Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wrapping up NATPE

It was a great experience this week in Miami for NATPE (except the for the weather--nice, but hardly beach-worthy). I would certainly recommend the conference for anyone on the television side of scholarship; I think I got more out of it than any previous conference I have attended.

Some final thoughts on the proceedings--

1. Almost to a person, industry officials said that contrary to predictions "local television is not dead." Not only is it not dead, many executives, including those at Hearst, Gannett and Post-Newsweek, said they are expanding their local news operations. I suppose that could be either denial or wishful thinking, but I got the sense that most executives believed the ad market has turned around and that the financial cycle is on an upswing. By extension, that should be good news also for local television sports, which has gone though a difficult period the last few years.

2. The "next big thing" in television is going to be mobile TV, which should be a reality by the end of 2011, and executives said they had technical standards worked out even before the digital transition. The new concept is "TV Everywhere," which would allow consumers to watch content on a variety on screens and in a variety of places. Those in the industry say they are still working on business models for mobile TV, but live sports should figure in prominently.

3. The big issue at the FCC is spectrum allocation and specifically trying to get back underutilized spectrum from broadcasters. Expect a fight, because the bandwidth is extremely valuable and losing it would hurt broadcasters both financially and in terms of programming.

As always, sports will play a major role in all of these discussions, although outgoing NBC President Jeff Zucker admitted that live sports--the cash cow of the networks--really doesn't give companies anything in terms of what he called "online exploitation." Figuring out ancillary markets and opportunities is the key for content in the 2010s.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More from NAPTE

An interesting morning discussion today with Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos at NAPTE in Miami (poolside, no less). Sarandos admitted that Netflix really doesn't concern itself with live sports programming; the company is more of a compliment to that type of programming.

Sarandos also did not think that the company would get into the burgeoning market for classic sports programming, saying it was probably too much of a niche area for Netflix. But he did think creative sports documentaries might have possibilities. Sarandos says Netflix is looking for programming with a long shelf life, but it seems to me that classic sports fits that category.

Sarandos said that within the next year we will continue to see "the explosion of online video," and Netflix is actively transitioning from DVD to streaming. On a typical day, 45,000 of the 100,000 titles in the Netflix library move, which speaks to the incredible volume of business and diverse taste of the audience.

Like almost everyone else at NATPE, Sarandos said the key to the next few years remains the ability to provide great content.

Monday, January 24, 2011


I'm in Miami at the annual NAPTE conference--a gathering of television programmers, producers and executives. Sports is a big topic here, and we just heard an address from one of the biggest players in media sports--NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker.

Zucker reinforced the importance of sports programming, telling the audience that the key in today's media world is to invest in quality content, because even the fanciest technology in the world is useless without it.

Zucker also praised NBC's Sunday Night Football program, which he called the number one show in all of television. He called the NFL one of the most important brands in television, especially because at a time when other ratings are down, the NFL is still going up. "You can't afford everything in television," he said, "but if you can afford anything, you afford the NFL."

The next five years, according to Zucker, will see content moving to mobile and other types of screens. He said the challenge for the industry is to figure out how to monetize that change and develop new business models. "We took a lesson from the music industry," he said. "They ignored the changes going; our philosophy is to try something different."

Zucker's last day as NBCU President/CEO is Friday; he is leaving the company (just bought out by Comcast) after 24 years.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Longhorn Sports Network-Part II

As just a quick followup to yesterday's post about the Longhorn Sports Network, Berry Tramel of the Daily Oklahoman made an interesting point. Tramel's article (which you can read in its entirety here) discussed the issue in terms of whether it would be good or bad for one of the Longhorns' main rivals, the University of Oklahoma.

According to Tramel:

"From a sports standpoint, the journalism school would hit the nirvana. I’m sure Texas has the same kind of stuff going on as OU does; student-run sportscasts and sports-themed television shows. Instead of cable access, they could run on the Longhorn Network (or Sooner Network).

Are you kidding me? That would be fantastic experience and platforms for those students, and while the quality wouldn’t be ESPN-caliber or even your local sportscast, it wouldn’t be the worst thing on television."

I absolutely agree, but there is a catch. Many student-run media outlets are just that--student-run with little or no direction from faculty. For example, I know the Student Media Center at Ole Miss is almost totally hands-off, and students are allowed to develop, create and produce their own content. If the Longhorn Sports Network would want any kind of input or control into what the students are reporting, there could be some problems.

But it's still an idea worth pursuing.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Longhorn $ports Network

The stakes just got a lot higher in the big money world of college athletics Wednesday with the announcement that the University of Texas and ESPN have partnered to create a 24-hour Texas sports network that will pay the university $300 million over 20 years. The network will show every Texas home athletic event that was not already promised to another network, which is a boon to non-revenue sports like cross country and rowing, and a huge recruiting tool for the Longhorns. It's also a dangerous sign that the big money of college athletics may be getting too big; Texas is already the richest sports program in the country and this makes the Longhorns look suspiciously like a professional sports franchise.

From a media standpoint, the main question is whether audiences will watch 24/7 programming like softball and swimming. The big money maker, Longhorn football, is already committed to other broadcast outlets, although the new network will get at least one football game. If--and its still a big if at this point--Texas can create an audience, it will send a signal to other powerful programs (Oklahoma, USC, et. al.) that they can do the same.

And what's keeping Texas from simply ditching its football broadcast commitments and going on its own? For now, conference affiliation, which the Longhorns say they want to keep. But the lure of keeping all that broadcast money to themselves--much like Notre Dame does--has to be very enticing. If that happens, the entire landscape of college athletics will shift dramatically as the big schools go their own way and leave the little fish to fend for themselves. (Remember it was Texas that held the key to all the conference realignment last summer).

