Mid-Sized Cable Sports Channels Struggle To Get Diverse Sports Under One Arena Roof
Comcast's Versus and the Golf Channel want to tie it all together. But is the bow big enough?
Comcast has hired former NBC sports production executive Michael Weisman, who helped revamp NBC's "Football Night in America" pre-game show into its "Sunday Night Football" broadcast, to help build higher-production-value sports networks.
First order of business: a studio show for Versus. But connecting that network's disparate group of sports -- bull riding, hockey, road cycling, ultimate fighting, tennis and skiing, and fishing -- under one regularly scheduled sports news show seems a difficult task. Versus has always had this problem, as it had to hopscotch to sports that aren't related to each other.
To be sure, studio sports shows build a focus for viewers. They also build talent, with brand-name sportscaster stars. Just look what this approach has done for ESPN. From a sports anchor desk, everything can radiate. And for marketers, this can be a place to start their media buy.
But getting there will be like riding a wild bull in a ring -- you won't know which way to turn.
Golf Channel would seem to be in a better position -- centered around one sport, and with perhaps more identifiable golf announcers.
But all this takes you only so far. Unless you have bigger sporting events, growth areas are limited. While Golf Channel has grabbed the likes of the PGA Tour, the next step would be to get bigger and later-round events -- if that is possible.
For Versus, it means going after more broad-base sports -- or at least getting sports that have a common bond. It did flirt with a possible NFL package the last time the TV rights were available.
Unfortunately, the cable TV world is still measured by the older TV world metric of ratings growth -- or at least big niche demo ratings growth.
Regional sports channels might be one answer for all those niche sports programs.. But the rest seems to be headed for VOD, or perhaps Internet video sites that can micro-target to very narrow audiences.