Fox Sports Streams Big-Ticket Events

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 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.”

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