The Future of Sports on Television

Last Updated on November 19, 2013

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending SportsBusiness Journal’s Sports Media & Technology conference in New York City. There was some really interesting conversation on multiple panels about the future of live sports on television, so I wanted to summarize here in case you missed all my live tweeting from the event. Although not all of the discussion is applicable to college sports, I thought it was worth sharing. Here are the highlights from each panel or speaker:

Michael White, Chairman, CEO & President, DirecTV

  • Talks for NFL Sunday Ticket have been “constructive,” said White. He’s optimistic they get a deal done. On a later panel, NFL Media’s Brian Rolapp would say they continue to talk, but he would decline to give a percentage chance the deal will get done when asked to do so.
  • White says he doesn’t see any significant trend in “cord cutting,” noting paid television subscribers down just 100,000 last year. (However, a media analyst would say on a later panel —
  • Going forward he’s not sure subscribers will continue to support a model where they’re essentially taxed for sports programming because it’s included whether they want it in their package or not.
  • That being said, White later expressed that he wasn’t sure a la carte pricing would work. He thinks it would best be discussed for channels that want more than $1/month/subscriber.
  • In reference to Pac-12 Networks and CSN Houston (neither of which are currently carried by DirecTV, White said the days are gone where you can gain additional subscribers by adding a channel. I’d note that’s different from the discussion of whether you lose subscribers over failing to carry a network.
  • As it relates to CSN Houston not being carried by DirecTV, White said they divided up the potential viewing area into zones, with Houston being Zone 1 (those fans most likely to watch the channel). DirecTV’s research showed just 25 percent of subscribers in Zone 1 would pay for CSN Houston. White says they offered to carry CSN Houston a la carte, but that the network wasn’t amenable.
  • White was asked about a new low-cost package Comcast is offering that does not include ESPN (which, if you’re unfamiliar, costs distributors $5.47/subscriber/month). White said he doesn’t think they’d have many takers, which means clearly his earlier remark about subscribers being taxed for sports programming they don’t want does not apply to ESPN.
  • Currently, DirecTV customers do not have access to WatchESPN. White says this is because ESPN wants a significant increase in fees to add it into the current contract. Subscribers expect to get it for free, so White says DirecTV will wait until it’s current contract is up “in a couple of years” with ESPN to address adding WatchESPN.

Ali Rowghani, COO, Twitter

  • No doubt, this most interesting thing that came from the Twitter COO was his statement that in the future you would be able to change your television channel directly from a tweet. When I tweeted this out, many of you wondered why exactly you would need this. Based on the rest of the conversation, which centered around Twitter integrating with live sports content, I would say it would give you the ability to change your channel from a tweet that perhaps alerted you to a comeback happening in a game. It would be much faster than seeing the tweet, looking for your remote, finding the channel airing the game, etc. I like the idea.
  • Being an avid Twitter user, I also found it interesting that Rowghani said one of Twitter’s main goals is to simplify, because it’s still inaccessible to the mainstream audience. Being that I’m on Twitter constantly and follow many people who integrate Twitter with their sports-watching experience, I was a little surprised by this. His example, however, was that a Vikings fan should be able to get on Twitter and get the best content about the Vikings. Obviously, right now if you just glanced at #Vikings you’d get content from a wide range of users who may or may not be adding anything substantive to the conversation. That being said, Rowghani repeatedly said Twitter doesn’t want to become a content editor.
  • Interesting stat Rowghani gave: 75 percent of conversation on Twitter around a television show is consumed within one hour of the show airing.
  • Rowghani also talked about the growth of Twitter Amplify. If you don’t know what that is, check this out.

Sports Media Headlines of the Day: Perspectives from the Top

Bill Daly, Deputy Commissioner, NHL; Lenny Daniels, Executive Vice President & COO, Turner Sports; Paul Fichtenbaum, Editor, Sports Group, Time Inc.; Brian Rolapp, COO, NFL Media

  • One of the major themes of this panel was that the internet isn’t ready for live sports from the major professional sports leagues just yet.
  • NFL Media’s Rolapp said, “Television remains the most consistent way to get our product out.”
  • In terms of someone like Netflix or YouTube getting involved in live sports, NFL Media’s Rolapp said they’d have to figure out how to structure a subscription model.
  • There will always be live games on NFL Network, said NFL Media’s Rolapp.
  • Turner EVP & COO Daniels says he expects their partnership with the NBA to continue for, “many years to come.” He also emphasized what Turner is doing to help the NBA grow it’s business. Very integrated partnership.
  • If you’re a content producer, Time Inc.’s Fichtenbaum says to embrace mobile. He says at any one time 50 percent of people reading stories are doing so on mobile devices.
  • NHL deputy commissioner Daly revealed the NHL is focused on the opposite of everyone else – they’re looking at television and mobile experience, because they feel the in-arena experience is already unique. I totally get it though, because I can’t watch the NHL on television, but I love it live.
  • The entire panel agreed we’ll see more sites like Bill Simmons’ Grantland and Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback.

Richard Greenfield, Managing Director, Media & Technology, Analyst, BTIG

  • Greenfield says the NFL is in a tough position – they can stay with DirecTV, a 20-year league partner, and perhaps accept a little less than they could get from Google, or they can go with Google where the platform might not be as efficient but they’d make more money.
  • In reference to comments that the internet isn’t reliable enough yet for something like NFL Sunday Ticket, Greenfield says two years (time left on DirecTV deal) is plenty of time to address. As a consumer who tries to watch games on WatchESPN and on a somewhat regular basis already, however, I have to say that it’s not just about the platforms making the experience bug-free, it’s also about where you’re accessing the internet and the bandwidth and reliability you’re getting on your end. I can tell you trying to stream games from those platforms in hotel rooms is rarely a good experience.
  • Greenfield praised the Pac-12 Networks app and said it is the future of how content reaches consumers. He went on to say he absolutely thinks leagues will provide an increasing amount of content directly to consumers.

The Sports Bubble: Will the Media Rights Bubble Burst?

David Bank, Managing Director, Global Media and Internet Research, RBC Capital Markets; Reagan Feeney, Vice President, Content, DirecTV; Doug Perlman, Founder & CEO, Sports Media Advisors; Steve Raab, President, SNY; Mark Silverman, President, Big Ten Network

  • Bottom line: no one on the panel thought there was a sports bubble on the brink of bursting. Raab of SNY said growth rate may slow, but he doesn’t anticipate decrease, and Silverman of Big Ten Network agreed.
  • DirecTV’s Feeney explained their dilemma is serving both sports and non-sports fans, which can be tough when new sports channels demand to be available on certain tiers.
  • When asked about DirecTV not carrying Pac-12 Networks and CSN Houston, DirecTV’s Feeney talked more generally about looking at whether fans are served in other ways. For example, if only 10 percent of games are available on a new network, does it really need to be carried or can fans be served effectively with the 90 percent available on other networks? In other words, if you’re starting a new network, it’s important to stock it with games fans can’t live without.
  • Big Ten Network’s Silverman says the role of the network in realignment has been overstated. He went on to say that no one would argue that Big Ten Network’s value is “massively more” with the addition of Maryland or Rutgers.

Want to relive more of the conference? I’ve created a story on Storify with all my tweets from the various panels and interviews, which you can view here.


Kristi A. Dosh is an attorney and founder of Her latest book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires, is available now. Visit for retailers and a sneak peak at the first chapter! Follow her on Twitter: @SportsBizMiss.

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