It looks like Fox Sports 1 may not have the distribution issues originally thought. They cut it close, with less than a week to go before the new network's planned launch Saturday, but Joe Flint of The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday night that FS1 has come to agreements with their three biggest companies holding out: Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish. From Flint's piece:
Fox Sports 1 has struck distribution deals with three major distributors that will ensure that the new cable network will be available in the majority of pay-TV homes when the network launches this Saturday, people familiar with the matter said.
The three carriers — satellite broadcasters DirecTV and Dish and cable operator Time Warner Cable — all have agreed to carry Fox Sports 1. Those three distributors combined reach over 40 million homes.
Fox Sports 1 is using real estate previously held by the Speed Channel. Fox was seeking a big fee increase from distributors to carry the network. According to industry consulting firm SNL Kagan, Speed received about 23 cents per-subscriber, per-month. The price for Fox Sports 1 in the first year is said to be in the neighborhood of 80 cents.
All of a sudden, Fox's ambitious plan to challenge ESPN is looking a lot more realistic. They had an estimated 45 million homes lined up
before this latest round of deals, so this takes them to over 85 million, near the 87 million estimated for the old Speed earlier this year
. When you consider that's with a huge increase in the subscriber fee (from $0.22 for Speed to $0.80 or higher for FS1), that's a lot of extra revenue for Fox. It also gives them a huge edge in subscriber base over CBS Sports Network and NBCSN, as CBS Sports Network numbers have been estimated as under 50 million homes
, while NBCSN was listed at 78,310 last fall
. (Speed was at 80,899 on that list, though, so NBC's numbers may have grown since then.) Fox won't be all that far behind ESPN in terms of potential TV viewers, and most sports fans should be able to find the new channel when it goes live Saturday. (Bright House is also reportedly close to a deal to carry FS1
, which will help even more.)
Whether the new ESPN alternative will be the one many want is up for debate
, and we certainly don't know yet just how many viewers will actually tune in. Still, this is one of the biggest moments for FS1 to date. The impressive stable of live sports content they've assembled is all well and good (as pointed out in this excellent Variety
piece by Jon Weisman
, it's one of the key reasons there are high hopes for this launch
), and they've certainly made plenty of notable hires, but both of those things don't matter if people can't get your channel, and many of the big distributors have proven quite willing to play hardball (see DirecTV and the Pac-12 Network
, or the ongoing CBS-Time Warner dispute). Striking deals here is huge for FS1, and should give them an excellent chance to have as strong a launch as possible and make an excellent first impression. The business people have done their job, giving FS1 a chance to succeed: now, we get to see what their talent and staffers they do with that opportunity.