NBC, Rio, And the Long-Term Value of Televised Sports

NBC’s Olympic efforts in Rio are falling short of its previous best. Through the first 10 days of the games, the broadcaster’s prime time coverage has averaged 27.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen. That’s more than enough to trounce CBS, ABC, and Fox, but it’s down 17 percent from NBC’s coverage of the 2012 games in London, despite a more favorable time zone that allowed for high-profile events where American’s typically excel, like swimming, to be shown live in prime time.

usain_bolt_smileThe fall off among viewers 18-34 has been even steeper, down 25 percent from London.

NBC execs are quick to point out that the ratings for its prime time coverage on its broadcast channel don’t tell the whole story. NBC Universal is showcasing the games live across its entire suite of cable networks throughout the day, some of which have drawn strong ratings in their own right. The final of the men’s golf competition, shown live on NBCU’s Golf Channel on Sunday, delivered the second highest ratings for any 90 minutes of televised golf this year after the final round of the Masters, despite the absence of many high-profile players. Between noon ET when it started, and 3:10 p.m. when it ended, the competition earned the highest household rating (1.02, with 1.6 million viewers) since Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson went head to head at Pebble Beach in 2012. Go figure.

NBC also points to record-breaking digital viewership of this year’s games. Through Aug. 14th, NBC had delivered 1.86 billion live-streaming minutes, besting the total from the last three Olympics combined by more than 25 percent. NBC is live-streaming all the events in Rio as well as simulcasting it’s prime time coverage. Read More »

AT&T Prepares To Flex Its OTT Muscles

AT&T announced this week that it plans to take DirecTV over-the-top later this year through a multi-tiered streaming service that will be available to wireline and wireless broadband subscribers regardless of provider.

The top tier, to be called DirecTV Now, will feature “on-demand and live programming from many networks, plus premium add-on options,” which sounds more or less like Dish Network’s Sling TV OTT service. A mid-level tier, called DirecTV Mobile, will offer a stripped down video lineup and a “mobile-first experience.” A third, ad-supported free tier, called DirecTV Preview, will offer a “millennial focused” grab bag of digital-native content along the lines of Verizon’s Go90 service.

cable_TV_not1The announcement itself was no big surprise. AT&T obviously didn’t spend $48 billion to acquire DirecTV just to be in the satellite TV business — a business with little if any organic growth left in it — and extending DirecTV’s business onto broadband and wireless platforms is an obvious strategy. What is a bit surprising is the timing of the announcement.

As of now, AT&T has no programming lineups to announce for any of the tiers, no pricing information and no exact start date. And according to a Wall Street Journal report, negotiations with the networks to secure streaming rights have just begun. Read More »

What’s In A Network Name? Linear TV Brands Still Looking for Traction Online

HBO added 2.7 million subscribers during the fourth quarter according to Time Warner Inc.’s latest earnings report, “about 800,000” of which, or just under one-third, came from HBO Now, it’s standalone over-the-top offering. That suggests that, barely eight months in, HBO Now has emerged as an important contributor to HBO’s overall subscriber growth.

Since HBO Now is sold direct-to-consumer at $15 a month, moreover, those subscribers are likely worth more to HBO on a revenue basis than pay-TV subscribers, for which revenue is shared with operators.

Time Warner officials pronounced themselves pleased with the results so far.

sports_centerWall Street, however, had a different view. Analysts were expecting as many as 1.4 million OTT subs by now and investors responded by sending shares of Time Warner down by nearly 5 percent.

To be fair, Warner announced its results on a day when media shares got slaughtered across the board and Time Warner’s losses were in line with other media victims. On the other hand, Time Warner’s results, along with Disney’s the day before, were major triggers for the sell-off, as investors continue to fret about subscriber losses among among cable networks as consumers cut the cord or shift to cheaper, skinnier bundles.

Disney got dinged for subscriber losses at ESPN, despite posting a record-breaking quarter on the strength of “Star Wars: Force Awakens.” Read More »

The Co-Dependent Marriage Of TV and Sports

According to a report released this week by PriceWaterhouseCooper, the revenue earned from media rights by the North American sports industry will surpass the revenue earned at the gate by 2018, when they’ll reach $19.95 billion and $19.72 billion, respectively, fulfilling the old adage that the sports business is really the TV business.

Increasingly, the reverse is also true: The TV business is really the sports business.

