With one week to go before Brazil faces Croatia in the opening game of the 2014 soccer World Cup in Sao Paulo, ESPN SVP and executive producer Jed Drake says his team’s preparation has been going “exceptionally well” and that what ends up on air “is going to be tremendous and worthy of the event itself.” That said, the local “infrastructure is not what it should have been.” As expected, some of the stadiums “are not at the level of completion the country would have liked to have them at this point.” But, the infrastructure issues — which will present a “big challenge” to the crowds — won’t have an effect on the telecasts. “We’re going to be fine,” Drake said. But, he’s cautioned producers and commentators, “Time and patience are going to be your biggest allies. You’re going to need large measures of both.” Drake is confident the ratings will rise for the network’s coverage of the beautiful game, but is also prepared to cut away to news if protests “or anything that goes to a higher level” should unfold. With the country in a state of un-preparedness, a crime wave has broken out in Rio and threats of protests have been looming for more than a year over economic and planning problems related to the World Cup and impending Olympics. ABC News has a large contingent headed to Brazil and Drake says ESPN will “shift gears and go into news programming” if necessary.
Related: ESPN Striking Hard With Far-Reaching Soccer World Cup Coverage
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After 31 years at the Worldwide Leader, and two years after he gave up the reins of its day-to-day oversight, George Bodenheimer is hanging ‘em up. ESPN has confirmed that its Executive Chairman will exit the company this weekend. He was president of the sports juggernaut from 1998-2012, leading it through massive growth and into a leadership role in the national and global sports world. He segued to the Executive Chairman role at the start of 2012, when John Skipper replaced his as president of the network and co-chair of Disney Media Networks. Since then Bodenheimer has chaired ESPN’s Board of Directors. His exit comes two months after the announced departure of another longtime top Disney TV executive, Anne Sweeney, who is stepping down as Co-chair of Disney Media Networks and President of Disney/ABC Television Group in January.
Related: Have ESPN’s Profits Obscured A Mediocre Return On Disney’s Big Acquisitions?
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That’s the eyebrow raising conclusion Cowen and Co’s Doug Creutz reaches today in a bracing in-depth analysis of Disney‘s profits. The analyst has been cool on Disney for years and remains so even as company shares touch new all-time highs (including one today). But he says that ESPN has been its “primary driver of growth over the last 10 years” and fueled “the expensive transformations that Disney has undergone since Bob Iger assumed the CEO role in 2005.” Despite the much-heralded outlays for Pixar, Marvel, and theme park upgrades, returns on invested capital (ROIC) during the past decade for the other broadcast, movie, digital, and theme park businesses “have been pretty pedestrian.”
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Creutz says he has been trying to make this kind of analysis for about three years but was stymied by the scant details Disney offers about ESPN’s profits. He thinks he found a good work-around, though, by assuming that the sports net looks a lot like near-pure-play cable network companies including Discovery, Scripps Networks, and Viacom (where Paramount’s earnings “are a pittance compared to the cable network contribution”). That leads him to believe that ESPN consistently delivers a ROIC of about 48% because it “can set prices for its customers, and to a certain extent, for its suppliers” at the sports leagues. Pay TV subscribers pay about $5.50 a month for ESPN, even if they never watch it. Read More »
The NBA veteran is heading back to the ESPN broadcast booth. Mark Jackson has inked a multi-year deal to return to the network and serve as an NBA game analyst, ESPN said today. Jackson previously served as an ESPN NBA game analyst from 2006 to 2011. He left to coach the Golden State Warriors, a three-season stint that lasted from 2011 until earlier this month. Jackson will rejoin his former booth-mates, play-by-play commentator Mike Breen and analyst Jeff Van Gundy, during the Eastern Conference Finals, starting with Game One on ABC this Sunday at 3:30 PM ET.
