By Ben Grossman
Effort targets rabid fans with behind-scenes access
With a big lineup of major sporting events due on its network in the coming months, Fox Sports is focusing on transforming its Website into a destination for ancillary video content.
After kicking off the initiative by streaming batting practice before last week's Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Fox Sports is now making similar plans for its post-season baseball and NFL coverage.
The moves are part of an organization-wide program to better exploit and monetize the Web, largely through the use of online video. And network executives think giving rabid sports fans behind-the-scenes access is the key to adding online eyeballs and advertisers.
“There is stuff we see all the time and take for granted that the public never sees,” says Fox Sports Chairman David Hill. “There is not a sufficient TV audience, but there are a couple million people who would want to see some of it, and that's a sufficient audience in the online world. We'll work with the NFL and NASCAR and all of our partners.”
A joint venture with MLB, the batting-practice segment drew 72,000 streams to its two-hour presentation on Foxsports.com and MLB.com.
And the show was more than just promotion for Fox Sports, which signed up AT&T as the presenting sponsor to the tune of $200,000. That monetization, as well as the audience figures, has Fox Sports looking to bring back the initiative during this fall's American League Championship Series and World Series.
The network is also turning its attention to digital programs around the coming NFL season, at the end of which it will air the Super Bowl.
First up will be Fox's streaming live video from its NFL broadcasting seminar next month in New York. Fans can log on to see producers and broadcasters giving team-by-team breakdowns to the entire Fox Sports NFL staff.
During the season, Fox Sports commentators will file online video reports on Saturday nights. The network also may look at streaming other live footage, perhaps even pre-game warm-ups.
Hill is also focused on emerging cellphone video-camera technology and utilizing it for the Web. He wants to reverse-engineer phones to have broadcast-quality video and sound and then have Fox Sports staffers file for the Web.
“A phone is going to be the information and education and entertainment center, not the television set,” Hill maintains. “Why can't everyone on staff become a correspondent, and then why can't you open that up to citizen journalism? There is no reason we couldn't become the YouTube of sports.”
The network is so set on beefing up its online-video presence that it has begun cycling all production staffers through stints working on the Website, going three weeks on television followed by one on the site.
“Everyone involved with the old-fashioned world of TV production has to understand the new world of broadband broadcasting,” Hill says.
Fox Sports is spending billions for an upcoming run that will include the MLB playoffs, college football's Bowl Championship Series, the Super Bowl and NASCAR's Daytona 500. The network would obviously love to find ancillary revenues to help offset those costs.
“We made a bet on big sports, but so far so good,” says Fox Sports President Ed Goren.
With its current major properties, the only thing Fox Sports can't show is actual live game footage. It remains to be seen whether the recent NBA deals that granted streaming rights to ABC/ESPN and Turner Sports will move other properties in that direction.
“That's not what I'm interested in right now,” Hill says. “Right now, it's taking all the stuff we do and see already and turning it into television—on the Web. We haven't figured it out yet, but it's like when television started.”
NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution's Jerry Springer Show and Maury have been renewed on Tribune and Sinclair broadcast stations through September 2010.
Host Springer will enter his 17th season on his syndicated show, which has been renewed in more than 96% of the country.
Among the Tribune stations are WPIX New York, KTLA Los Angeles, WPHL Philadelphia, KDAF Dallas, WDCW Washington and KHCW Houston. Sinclair stations renewing include WPGH Pittsburgh, WTTE Columbus, Ohio, and WSTR Cincinnati.
Maury, entering its 10th season in syndication this fall, is also sold in more than 96% of the country for 2007-08.
Among the Tribune stations renewing it are WPIX, KTLA, WGN Chicago, WPHL, KDAF Dallas, WDCW and KHCW. Among Sinclair stations: WPGH, KDNL St. Louis, WTTE and WSTR.—Ben Grossman
The long-awaited Rockefeller TV-violence bill will be introduced before the August recess, says Steven Broderick, press secretary to Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). The bill would give the FCC the power to regulate violence on cable and satellite, as well as on broadcast.
It will also likely require the FCC to define indecent violent content, a call the FCC punted to Congress in a report it issued several months ago.
In that report, the FCC gave Congress some guidance on how to come up with the definition, and Broderick said the senator is likely to point out that the FCC is as capable of acting on those recommendations as Congress.
Last week, backed by Commerce Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Rockefeller introduced a bill to clarify that the FCC has the power to regulate fleeting profanities and images. This is, in essence, a response to a federal court that, in June, told the FCC to explain why it had changed policy and found fleeting expletives to be indecent.
Rockefeller has been working for months on a bill that would pass this constitutional challenge, given that granting the FCC power to regulate violence and to regulate content on cable and satellite is new territory.
“We fully understand that the bill has a long way to go,” says Broderick. “If it gets through the Congress and is signed by the president”—an admitted long shot—”we expect court challenges.” Given the nature of this legislation, he says, “our job is to create a proposal we believe will survive.”
He also is buoyed by the change in congressional leadership. A similar bill that Rockefeller introduced in 2005 did not go anywhere.
“Last time, Congress was under different management,” says Broderick. “Times have changed, and programming on TV has changed.”
He says to look for more hearings on TV violence in the coming months. —John Eggerton
Meredith Corp. has licensed the daily lifestyle program Better to three Journal Broadcast Group stations for fall. An hour-long daytime show focusing on Meredith mainstays like shelter and parenting (the company publishes Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens), Better launched in March.
It currently airs on Meredith's Fox affiliates in Portland, Ore., and Las Vegas and will begin on Journal Broadcast Group stations WFTX Fort Myers, Fla., WGBA Green Bay, Wis., and WTMJ Milwaukee in September. In addition, seven more Meredith stations will debut the program in September.
The Better model gives stations eight minutes per show for local programming, be it news, entertainment or an advertiser segment. Meredith President Paul Karpowicz considers the local component a key selling point in shopping the show to other station groups. “It allows advertisers to be very creative,” he says. “The traditional syndication model isn't working.”—Michael Malone