More than a third of all TV advertising in the U.S. today goes to live sports, and that doesn’t include ESPN, which shows a mix of live sports and sports-related programming. Add in ESPN and the share of advertising going to sport programming would top 40 percent, Advancit Capital partner and former Fox Digital president Jonathan Miller estimated from the stage at the New York Media Festival earlier this month. Franklin_Gutierrez_hitting_HRAt the same time, according to SNL Kagan, sports networks account for nearly 20 percent of the carriage fees paid by cable and satellite operators, and that doesn’t count the portion of the carriage and retransmission fees paid to broadcasters and general-interest cable networks that can be attributed to the sports programming they carry. According to an analysis last year by MoffettNathanson analyst Michael Nathanson, the aggregate of sports rights account for as much as 50 percent of the cost of the average cable bill. Read More »

ESPN Gets Caught In Transition

Back in October, ESPN, along with Turner Sports, renewed its broadcast and digital rights deal with the National Basketball Association through 2025 for $2.3 billion, more than twice the price of the previous deal, even though the old deal still had two years to run.

With prices skyrocketing for sports rights and new 24-hour sports competitors from Fox and NBCUniversal circling hungrily for deals that would put them in the game, locking up the NBA for another decade — even at twice the price — seemed to pencil out at the time. It was the last such major deal ESPN would need to nba_espnnegotiate for several years, having recently locked up long-term deals with Major League Baseball, the NFL, the college football playoffs and four of five major college sports conferences, thus putting a cap on its major cost-driver until at least 2021.

”We believe at the end of the deal it will feel inexpensive,” ESPN president John Skipper said at the time. ”It’s hard to imagine.”

After this week, it’s even harder to imagine.

As with any asset, locking in a price when prices are rising is a good strategy. Locking in a price when returns are falling, not so much. And for ESPN, the return on pricey sports rights are starting to fall. Read More »

Live Music’s Long, Strange Trip Over The Top

Live music has been on a bit of an over-the-top roll lately. The five shows in the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well tour, which wrapped up in Chicago over the weekend, together racked up more than 175,000 paid live streams, making it easily one of the largest paid live music events ever to go over the top. Archived shows will be available through August 5, which will push the combined live and on-demand numbers even higher.

Though major festivals like Coachella and Bonaroo draw bigger online live audiences, those shows are free; the Dead shows cost $79.95 for the full, five-day run (individual shows were less). Archived shows will remain available through August 5, which will push the combined live and on-demand PPV take even higher.

Grateful_DeadWhile the Dead may be sui generis when it comes to pay-per-view streaming, live music streaming in general is attracting new interest from both startups and established players in the concert business.

This week brought word of a partnership between Verizon Digital Media Services and LiveXLive to live stream at least three day-long festivals this fall in the U.S. and internationally.

Launched in May, LiveXLive is a subsidiary of hedge-fund backed Loton Corp., created to pursue what its founders believe is a growing opportunity in live music streaming.  While live-streaming music festivals obviously is not new, LiveXLive’s is thinking much more ambitiously. Read More »

ESPN and the Skinny Bundle

The results of a consumer survey released Wednesday by Digitalsmiths raised some eyebrows for what they said about pay-TV viewers’ channel preferences in a hypothetical a la carte pay-TV universe, particularly with respect to ESPN.

Asked if they would prefer to be able to select the channels they subscribe through a la carte, rather than in pre-selected bundles, nearly 82 percent said “yes.” That espn_leadergroup was then given a list of 75 channels and asked to pick their own, ideal bundle. Fewer than 36 percent included ESPN in their ideal bundle, putting the top rated cable network in the U.S. well behind the Discovery Channel, which was cited by 62 percent of respondents.

Even Digitalsmiths was surprised.

“The top channels selected by this group were ABC, Discovery Channel, CBS, NBC, and the History Channel,” the company wrote in the accompanying report on the findings. “Digitalsmiths finds the high demand for the Discovery Channel (ranked second) to be very interesting, but even more shocking is ESPN, which ranked
twentieth. ESPN is some of the highest-priced content compared to other channels and is likely more expensive than the Discovery Channel” (full chart below). Read More »

Bad Sports: ESPN Sues Verizon

No U.S. television network is more invested in, or has benefited more from the dynamics of the bundle than ESPN. The combination of must-have programming for a key segment of the pay-TV audience, and the must-carry leverage of its sister-broadcast network ABC, has given the Disney-owned sports network the power to command the highest per-subscriber carriage fees in the industry, ensure placement on basic tiers, and compel carriage of ancillary networks like ESPN Classics and ESPN Deportes.

espn_sportscenter_logoFor those pay-TV subscribers not in the ESPN demographic, however, that leverage has acted like a tax, imposing higher costs for networks and programming they don’t watch, yielding what amount to windfall rents for ESPN. Those windfall rents, in turn, have given ESPN the wherewithal to pay the skyrocketing rights fees for live sports. Thoseinflated rights fees, in turn, have become the primary economic engine of most professional and big-time amateur sports while acting as a formidable barrier to entry for would-be competitors to ESPN, yielding a virtuous cycle that reinforces ESPN’s dominant position within the pay-TV ecosystem. Read More »