CBS Sports Network's Berson: Continuing Live Programming Expansion to Draw New Viewers and Advertisers

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CBS Sports Network has been gearing up its programming
acquisitions over the past year. Launched in 2002 as the National College
Sports Network and renamed CSTV in 2003, the network was acquired by CBS in
2005. In 2008, it was renamed CBS College Sports Network, and in April
2011, became CBS Sports Network with the goal of broadening its coverage into
sports beyond only college. That remains the charter.

Heading up the effort is David Berson, with a dual title of
president of CBS Sports Network and executive VP of CBS Sports. Berson joined
the network in 2010 and led the most recent rebranding.

Berson joined CBS after 16 years at ESPN, where he began as
an intern during college and worked his way through the organization, rising to
executive VP, program planning and strategy, overseeing ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS,
ESPN Classic, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes and ABC Sports, as well as ESPN's digital
media platforms. From 2001 when he took over program planning and strategy,
until he left in 2010, ESPN ratings grew 34%.

His goal right now is to diversify and expand both
the sports programming mix on CBS Sports Network and the audience that watches
it.

MBPT spoke with Berson about changes past, present and
future at the network. An edited transcript follows.

Is there enough
viewer demand for multiple sports networks? And can the newer all-sports
networks pose a challenge to ESPN as far as siphoning away viewers?

Sports fans have an unbelievable appetite for sports content. People
laughed when ESPN launched as a standalone sports network [in 1979].
Then each time they started a new network like ESPN 2 and ESPNU,
there were skeptics. But there is plenty of room for everybody. We have a
fantastic opportunity to find an audience and grow.

CBS College Sports
Network transitioned to CBS Sports Network about a year ago. What did that
entail?

Well we changed the name of the network to more closely align it with CBS
Sports on the broadcast side and are in the process of broadening our content
beyond just college sports. We've changed our on-air look, our graphics, music
and production to essentially be the same as the CBS Sports brand. And we are
getting a lot of crossover talent from CBS Sports to appear on our network like
Tracy Wolfson [CBS Sports college football reporter], Randy Cross [CBS NFL
analyst], Seth Davis [CBS college basketball analyst] and Greg Gumbel [CBS NFL
play-by-play announcer]. There are also lots of folks on the production side
who are working with both networks. But we are now truly a part of CBS Sports.

And ad selling is
also done jointly?

Yes. Advertising is sold across both networks. In addition to
our own sales staff, CBS Sports sales also sells inventory for our network
in their deals. Some of the deals they do are just for CBS Sports and some
could also include CBS Sports Network.

As far as adding
new programming, what have you done over the past year?

We've doubled our hours of live programming over the past year. We signed a
multiyear deal with the Professional Bull Riding (PBR) organization to televise
27 live events each year. PBR has a large and very passionate following. In
January we signed a multiyear agreement with the new National Collegiate Hockey
Conference that will feature eight of the nation's top college hockey programs.
We will televise a minimum of 18 conference games, as well as the semifinals
and championship game of its tournament. We expanded our coverage of
college lacrosse to 39 games and we also televise the National Lacrosse League
games and Major League Lacrosse. The MLL season begins on June 1 and runs
through August.

We are also televising the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series
every Sunday night at 8 throughout 2012. And Jim Rome is doing his new
half-hour show every weeknight at 6, joining Tim Brando who hosts a three-hour
show each morning. We continue to look for new content to fill out our
schedule.

But college sports
is still the predominant content on the network?
Yes. Right now college sports still makes up the bulk of our
programming.

What colleges do
you have TV rights deals
with?
We cover 30 men's and women's collegiate sports. We televise live sports of
teams from the Mountain West conference, Conference USA, the Atlantic 10, the
Patriot League, and Army and Navy.

All the major
sports are locked into deals with the broadcast networks, and with ESPN and
Turner, but when new opportunities arise with them, say the NFL possibly
offering a new package of TV games, or when the new MLB or NASCAR rights come
up for negotiation again, will CBS Sports Network be interested in bidding?

We are going to continue to be aggressive in our acquisitions of TV sports
rights. We will look to be opportunistic but we will be smart about what we go
after. We'll look at all rights deals that come up and make sure it's a good
fit for us. Also, every rights deal moving forward for CBS Sports will be
for all platforms, including CBS Sports Network. So whatever rights deals
they do will include opportunities for us.

In the meantime, is
CBS Sports Network televising live shoulder programming in conjunction with
sports events on CBS broadcast network?

Yes. We televised over 100 hours of live studio programming during the NCAA
Men's Basketball Championship tournament. We have our own commentators who do
our college games like former college coaches Pete Gillen and Steve Lappas and
former NBA players Wally Szczerbiak and Alaa Abdelnaby. We also do live
programming surrounding the Masters and we are now developing programming to
televise during the NFL season beginning this fall.

What are some of
the advertisers currently on the network?

Among the major sponsors on the
network are GM, Geico, AT&T, Verizon and LG. 

How did your 16 years
at ESPN prepare you for taking over CBS Sport Network and beginning to
transition it from an all-college sports network to an all-sports network?

During my time there, I had many different types of responsibilities
working at each of the different networks and across many
platforms. I also oversaw the launch of ESPNU, so I am familiar with
what it takes to build and grow a sports network, including on the digital
side.

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