Exclusive: With Sports Play, Fox Remakes Saturday Night on Broadcast

Network shifts landscape offering live NASCAR, MLB, UFC, Pac-12 events

Fox is hoping to change the Saturday- night broadcast network
landscape in a major way by offering more than 100 hours of primetime live sports
programming stretching 28 weeks, from April 14 through Dec. 8.

It's not quite the new cable Fox Sports Network that some predicted
Fox parent News Corp. would be creating, but it will offer an unprecedented amount
of primetime sports on mostly consecutive Saturdays through 2012.

The entire Saturday sports programming package has been in
the planning stages for more than a year, as Fox Sports had to acquire rights
and permissions to air certain games and events on Saturday nights.

"This is a collaborative effort between Fox Sports and Fox
Entertainment," says Eric Shanks, president of Fox Sports. "We decided to do it
because the opportunity was there. Ratings continue to go down on Saturday
nights, and we thought we should take a swing at programming the night with
sports each week."

The new Saturday-night lineup will include live NASCAR races,
Major League Baseball games, Pac-12 college football and Ultimate Fighting
Championship (UFC) bouts. As part of its MLB Saturday-night schedule, Fox will
introduce a new half-hour studio show and will title the night "Baseball Night
in America."

Fox will air
live sports on 28 of the next 32 Saturday nights, kicking off with two NASCAR
events, followed by a live UFC card on May 5. After another NASCAR race,
the network will televise 8 MLB games on consecutive Saturdays through July 7,
leading into the All-Star Game on Fox on July 10. Another UFC night will
air Aug. 4, and after a four-week hiatus, Pac-12 football comes on board for 12
Saturday night telecasts, interrupted one Saturday night, Oct. 27, for a World
Series game. Fox will also televise the Big Ten Championship on December 1 and
another UFC event on Dec. 8.

The new sports
schedule is aimed at drawing more viewers to Fox on Saturday nights and making
the network a target for advertisers, many of whom have written off the
low-viewing night on the broadcast networks.

 The MLB studio
show will be hosted by Matt Vasgersian, Kevin Millar and Harold
Reynolds and will originate from the MLB Network studios in Secaucus, N.J. Fox
Sports is partnering with MLB for the show's production and sharing MLB's
on-air talent.

Each Saturday
night, Fox will televise between three and six MLB games regionally across the
country, and the studio show will serve as a hub, showing highlights from the
various games on the air during breaks.

Outside of
Saturdays, Fox will also televise two NFL preseason games in primetime on
Thursday, Aug. 18 and Friday, Aug. 19, along with up to seven National League
Championship Series games and seven World Series games on weeknights and
Sunday nights in October, and the Pac-12 championship on Friday, Nov. 30.

In considering
the plan, Shanks pointed to a UFC telecast Fox aired on a Saturday night last
November that drew 5.7 million viewers and a 4.3 18-34 rating, winning the
night in both measures. He said another UFC telecast in January averaged a
2.4 18-49 rating, higher than the other three networks combined.

"We want to
see why people are not watching television on Saturday nights," Shanks said. "Is
it that no one is home on Saturday night or is it that there is nothing on that
people want to watch? We are hoping that if we create a beachhead on Saturday
night with sports, people will be there to watch."

Shanks said Fox's
new deal with the Pac-12 kicks in for this coming season, allowing the network
to show multiple games on broadcast in primetime, in addition to the games airing
on Fox cable and regional networks. And the deal Fox signed with UFC last
summer also permits Fox broadcast network to share telecasts with FX and Fuel.

For Fox, the
biggest obstacle came from whether or not they'd be able to schedule the
increased number of Saturday night MLB games. Under the current TV rights deal
with MLB, most of the games on Fox have Saturday afternoon start times. Shanks
said negotiations for moving more games to Saturday night began at
the start of last baseball season.

"Last year, we
televised three or four Saturday night games, but there's a big
difference between that number and eight," he said. "Scheduling these
games was no easy feat. We had to have discussions with all 30 teams and they
all had to sign off on the scheduling. Some teams don't like to play Saturday
night games before Sunday day games. Some teams would rather play at one or
four in the afternoon. We needed a consensus. It took almost all of
last baseball season to come up with it."

Beyond the
necessary diligence, Fox's decision to replace its Saturday night entertainment
programming with sports was considered a no-brainer. Long-running reality
series Cops was averaging only 3.8
million viewers on the night with a 1.3 18-49 rating. Plus, the subject matter
wasn't necessarily a huge Saturday night draw for advertisers. Fox tried
Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony's entertainment competition show Q'Viva recently, but the show has
tanked, averaging only 2 million viewers and a 0.7 18-49 rating.

The other broadcast networks, which generally air repeats from earlier in the week on Saturday nights, aren't doing much better. Each is averaging 4 million or less on the night and 18-49 ratings between a 0.5 and a 1.1, mimicking cable TV numbers.

The only
possible hitch in the plan comes with Fox's telecast of college football competing
head-to-head with ABC's own college football Saturday night schedule for the
fall. ABC had some success airing those games last season; 10 of them averaged
6.3 million viewers and a 2.1 18-49 rating for the network. And this football
competition between the networks can only draw additional viewer interest to
the night.

believes that starting to promote the new live sports night in April, and
continuing on an ongoing basis throughout the year across all Fox
properties, will get viewers into the Saturday night sports habit. He
added that there was unanimity among Fox and News Corp. executives in the
decision to go in this direction.

"From Chase
Carey [president, COO and deputy chairman of News Corp.] to David Hill [chairman
and CEO of Fox Sports Media Group] to Kevin Reilly [Fox Entertainment president],
everyone realizes that Fox is a network committed to sports and there could be
a business for Fox on Saturday nights with regular sports telecasts," Shanks
said, adding that this current plan "is definitely more than just a test."

"We are
committed to televising college football for a while, as well as baseball,"
Shanks said. "When we televised our baseball games last year on Saturday
nights, the ratings were 60% higher than our Saturday afternoon telecasts. So
we're committed to Saturday nights for baseball, too."

While not
wanting to speak for the Fox Sports sales side, Shanks added, "If you're an
advertiser looking to reach people tuning in for big, live events each week,
Fox will be the place to look to."

As far as selling
the new night, Shanks said in some instances it will be just a matter
of offering existing advertisers some additional time in the night games. "Most
advertisers aren't going to mind paying a bit of a premium to reach the larger
audiences," he said. "And of course our sales people will reach out
to bring in some new advertisers who might want to reach a larger
audience on Saturday night with this type of programming."

So, is this a
precursor to a full-fledged national cable sports network? "This isn't a
precursor to anything," Shanks said. "This is something we've talked about doing
for a long time here. Now that we have all the pieces in place, we can do it."