Sporting Chances

Networks play to strengths—live action, Hispanic reach, edgier content—to sell their fare to buyers

ESPN

NEW MOVES: Scott Van Pelt’s solo SportsCenter weekdays at midnight; expanded Special Olympics coverage cohosted by Robin Roberts of Good Morning America; simulcasts with ABC of NFL Wild Card game and the ESPYs airing on ABC.

SALES PITCH: New SportsCenter set and sheer tonnage of live events are brand-friendly and keep racking up ratings. In 2014, the net finished first in primetime among men 18-49 83 times.

UPFRONT HIGHLIGHT: Comic Frank Caliendo’s exaggerated but still uncanny Jon Gruden imitation alongside the actual Gruden.

QUESTION MARKS: The abrupt exit of Bill Simmons, which ESPN chief John Skipper called “business, not personal,” along with talent blips haven’t helped. And can the cost of league rights continue to the stratosphere without any ill effects?

TELEMUNDO/NBC UNIVERSO

NEW MOVES: Telemundo gets first Spanish-language Big Brother (Gran Hermano) and the variety show La Sorpresa de Tu Vida (The Surprise of Your Life); NBC Universo debut’s Top Chef Mexico. Also: New sports unit NBC Deportes will provide 1,000 hours of cross-platform sports content.

SALES PITCH: Follows on tails of strategy “All Together. Latino,” with digital initiatives and campaign ideas meant to help buyers tune into the Hispanic segment.

UPFRONT HIGHLIGHTS: Chairman of Hispanic enterprises and content at NBCUniversal Joe Uva calls Hispanic America the “new mainstream,” and audience enjoys demonstration of a new second-screen app, Double Acción, which will stream complementary content during scripted series.

QUESTION MARKS: Executive VP Mike Rosen sees this as Telemundo’s time to make more strides vs. Univision, but new/familiar fare and sports coverage will have to make bigger mark on growing Hispanic demo.

TURNER

NEW MOVES: TNT and TBS head Kevin Reilly promised a “proactive makeover” of both nets, with an expanded TBS slate, and edgier fare on TNT, including The Alienist, based on Caleb Carr’s atmospheric psychological thriller.

SALES PITCH: The time is “Now,” as ad sales president Donna Speciale touts Audience Now’s targeted-viewer approach similar to digital-based advertising, instead of demo guarantees. This joins data product Targeting Now and measurement tool ROI Now.

UPFRONT HIGHLIGHT: Billy Eichner, whose Billy on the Street shifted to Turner’s TruTV from the Fuse network, made humorous note of his irreverent style airing on the network formerly known as Court TV.

QUESTION MARKS: Lots of new and Now in the works. The question is whether buyers will respond to new guarantees, and whether Reilly’s attempt to be “more adventurous in our programming choices” pays off.

UNIVISION

NEW MOVES: A fantasy sports app; plans for Copa America Centenario tourney, which will attract FIFA stars; new shows La Viuda Negra 2, Lady and Niño Santo; and season 2 of talent search show La Banda, developed by Simon Cowell’s SYCO Entertainment.

SALES PITCH: Positioned as the place to be to attract Billennials (bilingual Millennials) with sales execs stressing growing population and calling Univision, “the way forward for marketers to fuel growth.”

UPFRONT HIGHLIGHTS: Appearances by President Clinton (stressing vast demo shift in interview with Fusion anchor Alicia Menendez) and Latin pop star Ricky Martin; farewell from Don Francisco.

QUESTION MARKS: Clinton said, “There’s data available, and I’d get it and study it if I were an advertiser,” regarding the demo, but can Univision’s strategy and programming capitalize?