The Texas-ESPN move got its impetus from the surprising success of the Big 10 network. BTN demonstrated that the demand for more sports programming was out there; now, Texas is trying it alone. If the Longhorns can pull it off, we may be entering a new--and potentially dangerous--world of college sports media.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

JSM New Editor

Last fall, I introduced Howard Schlossberg of Columbia College as the new editor for the Journal of Sports Media. The transition is just about complete, and Howard will officially assume editorship of the journal on February 1.

That means that any new submissions to JSM should go to Howard and not to me. (Although I will certainly forward them along if they end up in my hands). His email address is: You can also find out more about the journal and in Howard's JSM blog.

I'll keep on posting here as time permits and as things catch my eye, but for official information related to JSM ... Howard is now the go-to guy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BCS Rehash

The early returns for ESPN's coverage of the BCS title game are a bit of a mixed bag. The ratings for the game were down from the 2010 game which was broadcast on Fox, but it was still the highest overnight cable rating ever, and even higher than some recent BCS title games.

The strong showing, despite the lack of a true marquee program or player, suggests that signature sports events don't necessarily need broadcast networks and can succeed on specialized cable outlets. I don't think we'll see the Super Bowl on Lifetime any time soon, but with more and more homes hooked up to cable and satellite, the idea of the Super Bowl on ESPN in the foreseeable future certainly isn't far-fetched. And thinking beyond that, I think we're looking at a pay-per-view Super Bowl within our lifetimes. Consider that last year's game between the Saints and Colts had the largest single TV audience ever--106+ million. Charging just $5 per household--a measly amount considering the $50+ charged for boxing and wrestling--would create a payday of more than half a billion dollars.

That's just too much money to ignore.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Get Ready for BEA

The BEA annual convention in Las Vegas is closer than you think, and again this year there will be several sports-related programs and panels. Denise Belafonte is seeking panelists for her BEA 2011 panel BEA-HD, 2D, 3D "Heightened Dimension" the rise of Sports in 3 Dimensions, Where Do the Colleges Go From Here? If you'd like to be a panelist, or would like more information about the panel, please contact Denise at

And the University of Tennessee has at least one opening for Fall 2011 in its Sport Management Doctoral Program. You can find more information on that here.

Otherwise, have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Matter of Trust

One of the big debates in sports journalism today is the role of new media in reporting. Yes, the Internet, blogs, Twitter and other social media make reporting much faster ... but there are continuing issues with credibility.

Consider what we've seen just in the past month in college football. According to Internet "reporting" Penn State's 84-year old Joe Paterno was hospitalized during preparation for the Lions' bowl game with Florida. But Paterno said the rumors were ridiculous because he was in a team meeting at the time he was supposed to be in the hospital. His wife also had to deny the numerous reports.

The University of Texas has conducted several assistant coaching searches, and right before Christmas several outlets began reporting that Terryl Austin of Florida would be the new defensive coordinator. Not just reporting as rumor, but actually reporting as fact. The problem is, Austin was not hired and the job went instead to Manny Diaz.

The problem seems to center on the numerous fan sites and blogs, most of which do not have any foundation in solid journalism. Many of these sites pass along rumors and innuendo without checking, and when they get caught ... they simply remove the offending information as if it had never even existed.

In some cases the traditional (or 'legacy') media of television, radio and newspapers are guilty of passing along the information because they don't want to get scooped. But most of the time, these sites are the only ones doing the investigative work to track down information and not release it until it's official. Or at the very least, to correctly identify rumors as rumors and not as fact.

We've read a lot about the demise of the legacy media, but they still have the one selling point that all these other Internet sites often lack--credibility.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Two Strikes and You're Out

The unfortunate (and predictable) ending to the Ron Franklin-Jeannine Edwards story played out today when ESPN fired the long-time announcer.

On a day when (former?) Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez dominated the sports headlines, Franklin's dismissal ranked only a brief mention on ESPN, but it was a much bigger story in other media. Franklin apologized to Edwards, but in the end it wasn't enough to offset not only what happened, but also a similar incident two years ago where Franklin made disparaging on-air comments to sideline reporter Holly Rowe.

No doubt, what Franklin said was offensive and dumb, especially in today's PC media world where a wrongly-phrased comment can end a career, but it sure sounds like a knee-jerk reaction on ESPN's part, especially in light of the otherwise sterling 23 years Franklin spent with the network. One would hope, and expect, that Franklin will not be out of work long.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Disappointing start to New Year

The story about Ron Franklin's alleged sexist comments to fellow ESPN announcer Jeannine Edwards is a disappointing way to start the new year.

We've discussed sexism in sports at length in this blog, and there's really no reason to go into it further. If the story is true, Franklin is in the wrong and will have to face the consequences. It's somewhat puzzling because Franklin is a true gentlemen and terrific guy; he went out of his way to help our students during his visit to Ole Miss last April.

At the same time, a couple of years ago Franklin had a somewhat similar incident with sideline reporter Holly Rowe, calling her "sweetheart" on the air. ESPN solved the problem by moving Rowe to another announcing group. It will be interesting to see how the network handles this situation, given that Franklin has a track record of gender insensitivity.

My personal take is that Franklin, who is 68, is from the "old school" where such comments were considered endearing. (With the obvious exception of his follow-up comment to Edwards). That in no way excuses what Franklin said, but I would hope that some sensitivity training and/or workshops will allow him to stay on the air.