FS1 In Sd

Fox Sports Live exceeds expectations with room to grow

http://youtube.com/watch?v=VViutPB-8eE?rel=0

The initial open for the inaugural FS Live episode

Overall, I was impressed. Part of that is that I had low expectations for both FS1 and Fox Sports Live. That's somewhat due to what Fox has put out of late, but more of the fact that all of this is new. Remember that line in Jurassic Park where they compare Disneyland's bumpy launch to dinosaurs getting loose and killing people? The same principle applies to upstart media companies. To Fox's credit, nothing glaring blew up. 

Below is a series of thoughts mostly centered on FS Live, a comparison with tonight's SportsCenter, and some other thoughts on FS1 as a whole. Before we get going, I want to stress three things as the majority of this will be constructive criticism. 1) This is subjective. Just because I'm not fond of certain things, doesn't mean that opinion is universal. 2) The comparisons to SportsCenter are somewhat unfair given the 30+ year head start. I'll try to articulate the differences instead of the shortcomings. 3) Inaugural efforts always leave room for improvement as evidenced by Jason Biggs in American Pie. If FS Live and FS1 can improve on a daily and weekly basis, then we just may have a legitimate viable alternative to ESPN.

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Launch Buzz

I tweeted early yesterday morning shortly after the official launch that many of us in the industry were treating this as a super rare solar event. Beyond that, I didn't really think the buzz about FS1's launch would penetrate that much further into the mainstream. That said, I was quite surprised with how many people texted me or talked to me at a BBQ about FS1's launch who weren't die hard sports fans or active web/social media users.  Awareness for the network is ahead of where I thought they would be at this point in time.

Red vs. Blue……. A whole ocean of it.

Coke vs. Pepsi. Circuit City vs. Best Buy. Ohio State vs. Michigan. These two colors seem to oppose each other often from a branding perspective. SportsCenter and ESPN utilize red to brand the company and signature show. 

FS Live is blue. Draped in blue like George Costanza yearns to be draped in velvet. The sets are blue, the graphics are blue, the tickers are blue, and the backgrounds are blue. It's just hard to not notice it. Nothing against blue personally, but It's an insane amount of blue overload. Blue will obviously remain the core color of the show and network, but I don't think the visual look of the signature show will continue to mimic Boise State football.

Cluttered On Screen Graphics

This is a story unto itself.  FS Live earlier in the night utilized this crazy layout that we were told by multiple people only utilized 65%-67% of the screen for non graphics. SportsCenter uses about 85%. Later in the night, potentially due to feedback or technical issues, some of the clutter was done away with. Below is a look via mocksession of just how much on-screen activity was happening. You'll also get some insight into the extreme amount of blue:

Let's break this down for a second.

The very bottom is FS1's version of The Bottom Line. It's not as good. It doesn't scroll so you're not as drawn to it. It's the smallest font of everything on the screen. Also, 2 rows of text instead of 1 like ESPN's Bottom Line made it difficult to read even on my 60 inch TV. ESPN's Bottom Line is one line and hence a bigger font size. As you can see in the photo above the text about A Rod gets lost in the shuffle. 

The second horizontal bar is FS Live's version of ESPN's rundown. It summarizes what is currently being shown or talked about. Helpful but again, SportsCenter's rundown wins out given it also tells you what's coming up in the next 10-15 minutes which is helpful. 

If that wasn't enough a third bar was bolted on top of that. I'm not even talking about the Andy Roddick text.  When showing highlights, stats and other info would be put onto the top level horizontal bar. The odd thing is that often the info crammed into there would be replicated in the right margin area where the home run leaders are shown in the photo above. It was odd to see the same stats in 2 different places at the same time. There was an awkward moment where I was looking at three different photos of Patrick Peterson on the screen at the same time. 

That info area in the right margin had promotional Fox real estate both above and below to give a full sideways L to wrap the main screen. All in all it was too much and even worse, it didn't work at all in SD as evidenced below from another screengrab from mocksession. I'm sure the targeted young male demo loved how this cropping worked out.

