Throwing Darts At A La Carte Sports: Let's Go Channel Surfin'
In light of all that the Olympics bring to TV executives at this time of year -- high ratings, big viewer engagement, big viewer dis-engagement (i..e, replay complaints) -- more new sports networks are on the loose.
Cable executives and others may complain that the cost of sports networks puts undue stress on the average sports watcher, that the threat of giving ESPN a massive $5 a subscriber per month isn't worth it. Now another sports channel is looking to get launched -- the Surf Channel, from the founders of Tennis Channel and Ski Channel.
All this works during these two weeks of the Olympics. You can imagine ESPN executives telling those cable systems, satellite, and telco programming executives, "Ah. You see? The Olympics? Lots of viewers -- men, women, young and old -- are watching in big numbers. Sports on TV is worth it."
Of course, not all sports are the Olympics -- or even the Super Bowl, another big event that pulls in all kinds of viewers who don't usually watch football during the regular season. The mark against big time sports on TV (and paying for it) has always been that most sports programming only caters to a small group of viewers -- mostly men, and mostly young men.
Many proponents of a la carte programming also like to talk about what Internet-connected TVs can do for this world – that future a la carte programming will mean viewers can choose any or all TV apps and pay only for what they choose.
This kind of business model isn't set yet. National ad buyers and sellers alike don't know whether it can be sustainable in years to come. Right now, it wouldn't work because national advertisers need access to at least 75% to 80% of the country's TV homes to give their buys a fighting chance.
In five, 10 or 15 years, marketers may need to readjust their efforts in a big way. But now, any kind of marketer-to-specific-individual-consumer efforts are just the stuff of media buying dreams.
In the meantime, would-be sports TV entrepreneurs will make the case that seemingly niche sports like tennis, skiing, surfing and motor sports can still do well in the current TV business environment. But what comes next -- cycling, track & field, rowing? Maybe darts would work.