John Malone’s Liberty Media may be getting DirecTV, but it’s not getting David Hill. Hill recently resigned as head of the satellite provider’s entertainment group to return fulltime to his role as chairman/CEO of Fox Sports.
His move comes in the wake of News Corp.’s deal to swap DirecTV and three regional sports networks to Liberty for its $11 billion stake in News Corp. and $550 million in cash.
But Hill never really left the Fox Sports division he started in 1993. When he went to DirecTV in 2005, he remained with Fox Sports in a non-executive role.
At DirecTV, Hill was charged with using programming initiatives to help DirecTV grow and retain its subscriber base of 15 million despite lacking technologies such as video-on-demand.
So Hill responded with such ideas as a new channel devoted to exclusive music programming; the well-regarded NASCAR HotPass application that lets fans watch a feed focusing on their favorite driver; and a revenue-generating deal to carry an array of XM satellite- radio channels.
Hill spoke with B&C’s Ben Grossman about leaving DirecTV behind and what lies ahead in his “return” to Fox Sports.
Was it a tough choice to leave DirecTV for Fox Sports?
Yes, because at DirecTV we were starting to do some really interesting stuff. I haven’t actually left; I am still an advisor so, if they need me, they pick the phone up. But I doubt they will. There are a lot of people down there I think the world of, like [recently promoted Executive VP of Entertainment] Eric Shanks. He’s a bit of a boy wonder.
Do you leave behind unfinished business?
The thing I was most bummed about is these two huge satellites are going up and they will have more high-definition now than anyone. HD is the equivalent today of color TV. Ultimately, we’ll all be watching stuff in 3D, but today, HD is key for DirecTV.
What did you learn at DirecTV that you can immediately apply to Fox Sports?
The world is all about service and satisfaction. We heard from customers constantly. With network TV, we tend to get removed from our customers. Our most immediate touch point with viewers is through our Website. I already talked to the guys at Foxsports.com; I talked to them about philosophy.
What were some of your key achievements at DirecTV?
In terms of programming, HotPass I really see as a trailblazer in what could be the future of sports in any multi-tiered delivery system. I believe that, ultimately, you will be able to, maybe in 10 years, maybe sooner, watch Phil Mickelson or your favorite golfer play The Masters from the first tee to the 18th green. But it has to be a subscription basis to be worth it, the [production] costs just don’t make sense otherwise.
So when will we see Fox Sports begin to expand the use of its Website in these ways?
Hopefully, in a couple weeks. I want to make sure my ideas even work first before I talk about them.
How much of a priority is mobile?
I think mobile is the future. Look at Asia, which is five years ahead, and Europe, which is three years ahead.
But for sports, will people watch a full game on a mobile phone?
I believe so. I believe, when the next generation of phones comes through, when they have, like, mini HD screens, yes. they will. I didn’t think you could until I was in Italy and people were watching full [soccer] games. I am absolutely 100% convinced the future is portability.
How soon will that be seen at Fox Sports?
I don’t know. I had my first meeting about it last Thursday.
You pulled your Fox NFL Sunday pre-game show off the road after one year of traveling to game sites. How much of that was money- driven?
It was first, second and third a money thing. We started off with that filled with boyish enthusiasm. But to do it the right way, it just cost too much.
How much is the cost-cutting environment in the media industry affecting Fox Sports?
Were trying to be as frugal as possible across the board. Every penny you spend needs to end up on-air. It’s a constant battle to trim.
But we’re fortunate that we have the history that we have; we have by far the smallest network sports division there is. But the constant juggling is ensuring that you are cost-conscious but making sure the quality of your broadcast meets your standards.
Are the purse strings tighter at News Corp. now more than ever?
They’ve always been tight.
People say, “Remember the good old days,” but at News Corp., there were never any good old days. It’s always been Rupert Murdoch or Chase Carey or Peter Chernin breathing down your neck.