NBC News President Deborah Turness has tapped ESPN‘s Jamie Horowitz to become SVP and GM of Today. Horowitz, who is VP Original Programming and Production at ESPN, will start the NBC gig later this year. Reporting to Turness, he will lead the morning infotainment program’s brand, with NBC saying he will be tasked with driving “greater integration and growth among all parts of the brand, on all platforms — including the four hours of live television every weekday, weekend Today, Today.com, and the Plaza experience.” He also will explore new formats, such as extensions in digital, e-commerce, events and other opportunities. Today Executive Producer Don Nash will report to Horowitz, as will weekend EP Dee Dee Thomas and Today.com director Jen Brown.
At ESPN, Horowitz oversaw a number of successful shows including First Take, Olbermann, Numbers Never Lie, SportsNation and its Sports Emmy-nominated World Series of Poker programming. Before joining ESPN in 2006, Horowitz worked at NBC Sports, where he won four Sports Emmys for his work on NBC Olympics coverage and the NBA on NBC. He began his career in television as an NBC Olympics researcher for the 2000 Sydney Games. Read More »
NBC‘s Sunday Night Football has been the most-watched primetime program for four years running at it kept another streak alive tonight. The show won its sixth consecutive Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Live Sports Series during the ceremony at Lincoln Center in Manhattan, with color man Cris Collinsworth and sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya also taking home the hardward. The Peacock led all networks with a half-dozen wins — including Bob Costas for Outstanding Studio Host, his 26th career nod — followed by ESPN, Fox and MLB Network with five apiece. MLB landed the Outstanding Live Sports Special Emmy for its coverage of the Red Sox-Cardinals World Series. Showtime scored a TKO in the Outstanding Edited Sports Event Coverage category for its All Access: Mayweather vs. Canelo Epilogue. NBC Sports Group, which also includes NBCSN and Telemundo, scored a leading 10 wins; ESPN was second with a combined seven trophies for the flagship network, ESPN 2 and ESPN Deportes. The Worldwide Leader not surprisingly won Outstanding Sports Documentary Series for its 30 For 30. Ted Turner received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Here is the full list of winners: Read More »
UPDATE: Will CEO Bob Iger ever stop talking about Frozen? Not for a long time, it seems. He told analysts in a conference call that the hit animated film recently accounted for nine of the 10 top selling items at Disney stores. The company is “taking a number of steps to increase the characters’ presence in the parks” and will also appear in “other forms of story telling” including publishing and interactive. (Disney already announced its plan to take Frozen to Broadway.) The success story supported his theme that Disney’s so-called branded movies provide it with a rich film pipeline. That includes Star Wars. “It’s amazing what pent up demand there is.” Disney will feed it with at least three spin off films.
PREVIOUS, 1:19 PM: Shares are up slightly in post-market trading after the entertainment giant topped Wall Street earnings expectations, especially at the movie studio and theme parks. Disney reported net income of $1.92B for the first three months of the year, +26.7% vs the period last year, on revenues of $11.65B, +10.4%. Analysts expected the top line to come in at $11.24B. Earnings at $1.11 a share also topped forecasts for 96 cents. Cable networks revenues of $3.63B, +5%, were a shade lower than the consensus expectations but operating income increased 15% to $1.97B. The unit’s driver, ESPN, saw an increase in affiliate fees, and lower production costs, offsetting a drop in ad revenue. Sales at the ABC broadcasting operation were essentially flat at $1.50B but operating income was up 15% to $159M as retransmission consent fees compensated for a drop in primetime ad revenues. The Studio was the hero of the quarter with revenues +35% to $1.80B and operating income +302% to $475M. The company says that it benefited from home entertainment sales for Frozen and Thor: The Dark World as well as theatrical sales for Frozen. Theme parks also exceeded forecasts with revenue +8% to $3.56B and operating income +19% to $457M. Read More »
