HRTS Sports Panel: Programmers Need To Take Risks

Execs stress the importance of distribution

Sports programming heavyweights emphasized the importance of taking risks when it comes to what and how they put content on TV.

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"The fear of failure keeps you away from success," said Peter Guber, chairman and CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group, co-executive chairman and owner of Golden State Warriors, and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, during the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's "Sports on TV" newsmaker luncheon on Tuesday in Beverly Hills, Calif. "That's the way you really learn."

"And inside every great success is a bundle of failures and every failure has an opportunity of just turning it 15 degrees to have great success," he added.

The panel, moderated by ESPN commentator Sage Steele, discussed topics ranging from success to Olympics coverage to smaller markets to cord-cutting, but the focus repeatedly returned to the concepts of fear and risk taking.

David Rone, president of sports, news and local programming at Time Warner Cable, is facing that fear.

"We've got a big task ahead of us and we're excited about the challenge," Rone said of the  rights partnership TWC entered into with the Dodgers, creating the new regional sports channel, SportsNet LA. "We're excited about being chosen to help these guys get their deal done."

Rone cited some of those challenges as helping the Dodgers choose on-air talent and distribution, the latter NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus emphasized as being one of the most important.

"The biggest risk for any of us, whether it's Eric's [Shanks] regionals or David's or ours or the national platforms we all are a part of, is distribution and getting the MVPDs to believe that the product we have is indispensable to their customers."" Lazarus said.

He later added: "It's the distributor wall. What are they willing to risk?"

Another wall programmers need to break through is technology. Guber mentioned the second and third screen experience in particular.

"It's additive. It's not subtractive," he said. "It gives us a feeling that we are in it and of it rather than passive doing, and so it's a very, very important tool. And we're not at the end of this."

"So the idea is have a philosophy of being curious not critical," Guber added, saying that his particular challenge with technology is how he is going to capture the viewer's attention. "How do you make it work for you?"

Eric Shanks, president, COO and executive producer of Fox Sports, echoed Guber's sentiments.

"Whether we have hockey, whether we have the NFL, that's great," Shanks said. "But we have to make a success out of our brand and people to want to come to us even if we have Tiddly Winks or trapticals or whatever it is."

Image caption: (From left) ESPN commentator and panel moderator Sage Steele; Peter Guber, CEO, Mandalay Entertainment Group and co-executive chairman and owner of Golden State Warriors, and co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers; Mark Lazarus, chairman, NBC Sports Group; David Rone, president of sports, news & local programming, Time Warner Cable Inc.; and Eric Shanks, president, COO & executive producer, Fox Sports at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's (HRTS) "Sports on TV: The Drive For Live" newsmaker luncheon on Dec. 10 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. © Chyna Photography