Does anyone really think Google is going to run away with rights to the NFL‘s Sunday Ticket? ESPN pres John Skipper doubts it. "I’ve always been pretty skeptical that rights holders of [signature] events will put those rights on digital platforms" for appointment viewing, he told reporters gathered in Bristol for the company’s annual media day. Although leagues love to float that idea to create competition, "I don’t think that’s going to happen," he said. Perhaps Google will buy Direct Ticket, he speculated, but "my guess is DirecTV is more likely," he said.
Google is "unquestionably looking to ramp up its offers in the video and broadband market, attempting to disrupt the traditional cable bundle by providing a cheaper entertainment solution," said a Macquarie research note on the Google-Sun Ticket scuttle. Along with Google Fiber, the company is expected to focus on digital media solutions that "redefine media distribution and monetization," the analysts said. Sunday Ticket is up for renewal following the ’14 season. Despite all the Google hubbub, DirecTV is considered likely to renew given the importance of NFL to its franchise. Analysts expect the next multi-year deal to increase 20-25% from the current estimated 4-year $4bln deal.
More from ESPN Media Day: Skipper fielded the requisite questions on newbie Fox Sports 1. "I think they’re looking to be a point of difference for some" of ESPN’s audience, citing the net’s focus on UFC, but "by definition, they have to be looking to syphon off some of our viewers." What about those ever increasing sports rights? Sure, they’ve gone way up, but "we’ve planned for them to go up… Keep in mind, everybody has to compete in the same arena. It’s not like we do this in a vacuum," he said. Not surprisingly, the ESPN chief doesn’t see a la carte as the answer because "specialty channels with specialized audiences" would not survive. But "because of the rights we hold, we’ll be fine," he said.
Other tidbits: While ESPN lost the World Cup to Fox, the net is committed to the sport. "We’re going to have to have a Plan B," Skipper said. In the meantime, the ’14 World Cup is going to be a "high watermark… We’re going to set a new high bar." — On recent layoffs at the company, Skipper said the company had to take "a significant look at how we manage our resources" but admitted "it was the least fun thing I’ve had to do in this job." In a short time, "we will have more employees than ever," he said, citing upcoming hires in NYC for Keith Olbermann‘s show, the new Digital Center and some new hires for the future SEC Network. — On upcoming contract negotiations with DISH, "you’re never confident ’til midnight," but the companies are having "very constructive conversations… It’s clear we’re on a path to get a deal done."