MCN: What’s the state of HBO Sports today?
Ross Greenburg: We’re in a good position. We have Inside the NFL, which has been a mainstay of the network for 30 years, returning this September. Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, which has earned 17 Emmy Awards in 11 years, continues to turn out great stories. I think we have some of the best documentaries in the business, and we will continue to search for great stories to tell in 2007. And of course we have Costas Now quarterly, which will look at one significant issue surrounding sports, like this past month when we looked at the state of baseball and steroids. So I think we’re on a bit of a run right now.
We like the product that we’re delivering right now. And we’ll always have our mainstay of boxing that continues to drive massive ratings for the network. So I think we’re on an upswing.
MCN: What prompted HBO to give sports a more prominent position on its subscription on-demand service?
RG: All of our studies came back and confirmed that sports remains a very potent vehicle for HBO. People want their sports and they love that category. If the public wants it, we have to feed them, and this is what [the on-demand move] is all about.
MCN: What do you say to people who claim that boxing is an aging sport in decline?
RG: I don’t buy it. Boxing has always been cyclical and has survived for 100 years. It’s always gone through its ups and downs. I think it’s a star-driven sport, so if you can match star to star like [Jermain] Taylor and [Winky] Wright or if there is a De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather fight, it’ll bring the attention back to boxing, and the mainstream sports fan will jump back in.
[Note: HBO Sports has generated $95.6 million in pay-per-view revenues in 2006 from four PPV boxing matches.]
MCN: Once upon a time HBO held the television rights to the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Would HBO consider bidding for the rights to other high-profile events?
RG: It’s would be tough for us to compete financially in the rights game. We’ve sowed all of our acorns in boxing and we’ve found a sport that we can basically call our own and can be a significant force in the industry.
To be honest, without that commercial inventory coming back to us, it would be very difficult for us to spend for rights, so I don’t know if we’ll ever get caught up in the rights game.
We’ve created our own niche in sports television as storytellers, journalists and boxing programmers.
MCN: Are you looking to develop other content for HBO Sports?
RG: We’ll look at different ways to produce product for our existing stable.
I think you’ll see us come up with some intriguing kind of program opportunities, even in boxing. There are other things we can do whether its reality, docudrama television or sports films.