Upfront Central

ESPN: We Welcome the Competition

Adds new studio shows, updated 'SportsCenter’ set as Fox Sports 1 launch looms 5/20/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

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STRATEGY: Worldwide Leader bets big on SportsCenter and rights deals as the sports marketplace gets more and more crowded.

As ESPN readies for yet another entrant into the
sports marketplace with Fox Sports 1 set to bow in August, the longtime leader
made it clear at its May 14 upfront that, like the most storied athletes, it
welcomes competition.

Right away, John Skipper, ESPN president and cochair of Disney Media Networks,
addressed the "elephant in the room" -- literally, as he brought up Alabama
football mascot "Big Al the Elephant." "Several broadcast companies have decided in the
early 2010s that there might be something to this national 24/7 sports channel
thing," said Skipper, who noted that ESPN's long-term
carriage agreements give his team an advantage. "We at ESPN like competition;
it makes us better [and] makes us sharper."

To maintain its place as the Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN is putting more
muscle behind its signature property, SportsCenter. The network's
flagship program will move to a new 10,000 sq. ft., state-of-the-art studio in
2014. Sean Bratches, executive VP of sales and marketing for ESPN, described
the new digs as the "largest, most advanced digital studio in the world."

During the presentation, ESPN offered artist renderings of SportsCenter's
new home in Bristol, Conn. The studio will feature roughly 350 video display
units, some as large as 15 feet in height. "We have the power to produce
content in ways that no one else is capable of doing in real time," said Bratches.

SportsCenter anchor Sage Steele added: "We will be able to break down
stories with more in-depth analysis than ever before."

Continuing to bet on its flagship news program, ESPN will rebrand its popular
news and information app, ScoreCenter, into the official SportsCenter app
in time for the upcoming NFL season in September. The new app will include a
social element, curating tweets from ESPN talent and athletes. The app will
also be used within SportsCenter for a second-screen experience. It will
be available for iPhone and Android at launch, with an iPad version to follow.

Eric Johnson, ESPN executive VP of multimedia sales, touted a collaborative
effort with Arbitron and comScore on the first single-source cross-platform
metric.

ESPN in August will debut ESPNFC, its first daily soccer studio program
in the U.S. ESPNFC. which will serve as a linear extension of its
multiplatform brand of the same name, will be in the same vein as ESPN's other
studio shows such as NFL Live, NBA Coast to Coast and Baseball
Tonight
. The show will offer highlights, news, analysis and digital
segments.

The network will also introduce new NFL studio program NFL Insiders
(replacing NFL32) and premiere its new slate of 30 for 30
documentaries on Oct. 1. The new set includes a doc from Entourage star
Kevin Connolly about con man John Spano's late-1990s attempt to buy the NHL's
New York Islanders.

But Skipper knows live sports is the gas that keeps the engine going. "Live
sports rights represent the most valuable opportunity in media these days," he said. "We continue to accumulate the
broadest and best portfolio in the business."

E-mail comments to tim.baysinger@gmail.com
and follow him on Twitter: @tim_bays

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