National Aspirations

Jun 15, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Following a strategic shift toward localism on its regional sports channels, Fox Cable Sports Networks executives are gearing up to expand national program development.
In addition, some executives at the company predict the long-running feud with Comcast over the Big Ten Network will end before the launch of college football season in August.
The company, which is set to debut the series “Baseball’s Golden Age” July 6 and is currently running “Amazing Sports Stories” on its outlets, has picked up season two of “Sport Science,” which is in production for a return to the airwaves next spring.
“We are going to be trying to pick up two to three new series per year,” said Bob Thompson, president of Fox Cable Sports Networks. “While we made a decision to give our [regional sports networks] a more local focus and added more events at the local level, we also needed to find quality programming that would work nationally in a variety of time periods. There were too many talking heads around the dial and plenty of sports news, so we decided to look at great storytelling, and you now see the result of that.”
The company is slotting the original programming on Sunday nights to build audiences and give outlets a chance to promote the night as “something really different from anything else on TV,” Mr. Thompson said.
With program development moving forward, executives are being actively courted for potential series, said David Leepson, VP of development and production.
“The first step has been to let the Hollywood community know that we’re open for business,” Mr. Leepson said. “We now take more than 300 pitches per year, and as we sort through the ideas, we single out the ones that will rate on Nielsen, have production quality as well as a ‘wow’ factor. Series such as ‘Sport Science,’ ‘Baseball’s Golden Age’ and ‘Amazing Sports Stories’ all produce that factor for us.”
“Sport Science” came out of the gate last year as one of the cable channel’s most expensive productions ever with a 13-episode order. Produced by Fox Sports and Base Productions, the program uses the latest technology to capture and define the mechanics behind athletic prowess, examining everything from reaction times of top athletes to the biological impact of being hit by a linebacker or a hockey puck.
FSN now boasts 16 owned-and-operated regional networks; including its affiliated networks, the group reaches more than 80 million homes across the U.S.
In an effort to get more local games, FSN now serves as the TV home to nearly two-thirds of all Major League Baseball, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association teams based in the United States. The company produces close to 5,000 live local events each year, including more than 1,600 in high definition.
Mr. Thompson noted the company has increased its development budget to find shows that will fit in with the Sunday-night block, even though the company needs less programming due to the increased amount of local content.
In addition, Mr. Thompson confirmed the company’s battle with Comcast over carriage of the Big Ten Channel likely would be over in the near future.
“I am confident that the distribution issues will be resolved shortly,” he said.
Fox owns 49% of the Big Ten Network.


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