The Worldwide Leader has been building up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in a big way for years — devoting much more airtime and bandwidth to soccer than most Americans are used to. Now it’s almost time for what ESPN hopes will be the big payoff. The cable sports behemoth today revealed its comprehensive coverage plans for the quadrennial tournament, which kicks off June 12 in Brazil. Basically, if you have a screen that shows moving pictures, you can watch the World Cup. All 64 matches of the planet’s most popular sporting event will air on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and/or ABC as well as computers, smartphones, etc. And the sports giant will dedicate an entire month of 24/7 news, analysis and such on ESPN 3 and WatchESPN in the U.S. and worldwide via its multi-language soccer brand ESPN FC. The network also will launch a dedicated app and a redesigned global website this month. Here is a fun promotional spot from ESPN that focuses on the global passion for the World Cup — and for the hardcore, the network’s detailed Cup coverage plans are after the jump:
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“We have better product than they do,” said ESPN President John Skipper today at the NCTA’s Cable Show convention in downtown LA about challenges to cable from Netflix, Amazon and Yahoo. “Shame on us if we don’t protect our turf,” he added. “We’re allowing them to set the tone of the conversation — we should set the tone of the conversation.” Proclaiming that “the single greatest buttress in the pay-TV package is ESPN,” Skipper also acknowledged the shifting landscape of cable and the real threats from new platforms. “We’re not all going to grow and make more money unless we sell the value” of pay-TV, he said. “There was not this discussion when it was a growing pie. We’ve got to find a way to grow the pie.”
The sports TV boss and Cable Show co-chair was joined today on the panel in the cavernous West Hall of the LA Convention Center by Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus, A+E Networks president and CEO Nancy Dubuc, Turner Broadcasting Systems CEO John Martin and Suddenlink CEO Jerald Kent. “You’re dealing with a Netflix and Amazon that are not sharing their viewership,” said Dubuc, picking up on Skipper’s comments. Said Skipper: “Competition is not a bad thing but we need to feel a way to innovate. And find a way to let people get content on all their devices.” Read More »
The NFL is coming off most-watched program in U.S. TV history with the Super Bowl, and its just-released 2014 schedule arrives today with a couple key differences from last year – one of which is bound to make NBC execs smile. The league said that its “flex” scheduling for the Paeaock’s Sunday Night Football games can begin as early as Week 5, moving up from Week 11 in the past. That means the NFL can move any scheduled day game into primetime to air on what has been the No. 1 show in primetime viewership for four consecutive years and tops in the adults 18-49 demo for six straight. But there is a catch: The flex option can be exercised only twice between Weeks 5 and 10, which means Fox or CBS won’t have to give up their best matchups every week during that span. The flex-scheduling say-so remains with the league, which must make the call no fewer than 12 days ahead of time. (Regular Sunday night flex scheduling remains in play after Week 10.) Meanwhile, the NFL also is introducing a plan to “cross flex” Sunday day games on CBS and Fox, which have over-the-air rights to the AFC and NFC, respectively. In previous years, a game between two AFC teams had to be on CBS, but now the league can choose to move those games to Fox (and vice versa). This could help during weeks when one network happens to have the potentially biggest games.
Related: ESPN To Air Cable’s First NFL Playoff Game
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The NFL regular-season schedule comes out tomorrow, but we already know something big about the postseason. The league said today that ESPN will air a wild card game during the first weekend of the playoffs in early January. The milestone game will mark the first postseason NFL game on pay TV — and should draw astronomical ratings for the cable universe. Last season’s wild card weekend was a goldmine for NBC, CBS and especially Fox, whose 49ers-Packers contest was the most-watched wild card game on any network since the Reagan administration with 47.1 million viewers. Even that weekend’s lowest-rated game — in which the Colts erased a four-touchdown deficit to stun the Chiefs — drew 27.6 million. But that’s more than the largest cable TV audience ever: the 2011 Auburn-Oregon college football title game, which pulled in 27.3 million viewers for ESPN. The sports network, which carries Monday Night Football games, signed an eight-year contract extension with the NFL in 2011 to keep the lucrative franchise through the 2021 season. That pact — which also covers international TV rights to NFL games including the Super Bowl — included an option for the league to give a postseason game to ESPN. The network’s MNF team of Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden will call the Wild Card game, which also will be available via WatchESPN.
