As Don notes this week, the companies that own radio stations are using sports talk as one of their best hopes against you using Sirius-XM, Pandora or your iPod in your car. Inside your home, a similar war is being waged against your DVR.
Even in the era of media consolidation that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, there’s one battleground that keeps going and, just like radio, with TV it’s sports. While the personalization of TV viewing via DVRs and streaming services like Netflix is booming, sports is one area – maybe other than a coverage of big news story, the only area – in which the time-shifted experience pales in comparison to the live one. That’s why Fox, much as it did when it shocked the broadcasting world nearly 20 years ago by buying rights to the NFL, is betting big on sports and this time with a national all-sports channel. This is happening in an era where there is so much sports programming, even the major pro sports leagues and largest college athletic conferences have their own channels.
Come Saturday, the Speed Channel will be no more. That real estate on your cable or satellite lineup will be Fox Sports 1 the channel Fox is using to aim all the way to the top – at ESPN. While ESPN’s “SportsCenter” has featured personality but no personality has ever been allowed to be bigger than the brand, Fox Sports 1’s upstart “Fox Sports Live” promises personalities who will keep their coverage “light” and “fun.” As one executive told the Los Angeles Times, their criteria for selecting “talent” is “Do you want to hang out and have nachos with our guys?”
But, more than the highlights and analysis shows (which are no longer “scores and highlights shows” as scores can so easily be found on smartphones and computers), the coverage of the games is the most lucrative for these channels. Games on TV are virtually DVR-proof and often provide a better experience on TV than at the venues themselves in-person. That is why the cost of TV sports continues to skyrocket. Fox just landed the U.S. Open Golf contract and expect more big money battles to come.
Competition on TV has been especially good for viewers in recent years in other genres. While it has watered down the “news” into dueling political debate channels, this is widely considered the “golden age” of TV dramas, because the level of competition has increased. For the packaging of sports highlights, information and analysis, may Fox Sports 1 and ESPN battle to be better than one another, not be first to the bottom of the content pool.