At times, I really liked the right margin info. It took me back to being a young kid and looking at stats leaders and standings in the newspaper. Huge photos, team logos, etc. They are onto something there, but graphics as a whole can't be that distracting and cluttered especially when showing highlights. Too often it felt like watching Bloomberg News instead of a sports highlights show.

All in all, FS1 needs to adjust on the fly here. Everything else should get better on its own. The toning down of the graphic overload was one of the few things people universally were in agreement on. 

Strong Debut From The Big 3

This show is built around Charissa Thompson, Jay Onrait, and Dan O’Toole.

Jay and Dan lived up to the expectations I had. They were fun. They don't take things too seriously. They had a lot of jokes and moments that would have felt out of place or raised eyebrows had they been on ESPN's Sportscenter. These moments were spontaneous and frequent enough where I can see why they attracted a significant following north of the border and think they'll do the same here. I like them, but will say they are an acquired taste. Sportscenter anchors are essentially nurtured to be universally likable. Funny and clever at times, but rarely outlandish. 

Jay and Dan don't operate that way at all and it's a breath of fresh air. At times you'll roll your eyes at them as they're always actively looking for a comedic quip. The humor hits more than it misses but to do an extended show like this, there are probably going to be some moments where you wish they'd tone it down. My thought is that the occasional whiff is just a necessary evil of the whimsical approach they take. 

Thompson did a wonderful job. Occasionally introducing segments but mostly directing traffic on the panel, she was able to bring order to what ends up being a chaotic format. The panel concept is a big roll of the dice and a key differentiator tactic for FS Live, but all in all Thompson was smooth and authoritative moving the discourse between the various sets and keeping the discussions fluid and lively.

Advertising

Viewers draw a lot from the advertising they see on your network. Car ads, Apple products, movie trailers, sports apparel, beverages, and booze are some of the staples we see on ESPN.

But new networks almost always struggle. For years on BTN you pretty much only saw advertisements for The Foundation For A Better Life and various farming chemicals. 

A lot of networks who don't sell out their inventory tap into remnant advertising which are basically ads for infomercial products to fill their ad inventory.

FS1 did the smart thing by utilizing most of the ad breaks to promote their other programs, although it was funny to see Hooters with a commercial almost every break with ESPN's Jon Gruden narrating them.

Highlights

Fox Sports Live differed from ESPN in a few ways in highlights. There seemed to be less of a focus on the NFL preseason, which is welcome considering Bristol has probably focused too many highlights on the NFL in recent years. While SportsCenter aired plenty of LLWS highlights, FS Live did the same with their rights partners in the UFC.

One interesting area of separation was Fox Sports Live showing more EPL highlights than ESPN, which was surprising given NBC owns those rights exclusively. That was a nice changeup. 

Also, the top highlights of the day packaged as "The One" didn't quite connect in the way the SC Top 10 does. I'd imagine that will be finely tuned to find a way to deliver those top highlights in a more eye catching way.

Panels vs. Experts And The Troika

On SportsCenter, the anchors introduce news or highlights and then kick it to an expert to give more insight. A former NFL player who runs through a QB controversy or a segment on the Baseball Tonight set where former MLB players debate a topic.  The basic principle: a more specialized employee will drill down into this topic.

Fox Sports Live has boldly opted to go in a totally different direction and being frank, it's a bit strange.

I would imagine the whole concept is that FS1 believes SportsCenter gets stale. Most of the show takes place on a small desk with 2 people and follows the same boiler plate formula.

Their solution is a new paradigm of the troika of anchors at the desk, the Big Board, and the panel with Thompson as the host.

The Big Board, a huge wall of scores, standings, and sometimes some highlights, was creative but didn't get much air time. Just how big is the The Big Board? Large enough that I laughed my ass off every time they showed the Wild Card standings in the AL and felt the need to have the Astros on there. It's an in-studio jumbotron that's like the Enterprise in Star Trek so I'm cool with that.

The panel though is where all the discussion, context, analysis and opinion happens. It was the most talked about aspect of Fox Sports Live's debut, drawing both praise and criticism.

