In 2013, there was a tremendous piece in the New Yorker by Kelefa Sanneh about the cable news TV networks trying to figure out what the audience really wants. Fox News, which arrived to the cable news scene 16 years after CNN, quickly understood one key to reeling in viewers – strong opinion – and it didn’t take long for the network to surpass CNN in the ratings game. From the New Yorker piece:
On Fox, the anchors and commentators can seem like protagonists, doing battle with the “pinheads”—one of O’Reilly’s favorite terms—who just don’t get it. This battle needn’t be explicitly ideological: the network has always had a weakness for titillating legal stories and for celebrity misbehavior. But if the CNN approach emphasizes reporters chasing news around the world, the Fox News approach suggests that the real news is being made right in the studio, by the hosts themselves.
In sports, live events dominate nighttime programming. But over the last decade, ESPN began to generate controversy – and ratings and revenue – on ESPN2 thanks to the opinion of its studio hosts. By almost any metric you choose, a ranking of sports cable TV destinations for studio programming goes ESPN, ESPN2 and the trio of CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports 1 lumped together in spots 3-5.
But, roughly 20 months after its debut, Fox Sports 1 appears to be on the verge of a significant breakthrough: Making bold, controversial hires that signal the network could be moving in a different direction.
Over the weekend, Fox hired combative, polarizing MLB legend Pete Rose to be a baseball analyst. Rose came out of the womb ornery, and at the spry age of 74, he instantly rises to the top of MLB analysts you want to hear from (even though his sartorial selection leaves something to be desired). Fewer advanced stats and more blunt honesty? Yes, please. No filter and never speaking with a thought of what the always-angry twitter mob might say? Check.
Rose appears to be just the tip of the iceberg.
If sources at ESPN and Fox Sports are correct, FS1 will announce in the coming days that it is hiring Jamie Horowitz – yes, the showrunner who brought Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless together on ESPN’s successful and loathed First Take – to preside in some capacity over sports . The sides have been speaking since January, an offer was presented a month ago, and barring a major surprise, Horowitz is headed to LA.
I discussed this on my radio show earlier this month with Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch (audio here, Apr. 12, 38 minute mark), and we both agree: If FS1 hires Horowitz, other dominoes could fall in the coming months that might have the network looking completely different in 2016.
Much has been written about Horowitz – following a quick exit from the Today Show, he was savaged in this Vanity Fair piece about Brian Williams – but his track record at ESPN was impressive: Created SportsNation (which the internet briefly loved!), was the only producer willing to take on Keith Olbermann upon his return to the network (another Horowitz show the internet loved!), “finding” Michelle Beadle and Charissa Thompson, and most importantly, his willingness to take embrace debate and create controversy.
And on that note, let’s hear from CNN’s Jeff Zucker, who had a memorable quote in this must-read on CNN anchor Don Lemon:
“There’s certainly a lot of interest in Don Lemon, and that’s a good thing for Don and for CNN. You know, Don is a little bit of a lightning rod. Frankly, we needed a little bit of lightning.”
And that’s what FS1 lacks, a lightning rod. Rose is a start, but if you have spent any time watching the debate shows on ESPN, you’ll see baseball isn’t a sport that is as conducive to the format as the NBA and NFL. Horowitz would begin to take the network down that road. Does FS1 want to merely exist, or does it want to pull away from CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Network and make a run at ESPN2?
Plausible scenario: Horowitz brings over Skip Bayless and Colin Cowherd – whose contracts are up in the next 10 months – and starts stirring the debate pot. In two hires, Fox could take away ESPN’s #2 radio draw (based on revenue) and potentially put an end to First Take – another lucrative show – because Stephen A. Smith has said to more than a few people at ESPN he wouldn’t do the show without Skip.
In 2013, ESPN President John Skipper made several bold moves – hiring Keith Olbermann and Jason Whitlock, in addition to stealing Nate Silver’s site from the New York Times and giving Dan LeBatard (controversial!) a TV show and prime radio real estate.