In this week’s podcast, Deadline Executive Editor David Lieberman and host David Bloom preview what could be a very big day in the history of broadcasting and technology, as the Supreme Court hears legal arguments Monday about Aereo and its business model. The Davids talk about what’s at stake and how it might play out, where broadcasters might go if they lose and whether a win will turn the broadcasting business upside down. They also look over that very messy, and pricey Disney acquisition of online video powerhouse Maker Studios, and examine why ESPN, pay-TV’s most valuable brand, felt compelled to pitch investors that it’s just fine despite competition, cord-cutting and other existential challenges.
Listen to the podcast in your choice of audio formats here:
Deadline Big Media podcast 81 (.MP3 version)
Deadline Big Media podcast 81 (.M4A version)
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UPDATED: Following CEO Bob Iger’s lead, Disney CFO Jay Rasulo won’t break out financial numbers for ESPN. But he strongly hints that its financial prospects are rosy by offering a few projections for Disney’s cable networks, which are dominated by ESPN. He tells investors to expect high single digit annual growth in revenues from pay TV distributors through 2016, and a similar growth rate for operating income. He’s confident about these projections because Disney has programming deals with eight of the 10 largest pay TV distributors, with the remaining two due by year end. In addition, most of its contracts with sports leagues last for years. The company won’t project ad sales but says ESPN has strong pricing power.
PREVIOUS, 11:06 AM: Disney’s dumping a lot of data about ESPN this afternoon to ease Wall Street fears that the company’s cash cow could face leaner times due its rising costs and new competition from channels led by Fox Sports 1. CEO Bob Iger kicked off today’s investor meeting in Bristol, Conn vowing that he’s “going to continue to invest” in ESPN which he sees as core to his strategy to build brands and franchises. Disney doesn’t break out financial numbers for the channel, but he noted that the company’s pay TV networks account for 32% of its revenues — and 56% of its operating income. President John Skipper and other ESPN execs … Read More »
Recently departed Good Wife alum Josh Charles made an appearance last night on Keith Olbermann‘s ESPN show in character as one of his most beloved television alter egos. Surprise – it was Dan Rydell, the sports anchor Charles played 14 years ago on Aaron Sorkin‘s short-lived Emmy winning drama Sports Night (although The Good Wife‘s Will Gardner earned a shout out):
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It’s an awards ceremony that’s will see Ted Turner take home a Lifetime Achievement Award and ESPN hard pressed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. With a lead almost double its nearest competitor, the cable channel scored 30 noms from NATAS today as the 35th Annual Sports Emmy Awards nominations were announced. Fox is in second place with 18 noms, while HBO has 15, NBC and NBC Sports Network pulled in 14 nominations each and MLB Network got a lucky 13. Overall, ESPN’s various channels and platforms got 46 noms while NBC Sports Group snagged 33 and CBS-owned channels got 18 nominations. The Sports Emmys has 39 categories including Outstanding Live Sports Special, Outstanding Live Sports Series, Outstanding Playoff Coverage, Outstanding Sports Documentary and Outstanding Sports Journalism. Coming off a Winter Olympics in which he was laid low by an eye infection, NBC’s Bob Costas is nominated in the Sports Personality – Studio Host Category along with CBS/Showtime’s James Brown, CBS’ Greg Gumbel, Golf Channel’s David Feherty and network multitasker Dan Patrick, who appears on NBC, NBCSN and DirecTV. With America’s Cup winner, former Atlanta Braves owner and CNN founder Turner getting the Lifetime Achievement honor, the Sports Emmys winners will be announced May 6 at the Time Warner Center in NYC. In the meantime, check out the full list of nominations here.