Monday, March 30, 2015

Some cutting room floor items re: Big Ten, FOX & other parties

I had three other items I intended to add to the Big Ten post from last week, along with some items from a longer post that would have explored possibilities from NBC, CBS and Turner.  It would have made the post even more gas-baggy and you probably would have tuned it out after 3-4 paragraphs after looking at the small size of your scroll bar, saying to yourself "Wow.  This is way too long".

Could FX be used as an option for the Big Ten, or for additional FOX Sports properties?

I think its 50/50 because I don't honestly know if FOX has an interest in placing sports back on FX on a regular basis.  It is interesting that FX was used as a bridge of sorts to move events off of FSN and over to FOX Sports 1.  As you probably know, FX carried sports regular at one point then scaled back to virtually none before placing college football and select UEFA Champions League games there in 2011.  It was done under the guise at the time that FOX allegedly envied the way Turner had been able to use sports on TNT to drive up their subscriber rate and distribution compared to where FX resided at the time.  Virtually all of those events moved over to FOX Sports 1 upon the changeover from SPEED.

On 3/14/15, FX aired prelim matches from a UFC PPV while FS1 carried the Big East men's basketball championship.  Last year, I believe, those same prelims aired on FS2 while both the Pac-12 and Big East championship games aired on FS1.  I assume that UFC fans ended up complaining to both UFC & FOX and a compromise was made to not air the prelims on FS2 this year.

FS2 is up to 45 million homes, which is around 8 million more from early 2014.  It is progressing, albeit maybe not at the rate that one would expect or desire.  I mentioned convincing the Big 12 & C-USA in football & Big East in basketball to place a few (more) games on FS2 would potentially clear some space to place some Big Ten games on FS1.  If that doesn't happen, maybe FX is offered up once again for sports content.

Can't FOX just buy and sublicense to channels X, Y & Z?

At times, I believe we get a bit hung up on sublicensing as a cure all.  There has to be a good reason for it:
  • FOX did it for their EPL coverage, as I understand it, as FOX Soccer wasn't in as many homes and ESPN paid a decent price for the games they carried.  
  • When FSN was the primary carrier of Big 12 & Pac-12 football, sublicensing to TBS & later to Versus & ESPN was done.  To my knowledge, this was done after a decision was made to no longer carry college football on FX.  There may have been a requirement for a national channel to carry the games as FSN had regional pre-emptions.
  • Versus sublicensed Mountain West games due to a business relationship with CSTV & later CBS College Sports for the mtn.
  • ESPN has various sublicense agreements 
    • CBS for college basketball because of, I assume, requirements around over-the-air coverage
    • CBS Sports Network because ESPN and the American Athletic Conference have agreements for the number of traditional television games vs. webcasts.
The sublicense that ESPN has with CBSSN is the one, in my opinion, worth focusing on.  NBC was the other party that ESPN was bidding again and, as of today, NBC isn't airing any content from the American.  Same with FOX and their sublicensing of Big East content to CBS.  ESPN, the rightsholder of most of the schools that make up today's Big East, isn't airing Big East controlled games, though I can't say how involved they were in bidding for those rights.  Not sure they were at all.

The point I'm trying to make is that I'm not sure it is worth it to FOX to bid on everything, then have to try to find a sublicense partner, though I'm sure they could have one in hand while bidding.  While Big Ten content I'm sure is valuable to another party, there's a chance the price point won't be in-line and if you're stuck with the content, you have to figure out a solid distribution plan.  And while I believe Big Ten content would be valuable to ESPN to sublicense, I can't say with any certainty that FOX would offer it to them and that it would be at a price that ESPN would be willing to purchase it.  ESPN has a lot of college football already.  It would be a sizable hole in their programming, but they can certainly counterprogram and promote other games.

I just believe its better to have a manageable portion of rights to work with in this case.  Whether FOX can bid in that format or if the Big Ten would allow for it remains to be seen.

I've seen reports that say CBS and NBC probably are going to be minor players. Why is that?

Its a great question.  In some cases I have trouble ruling out portions of their properties.

If NBC is truly going to start placing sports on USA, like they will with the Stanley Cup playoffs, they have channels that can match ESPN's depth, at least from the number of subscribing homes.  USA, NBCSN & CNBC can match up favorably with ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU and arguably exceed any three channels FOX or CBS can put together on the pay TV side.  Where I see a downside of this, along with what I brought up regarding using sports on FX, is that it can stunt the growth of FS1 or NBCSN if you move the best available sports content over to FX or USA, respectively.  As for the broadcast network side of things, NBC does have some existing commitments through October when considering the PGA's FedEx Cup and Notre Dame football, plus some NASCAR content.

On the football side, CBS's broadcast network is more of an open canvas that either NBC or FOX is.  And they already have a highly rated package of SEC football games.  Regardless of what you believe of the style & quality of play in Big Ten football, putting the SEC & Big Ten together for doubleheaders would be a dynamite combo.  It is only two Saturdays a year, but the potential of a doubleheader of Ohio St.-Michigan & Alabama-Auburn, or the Big Ten & SEC championship games has to be worth something to CBS.  As for the pay TV side of the CBS house, CBS Sports Network is closer to BTN and FS2 than it is to NBCSN and FS1 in terms of distribution (it isn't a Nielsen rated network, so no one really knows how widely viewed the programming is).  But there have been rumblings of a potential Viacom-CBS reunion and bringing back channels into the fold like Spike could help CBS bridge the gap a little.

Turner is out there too, though they are very judicious about the sports rights they pick up.  Some are of the "big event" variety (PGA Championship, March Madness) and the rights have with respect to the regular season (NBA, MLB) have major postseason hooks in them.  I don't see them as being tethered to a CBS bid necessarily, but they have arguably a better three card hand of pay TV channels (TNT, TBS, TruTV) than anyone else out there.  But all three channels seem to be geared towards entertainment programming first and formost.  Sports aren't an afterthought by any means, but they are secondary and judging by the ads & promos you'll see when watching the PGA Championship or MLB playoffs, the sports programming is used to push the entertainment programming they carry.

In any case where an entertainment network is going to be used for sports or a sports network's format is changed to include new programming, the ability to have viewers follow the programming to the channel has to be weighed.  It hasn't worked with everything on FS1, which had a motorsports focus with SPEED, and there's no guarantee it works with other established channels.  Solid promotion of the product is the key.

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