Expect NFL Sunday Ticket via broadband in 2007

By Ken Kerscshbaumer

Interactive services, particularly on satellite platforms, continue to give sportscasters like the YES Network and TVG Network, not to mention the NFL Sunday Ticket, more ways to help fans keep on top of their favorite teams and players. The goal, said Eric Shanks, DirecTV EVP, is to work with the biggest events and generate buzz. One big addition next year? Letting NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers watch games live on the Internet, similar to the way NBA fans can now watch games both online and on TV.

“Five years from now you’ll iTV better suited for the TV,” said Shanks. “You’ll also see much more adoption of iTV by program producers. There won’t be a single network that won’t have single-screen interactivity.”

The YES Network, in fact, has found such success with its current offering that includes instant game box scores from around the league and a split-screen featuring a second “player camera” that Ray Hopkins, COO YES Network, says it will expand the service to include road games next season. The network is also talking with cable operators and telcos about deliver the service on additional platforms. And they’ll also generate revenues.

“Last year we didn’t sell sponsorships but this year we will,” he said at the SBJ Media and Technology conference in New York. “Advertising and sponsorships are one way we’ll monetize it.” Viewers can expect ad features like a clickable logo that can help them get more info or order catalogs and brochures.

The Web itself also holds allure, with the YES Network rolling out Post-Game Extra, giving fans five minutes or less of post-game coverage not seen on the YES Network TV channel. “We see the dual-screen experience [with viewers watching TV and on the PC at the same time] as very complementary,” he added.

While the YES Network looks to make it easier for fans to get information David Nathanson, TVG Network SVP and GM, is looking to help make it easier for fans to go to the track and place bets.

Today TVG Network, with the help of Echostar, allows for race fans in 12 states to wager instantly with the click of a few buttons on the remote. Not only can fans see real-time odds but they can also get information on jockeys and horses.

“If the state doesn’t allow wagering viewers can get news, handicapping odds and stats,” he said. “But we’ve has 12 million wages worth more than $80 million through the iTV service.”

With iTV applications, whether for stats or betting, fans want information and action as quickly as possible. “It’s all about helping fans bet as efficiently and quickly as possible,” said Nathanson.

While TVG Network and the YES Network are both eyeing revenue models Geoff Lester, NASCAR senior account manager, broadcasting and new media, says NASCAR OnDemand’s service that lets fans watch an entire race from channels dedicated to in-car cameras and channels dedicated to live race information, is really a loss leader.

“It lets us give back to the fans,” said Lester. “Dotcoms are a better place to drive revenues when you hit critical mass.”

NASCAR’s InDemand package is an example of how iTV can help change the viewing experience but Shanks says it was the network’s 2006 U.S. Open iTV service that has had the most positive feedback from viewers. For the first week of the Open tennis fans were able to tune into different channels and see complete matches from side courts usually not shown on network TV coverage.

“It let them see courts they had never seen before,” he said of DirecTV’s free interactive feature. “We believe that everything we do is about upgrading the customer service and retaining people. We don’t have a separate P&L for interactivity.”

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