And if Horowitz really wanted to generate headlines, what if he did something like: Instead of putting debate on in the morning, why not at 6 pm, opposite ESPN’s signature brand, Sportscenter? Or how about shaking up Fox Sports Live by changing the format to a debate show and doing away with the highlights that everyone’s already seen online?
To take it a step further – FS1 brings in a few more rabble-rousers to appeal to millennials, starts to make use of its bevy of newsbreakers – like Jay Glazer, Mike Garafolo – and go after ESPN’s mid-day shows?
It took 20 months, but Fox Sports 1 appears to be on the verge of making some smart, bold moves.
Credit to The Big Lead who originally published this article
Former Hulu Exec Michael Schneider Hired To Run Bally Sports+
“Schneider previously was VP of brand and content marketing at Hulu, where he had involvement in various marketing efforts for Hulu + Live TV.”
Schneider will oversee the direct-to-consumer platform that will also be the hub for Bally Sports live programming.
Schneider previously was VP of brand and content marketing at Hulu, where he had involvement in various marketing efforts for Hulu + Live TV.
“Throughout his career, Michael has successfully launched and developed DTC streaming and service platforms and created immersive engagement experiences,” said Sinclair COO and president of broadcast Rob Weisbord. “He is a terrific addition to the team as we build out the Bally Sports+ offering, its exclusive content and passionate fan community.”
Even before Hulu, Schneider had a hand in streaming. He was a founding member of the PlayStation Vue launch team.
Marquee Sports Network Weighs Streaming Options Outside of Bally Sports+
“Marquee GM Mike McCarthy said to Sports Business Journal there’s no rush, but the network is hopeful they can have something in time for the 2023 season.”
As Sinclair Broadcast Group prepares to launch Bally Sports+, its direct-to-consumer platform that will be home to Bally Sports live events, the Chicago Cubs are weighing their options for Marquee Sports Network, which the team co-owns with Sinclair.
Despite being under the Sinclair umbrella, Marquee is its own free-standing RSN from the rest of the Bally Sports networks across the country.
Marquee is readily available on a number of cable providers, but the only thing that’s really missing is its own standalone streaming platform for games. Marquee GM Mike McCarthy said to Sports Business Journal there’s no rush, but the network is hopeful they can have something in time for the 2023 season.
“We’re always interested in being on the cutting edge with the ultimate deliverable to our consumer,” McCarthy said. “But there isn’t any contractual clock ticking to make us feel that way. It’s how we’ve approached things from the beginning. Between our two ownership groups, there’s a lot of aggression to get it right. And I think you’ll see something along those lines shortly.”
The TV ratings will always be of top interest for MLB, especially regional ratings. But as the league has worked to embrace more streaming options for games, striking deals with Apple and Peacock for rights this season, it’s all about providing what the fans and viewers want.
“We now have the ability to do so much more, to properly tell the story of a 162-game season,” said Crane Kenney, Chicago Cubs president of business operations. Kenney was instrumental in the launch of Marquee. “We love baseball, we love the game, and we love the opportunity we have to share it with our fans in really deep ways.”
Laura Rutledge Celebrates Chemistry Of NFL Live
“It is truly the absolute joy of my life to get their opinions and to sit with them every single day and hear what they have to say.”
Laura Rutledge is very happy with where NFL Live is as the current lineup gets set to enter its third season together. She told The Big Lead that there is genuine chemistry between herself, Marcus Spears, Mina Kimes, and Dan Orlovsky and that is why she doesn’t feel the need to emulate any of sports television’s many debate shows.
“You don’t want to see people yelling at each other all the time and I’m really proud of the chemistry that we have struck and just letting that breathe on air and having so much fun. It is truly the absolute joy of my life to get their opinions and to sit with them every single day and hear what they have to say.”
The 2022 NFL season will have a very different feel for ESPN. The addition of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman for Monday Night Football adds new expectations to the network.
Rutledge said that the attention on the network means that she and her colleagues have to raise their respective games, but that shouldn’t be hard. There is always material to work with in this league.
“We’ve seen this offseason, we saw the previous offseason, how the NFL news cycle never stops. It’s funny because the news cycle becomes such a big piece of the story, but we’re like, we can’t wait for the games,” she said.