David Hill is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in sports broadcasting. Here he shares the tricks of the trade with Sport Business & Finance.
Hill has been Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, FOX Sports Media Group, the umbrella for News Corporation’s array of multi-platform US-based sports assets, since 1999. He joined Fox to set up and run its sports operation in 1993, taking it from concept to broadcast in just eight months before going on to establish it as a heavyweight US sport network.
His career, which is characterised by innovation and fresh thinking began in his native Australia where he became VP for sports at the Nine Network before moving to the UK where he helped launch Sky Television, Britain’s first satellite TV station, and also introduced Eurosport, a pan-European, multilingual, dedicated sports channel that was a joint venture of Sky Television and the European Broadcast Union.
When Sky Television merged with British Sky Broadcasting in 1990, he took charge of BSkyB Sports Channel and created Sky Sports in April 1991 and made it the fastest-growing subscription channel in television history.
What is the biggest challenge facing sports broadcasters today?
The biggest problem is always going to be financial.
At the same time, the broadcaster realises that unless they constantly improve the level of their coverage of the sport, the chances of increasing the audience are minimalized.
Then there’s the problem that the Leagues will be rightfully cranky if their product is not being presented in the best way possible and go elsewhere at the end of the contract period. A few elite sports (NFL, EPL) will just keep getting bigger – the reasons for which are fairly self-evident.3D, 4K or? Where is the next major change in sports consumption coming from?
3D shot itself in the foot a few years back when it was touted as the biggest thing since the invention of television – and it clearly wasn’t. There needs to be a lot more R&D on 3D – especially the glasses question – before it ever becomes mainstream. And I think that the consumers who bought into the whole deal, and got burnt a couple of years back will need to be convinced before they buy in again.
HD, 3D, 4K are all well and good but if the game is good enough,
people will watch on a 12 inch black and while Philco. Ultimately we’ll be watching holograms – but that’s decades away (see Star Wars Ep 4 for the chess game).
What does the new IOC President have to do to ensure the Olympic Games maintain and grow their relevance to a global TV audience?
The Olympics are doing well worldwide and, despite the carping, Juan Antonio Samaranch and Jacques Rogge (and especially Richard Carrion, the IOC financial controller) have done a remarkably sophisticated job, guiding the organization.
The one worrying area is in the US, where the sports which are the mainstay of the Games – track and field etc. are becoming less and less popular.
For the Olympics to become what I’d imagine the new President (Thomas Bach of Germany) wants the Games to become, the grassroots support of sports which are the essence of the Games need to become a priority.
What other changes in sports viewing patterns can we expect in the years ahead?
Eurosport say 20/20 cricket is big in Eastern Europe? I’m thrilled to hear it, but I doubt it’s going to make an iota of difference.
I don’t believe there will be any change in sports viewing over the next decade, at the very least.What can broadcasters do to serve sports better while increasing profitability?
Simple. Explain the game.
Broadcasters world over make the assumption that their audience know the sport they’re broadcasting.
A huge majority does not.
The use of graphics, electronic enhancements, and explanatory commentary will educate the viewing public, and with an educated public comes a bigger audience.
I believe one of the reasons for the NFLs rise, and rise and rise in the US over the last 20 years, has been the number of information programmes which explain how and why – as well as featuring the player and superstar.
The NFL audience is educated in the nuances of the game, and is loving it.
And conversely, what can rights owners do to enhance their relationships with broadcasters in the common good?
Rights holders should invest in their own future, by developing the electronic enhancements which will explain their sport to the uninitiated.This way they control their future, and not hope their broadcasting partner will do it for them.
Formula E electric powered motor racing is being talked-up right now. Will it work as a TV spectacle and what other new or emerging sports might we expect to move into the mainstream?
Formula E is a terrific concept, but I will be surprised if it makes any
Their exposure to boxing while growing up was just about nil, and I think that with honest, intelligent and savvy promoters, we could see a comeback.
But I can’t see any major changes in the next decade.Where do you anticipate the biggest rises in rights fees coming from in the next five years or so?
The rich will get richer over the next five years – and what’s going to be interesting is what sports will lose the little public appeal they have now.
History is littered with sports which have failed to stay current.
I’ve just read this fabulous book called The Boys in the Boat (which I thoroughly recommend) and found that rowing, back in the 30s, was the second most popular Olympic sports
…Who would have thought?