Pay TV subscribers who don’t watch sports likely will have to cut the cord if they want to escape the rocketing costs for programming rights and new channels. At least that’s one of the conclusions I take away from RBC Capital Markets’ David Bank’s smart, 91-page report this morning about the state of sports media. He notes that programmers have a powerful incentive to engage in an arms race for sports: The rewards for airing games — from rising ad sales and pay TV affiliate fees — still outweigh the rising amounts that football, baseball, and other sports rights holders are charging. As a result, channels offering sports “should be able to expand [profit] margins,” Bank says. Won’t that lead to a war with distributors such as DirecTV and Time Warner Cable, who say that subscribers will bolt if monthly bills continue to rise? Not necessarily, because their hands aren’t clean. “How can these distributors complain about unfair pricing when they are in turn asking for the same kind of pricing on the same kind of content?” Bank asks. DirecTV owns three major regional sports networks (ROOT Sports in Pittsburgh, Rocky Mountain states, and the Northwest) while Time Warner Cable has a new channel for the Los Angeles Lakers. Bank acknowledges that “we must ask ourselves whether the [growing number of regional sports networks] risk damaging the ecosystem.” READ MORE »
The long-controversial BCS format that has crowned college football’s national champion since 1998 is being replaced by a four-team playoff beginning in 2014. That plan was approved today by …
Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett says it’s possible in a provocative, and well timed, note this morning. The escalation in TV sports costs has “gone to unimagined proportions,” he says. If unchecked, he adds, it could ”blow the entire media model apart.” And the business does appear to be unchecked. The huge price increases from the $15.2B NFL deals that ESPN, Fox, CBS, and NBC cut last year kick in with the 2014 season. Meanwhile, NBCUniversal likely will want higher payments for its NBC Sports Network — formerly Versus before it was rebranded in January. News Corp is considering a similar upgrade of its action sports channel Fuel into a mainstream national sports service. And the Magic Johnson-led consortium that just paid more than $2B for the Los Angeles Dodgers is thinking about stealing a page from the playbook for the New York Yankees’ YES Network by launching its own regional sports channel — which would be the sixth in LA.
Sports television couldn’t have gotten off to a better start to the year than last night’s Super Bowl. NBC had the game, the most-watched event in TV history. A total of 111.3 million viewers tuned in to see the team from the nation’s largest media market win the championship in the nation’s most popular sport. As if anyone needed further proof, the New York Giants’ victory over the New England Patriots is the latest example of how important live sports is to broadcasters and the advertising industry that pays their bills. The leagues and the networks that show them know this better than ever, and watching how each exploits and benefits from this reality will make for a fun spectator sport in 2012 as they go head-to-head with the carriers who are increasingly blanching at the increasingly high fees sports-rich networks can and plan to command. In the middle and up for grabs is the biggest slice of what ZenithOptimedia estimates is $61.9 billion in expected TV ad spend this year, led by anticipation for the London Summer Olympics. Here’s a scorecard of the players to watch:
If the Super Bowl isn’t enough, the most powerful sports league flexed its muscle in December by inking a broadcast rights deal with NBC, CBS and Fox for a combined $27.5 billion over nine years — a whopping 63% increase over the previous contract. (ESPN and the NFL Network have a separate contract for cable.) The deal comes just in time for the networks and affiliates’ retransmission consent negotiations with cable and satellite providers and sets up a showdown over those fees – Miller Taback analyst David Joyce crunched the numbers and found that for all media partners to break even on the new contract, the average pay TV subscriber would have to pay an extra $11.23 a month, up $6.87 from the previous contract that ends after next season. It will be a serious fight. “Congress and the Federal Communications Commission need to throw a flag, because rules and regulations shouldn’t force consumers to bear the burden of broadcasters’ profligate spending, which will surely enrich NFL owners and players just as much as it will impoverish all pay-TV subscribers, particularly those who will never watch an NFL game,” American Cable Association CEO Matthew Polka said after the deal was announced. The new contract, struck in December, came after a labor lockout that threatened the start of the season and centered on how owners and players would split its revenue, including lucrative TV rights. In effect, the potential loss of games only proved how valuable the NFL is, much like the NBA’s own labor stoppage, which trimmed the season but it quickly re-upped with key advertisers and sponsors.
NBC bet big on the Olympics in June on the backs of new owner Comcast, blowing out rivals’ bids with a $4.38 billion move for a comprehensive rights deal through the 2020 Games. We’ll begin to figure out how smart that was right away: the network is prepping the London Summer Olympics for July and August. The all-in for Olympics programming is part of a bigger play by Comcast, which is setting itself up to compete with the likes of ESPN and Turner in the sports realm by rebranding its niche Versus channel the NBC Sports Network. Visions of ESPN’s $4.69-per-customer carriage fee are spurring the move — Versus took in $122.6 million in ad revenue last year, according to SNL Kagan, while ESPN took in $1.48 billion in ad sales and $5.27 billion in affiliate revenue. It’s a long-term play for sure, but Olympics coverage will plant NBC Sports Network’s flag in a bunch of new homes this summer, as eventually will new deals signed last year with the NHL (10 years, $2 billion; ESPN and Turner were in the race for that deal) and to a lesser extent Major League Soccer (three years, about $30 million). NBCUniversal and Comcast aren’t the only ones gunning for ESPN. Fox Sports in October beat out the sports giant for English-language rights to the next soccer World Cup contract in 2018 and 2022, in bidding that also saw NBCUniversal-owned Telemundo claim Spanish-language rights from Univision. Fox Sports and cable sibling FX also inked a multiyear deal with UFC, the mixed-martial arts league.