Werner: NESN’s A Success

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Tom Werner, an investor in Oxygen Media as well as chairman of the Boston Red Sox, last week described how he bolstered both the team and its regional sports network, New England Sports Network, once his group took over ownership in 2002.

Werner outlined how he applied his experience producing hit shows such as Roseanne — like dealing with difficult and expensive talent — to branding not only the Red Sox, but to improving NESN when he keynoted a CTAM Summit session here.

During the session, where Werner was introduced by Oxygen chairman and CEO Geraldine Laybourne, he talked about not only recruiting designated hitter David Ortiz and general manager Theo Epstein for the Sox team, but injecting life into NESN.

“We wanted to revive a cable network that could showcase the stadium [Fenway Park] and the team,” Werner said.

As part of that strategy, NESN is now offering all Red Sox and Boston Bruins home games in HDTV, which Werner — ever-mindful of his audience — said “enhances the value of digital cable” for cable operators.

There were other programming changes as well. The Red Sox have also been showing games in HDTV at 20 local Showcase Cinema movie theaters, where fans pay to get in.

Red Sox fans are so ardent and dedicated that NESN’s ratings for the team’s games are averaging a whopping 9.0 rating, compared with the 5.8 they were racking up in 2001, according to Werner. He said that NESN used to go black after televising Red Sox games, but that changed under his ownership. NESN created an hour-long post-game show that is averaging a tidy 4.0 rating now, according to Werner.

After his presentation, Werner told reporters that NESN has recently reached a carriage-deal extension with Comcast Corp., “avoiding much of the acrimony” that has plagued negotiations between other regional sports services and MSOs.

Werner also said that he’s pleased with the progress that Oxygen has made, citing its distribution now in 50 million homes. “I think we’ve done enormously well in four short years,” Werner said. “It’s been a struggle, but the struggle has really been on Gerry’s shoulders.”

During his chat with reporters, Werner also expressed his concern about the streaming of baseball games over the Internet. “I’m wary about doing anything that would harm our relationships with cable operators,” he said.

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