Freer indicated that the company continues to have conversations with the NFL and internally about the move, which could limit access to homes with a pay-TV subscription. But it’s not clear whether a TV Everywhere-type model would be feasible from a logistical standpoint, Freer said at a sports summit Wednesday held by the publisher of Multichannel News.
As a network, Fox has moved to limit online access to broadcast content before. In 2011, it moved to make full episodes on Fox.com and Hulu available the day after broadcast only to eligible pay-TV subscribers. Others must wait eight days.
It’s a natural move in a sense. With distributors paying retransmission consent fees to carry network content, it stands to reason they may increasingly look to clamp down on availability in order to discourage cord-cutting.
Separately, as Fox Sports 1 moves toward launch, Freer offered a rather simple explanation for why News Corp. opted to launch the 24/7 sports outlet: “The rights were available.” Fox has moved aggressively in recent years to lock up arrangements with the likes of the UFC, Major League Baseball, the World Cup and the Big East.
The NBA is the most prominent rights holder not to go to market yet in an era where sports programming has become highly coveted for its live viewership. When it does soon, Freer said Fox would welcome conversations, but gave no indication that he believed the league would leave ESPN and Turner.
“It’s always hard to wrestle rights away from incumbents that do a great job,” he said.
NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus spoke at the same event as Freer, and suggested his group would be an unlikely NBA landing spot with commitments to the NHL during playoff season. Of course, neither the soon-to-be 21stCentury Fox or Comcast lacks for money and would be expected to telegraph how they want to spend it.
As for ESPN, Freer expressed an appreciation for how the company has adhered to a church-state separation with sports leagues, serving as a rights holder while also covering them aggressively from a journalistic standpoint. How will the Fox Sports 1 story be written?
“They’ve done a great job,” he said. “We’ll see where we fall in that line.”
Separately, with regard to programming, Freer said lacrosse has a chance to gain increased interest as participation booms, although it doesn’t televise particularly well because it can be difficult to follow the ball. Fox, which once famously used a glowing hockey puck to address the same problem, has looked at lighting up the ball and sticks, along with other ways to make lacrosse more broadcast-friendly. Fox Sports 1 will carry some college lacrosse, joining ESPNU.
As for pro lacrosse, Freer had doubts about its potential growth because players are not well-known. “Can we make them relevant -- can we make people care about them?” he said.
At least with colleges, people have an interest in a particular school, he said.
At NBCUniversal, Lazarus said the company fully expects NHL players to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics and is making production plans on that basis. There had been some talk about the NHL being unwilling to interrupt its season with players heading to Russia.
NBCU has a new deal to carry all English Premier League soccer games, which on the final Sunday of the season will have a live game carried simultaneously on 10 networks -- whether Bravo or the Golf Channel. NBCU is also giving distributors an opportunity to make some games available to NBC Sports Network subscribers as they wish, including on a pay-per-view basis.
In the Houston market, NBCU has had a tough time getting distributors to offer a new regional sports network. Lazarus expressed optimism deals would be done, but noted issues with two teams that appear on the network. The NBA’s Rockets have a notably limited carriage area with other teams nearby, while Major League Baseball’s Astros are 27-45.
“The Astros have gotten off to a sluggish start and the distributors are waiting us out,” he said.
Separately, Lazarus said the NFL has not offered any plans to expand its Thursday night schedule and put more games up for sale. NBCU might be interested, but more NFL games could devalue the product for all parties.
“The scarcity of it is good for the marketplace,” he said.