The panel drew a lot of comparisons to The Best Damn Sports Show Period and consisted of four panelists on an elevated stage with Thompson and an odd looking coffee table that had nothing on it.

I do think the concept has merit. Do you ever watch a movie with friends and then decide to pause it to make a drink, stretch, get a snack, talk, etc? That's the concept here. Add some banter and diversity and more energized personalities to the traditional format.

After the first episode, I'm just not a fan and more because of the talent and not the concept. Gary Payton was by far the most lackluster. I liked Donovan McNabb and he seemed more natural, but when he was talking exclusively about the NFL. 

It was the strangest thing in the world when they rotated Gabe Kapler out (who I thought was the star of the panel) and then left Andy Roddick, two football players, and Payton to talk about A-Rod. Wouldn't you want the baseball player there for that discussion?

This is by design. Fox has communicated this is the plan. Andy Roddick got asked his pick to win the BCS title. Nobody else did, which again was odd considering there were two former football players on the set.

Has ESPN's punditry gotten to a place where some you'd rather see a crowded set of former athletes just yuck it up instead of getting "analysis" from the likes of Mark May? Perhaps. This is more of a TV phenomenon as former athletes talking about general sports is common on radio (think Mike Golic, Doug Gottlieb, etc.) but it may take time to get used to on television.

Ultimately I like the idea. When Wilbon and Kornheiser have their 2 minute segment on SportsCenter, that's always a nice departure from the set and anchors. But I value their perspective and original thought as I do a lot of the ESPN expert personalities. 

The million dollar question is if it makes sense to have these mixed bowls of former athletes as part of FS Live or if it should be its own show. Sometimes it felt like you were watching 2 shows in 1 without a real defined answer to the question of what Fox Sports Live was. Is it a highlights show or a panel show? Is it both? Is it neither?

Fox is betting this new panel/highlights structure will work, but it may need to be tweaked if fans don't totally accept this new format.

Random Thoughts

– Fox is 20 times more active in social media than ESPN. The show's Twitter account was humming all night long. Most of it was drivel cheerleading the show and replying to people but it's better to be over engaged than a personality-less Borg like so many ESPN accounts. What was really impressive was that Jay and Dan were active on Twitter during the show. Jay even tweeted me at some point during the evening. The real highlight of the night was when a segment was created on the heels of a funny Richard Deitsch tweet. Never scared to partake in some self depreciating humor, this spontaneous moment occurred.

–  The brown chairs the panelists sit on suck. Yes this is neurotic and obsessive, but every one of the panelists made those seats look odd. If you crossed your leg, then the side that had less weight on the cushion would pop up a bit. If you sat in the middle you would sink in a bit and both sides would pop up more. It was like a terrible bean bag chair that you just sank into.

– Similar to PTI, FS Live does the live look-ins during commercial breaks so you see the set or the control room for 5-10 seconds when they're a bit more casual. I thought it was a nice touch.

– One thing I really liked that took me watching SportsCenter to realize is that FS Live didn't obsess over star personalities for no reason. SportsCenter had a brief segment that was basically "Johnny Manziel threw passes at practice today." FS Live didn't talk about Tebow, there was a brief mention of LeBron, the A-Rod stuff wasn't overwhelming but it wasn't really good either. Basically, I got the sense they weren't going to jam any one personality down my throat for no reason. It's early but if that's the case it's very refreshing.

Final Thoughts

This was a starting point for Fox Sports Live. First impressions are critical in this day and age but you can't judge it to be a success or failure based on one show. Fox Sports Live appears further along than I thought they would be. I certainly didn't think it was perfect from some of the panelists to the look of the show and even the furniture, but I can understand the rationale that helped formulate those decisions. Ratings and feedback will help evolve the network strategy and their programming but in summary there was more to be encouraged about than disappointed by. 

SportsCenter and ESPN still have me as a regular viewer despite my belief that the quality of both has gone downhill the last half decade but Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports Live will be in the rotation as well after what I've seen on the first night. For now that's a pretty good start for the folks down in Los Angeles.

Ben Koo

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - CEO of @Bloguin, GM at @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.

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