About a year after it first launched to what was then the largest number of subscribers for a new network, 21st Century Fox chief operating officer Chase Carey said its Fox Sports 1 national sports channel is “more than half-way there,” in terms of setting higher affiliate rates.
Fox Sports 1 launched in Aug.17, 2013 to about 90 million homes, the single largest debut of a sports network on cable. That crown held last month, as ESPN’s SEC Network is available in about 98 million but has about 62 million subscribers.
Fox Sports 1 was formerly the Speed Channel, which mainly focused on motor sports prior to its conversion. During the launch, sources in the distribution community have said that distributors were given the option of cutting a new carriage deal with the channel or going under the old Speed Channel rate until that contract expired.
At the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference Thursday, Carey said that Fox Sports 1 was “more than half-way there” in getting rates set for the channel and should have it fully addressed in the next 12 months.
“The last piece is to get the ratings up,” Carey said. “That takes the longest time. You’ve got to break inertia and habits.”
Carey admitted that as a sports fan, he tunes to ESPN before Fox Sports 1 in his own home as a force of habit.
“It takes time to break the habit,” he said. “As you get more events it puts it more in front of your mind. Some of the programming we produced worked and some of it didn’t. It’s a work in progress.”
The Fox COO hedged when asked if the fledgling channel would go after National Basketball Association rights – ESPN and Turner Broadcasting System’s contract with the league ends after the 2015-16 season – adding that Fox Sports 1 has accumulated the rights its needs – Major League Baseball, NASCAR, golf, soccer, UFC, and college football and basketball.
“It’s a broad array of sports that cover a wide spectrum,” Carey said. “It doesn’t mean that another something extra wouldn’t make sense. But we can judge it on its merits. It’ll be subjective. It’s not about having enough product to be a real player in the sports arena. We’re not trying to beat ESPN; we’re trying to build a valuable franchise.”
Carey also fielded questions about his employment status – he signed a two-year employment deal in June, a shorter tenure than his previous five-year pact. He said no one should read too much into the duration of the deal.
“I would be happy to have no contract,’ Carey said. “There is no meaning in the timing. It’s about flexibility. I’ll do the job as long as it’s rewarding to me and the company wants me to do it. But at some point there is going to be a time for the next generation of leadership to take over.”
That, he said would be determined by the board of directors.
Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch’s sons Lachlan and James currently serve as co-chairman and co-COO fo the company, respectively.