and MLB Advanced Media have been the leaders in the digital space so far because of their quality, reliability and vast offering of content. FOX Sports Go will launch on August 17th, the same day as the FOX Sports 1 cable network. Offering attractive programming and quality service will be important for the long-term sustainability of each network’s own digital platform.

The large fees that National TV rights have generated for leagues in recent years, has led to higher fees for local rights. Two big players in the local rights market are now making their presence felt in the national cable landscape, as Fox Sports already owns 22 regional sports networks, while competitor NBC/Comcast own 8 Comcast SportsNet branded sports networks. These additional resources, talent, and content will be leveraged to the fullest by their cable networks, and help them even the playing field with the ABC/ESPN behemoth.

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The USGA – FOX Sports deal may not strike the average viewer as a coup, but it continues a trend of the other networks poaching content from ESPN. ESPN continues to operate with a large profit, thanks to high subscriber fees and ad rates, but as they are forced to pay more for content, and their ratings decline because of alternative programming options, will the self-proclaimed World Wide Leader start to feel the pinch? This 3-part series will continue next week with a closer look at the ratings, distribution, and sub fees for their cable networks.

-Barney

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About Barney Carleton

Barney Carleton is a former graduate assistant for the St. John's Athletic Communications Department. Barney is a double alum of St. John's University, completing his Bachelor of Science in Sport Management in December 2012 and his Master of Business Administration in Executive Management in May 2015. Barney is currently a Senior Specialist, Broadcast Operations at the National Basketball Association and oversees operations for the D-League and WNBA. Barney has freelanced in sports production with Rush Media and Ross Mobile Productions, serving as a replay operator (NewTek 3Play & Mira Abekas), A2, Camera Operator, Associate Director, Technical Director (NewTek Tricaster 855 EXTREME), Producer and Producer/Director. He often voices his opinions on issues in Sport on his personal twitter: @BarneySTJ
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