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News Corp. might oppose a specialty tier for sports on cable TV

News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey says sports is a 'product that is uniquely important to a large segment of customers' and that the industry should respect existing business models.

December 08, 2011|By Joe Flint, Los Angeles Times
  • "The NFL is a fabulous franchise ... our goal is to continue to have it be a centerpiece," News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey said.
"The NFL is a fabulous franchise ... our goal is to continue to have… (Matthew Staver, Bloomberg )

News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey hinted that the programming giant would oppose any push from pay-television providers to put sports channels on a specialty tier.

The topic of moving big sports channels such as ESPN and regional sports networks — of which News Corp.'s Fox owns 19 — has heated up in recent weeks. With sports rights costs rising, cable and satellite operators are fearing a backlash from consumers — particularly non-sports fans — when bills go up.

However, programmers are against specialty tiers devoted to sports channels because it would mean reaching fewer potential viewers and hurt advertising.

Speaking at the UBS Global Media & Communications conference in New York on Wednesday, Carey said sports is a "product that is uniquely important to a large segment of customers" and that it is crucial that the industry "respect the business models we built."

Asked about the status of talks for a new TV deal between the National Football League and News Corp.'s Fox network, Carey didn't sound like someone ready to walk away from the sport despite its high cost.

"The NFL is a fabulous franchise. ... Our goal is to continue to have it be a centerpiece," Carey said.

Fox pays the NFL an average of $725 million per season under its current deal, which expires in 2013. A new deal could see that price tag ultimately reach $1 billion per season.

Carey reiterated that News Corp. should be paid more in monthly subscription fees from multichannel video programming distributors for its broadcast and cable channels.

"If ESPN is worth $4, then Fox is worth $5," Carey said.

A priority for Carey is getting more for News Corp.'s FX cable channel. FX, whose hit shows include the dramas "Sons of Anarchy" and "Justified," receives about 40 cents per subscriber, per month, according to industry research firm SNL Kagan. Carey said FX should be valued on par with the USA Network, the Comcast Corp.-owned channel that gets more than 60 cents, according to SNL Kagan.

One topic that didn't come up during Carey's interview was the investigation by British lawmakers into the illegal hacking of voicemail accounts by News Corp.'s now-closed News of the World tabloid. Carey has tried to steer away from the controversy, which has tarnished the reputation of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch, who is the media giant's deputy chief operating officer.

joe.flint@latimes.com

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