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Michael Bair Hones Spectrum Networks’ Local Edge

Michael Bair
(Image credit: Spectrum Networks)

Michael Bair knows his way around a sports network. The longtime media executive worked at ad firm Ogilvy & Mather, Showtime, HBO, Cablevision Systems and Rainbow Media before a nine-year stint as president of Madison Square Garden Media Group and two years as CEO of streaming startup Bleachers Corp. He joined Charter Communications in 2016, after the merger with Time Warner Cable, to run Spectrum Networks. Now in charge of 30 sports and news channels, including the iconic NY1, Spectrum SportsNet and SportsNet LA in Los Angeles and local sports channels in Kansas City and Hawaii (as well as a 27% stake in SNY, the TV home of the New York Mets), Bair is guiding the channels through one of the industry’s most disruptive periods ever. He discussed the changing landscape with Multichannel News/B+C senior content producer, finance, Mike Farrell. An edited transcript follows.

BONUS FIVE

All-time favorite TV show? The West Wing
TV shows on your watch list? Temple, Curfew, Tehran, Ted Lasso
Destinations on your vacation bucket list? Norway, South Africa, Greek Islands (or every football stadium in the
Big Ten on game day).
Favorite podcast? Tying it Together with Tim Boyum and Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman
Books on your nightstand? Humanocracy by Gary Hamel, The Kingdom by Jo Nesbo, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

With vaccines more widespread and MLB planning a 162-game schedule this season, are you optimistic sports may finally be on its way back? Sports took a pause but never fully went away. While I am optimistic that as the vaccine continues to roll out across the country, more and more stadiums and arenas will be able to safely welcome fans back, I am equally confident that fans will continue to tune in to SportsNet and SportsNet LA. Last season, Dodgers telecasts on SportsNet LA recorded the network’s highest-
ever household rating (2.63) and A25-54 rating (1.43), while Lakers live game broadcasts on SportsNet recorded the highest household rating (2.99) and A25-54 rating (2.03) since the 2012-13 season.   

You have four regional sports networks. Do you see that programming differently than some of your peers, as more of a retention tool? With all of our networks, sports and news, we focus on engagement. On the news side, who we are and what we do is entirely community-based. Our goal is to add value to the customers’ services and to be essential to their everyday lives. For sports, our goal is also to provide value — in this instance, by eliminating the middleman, which often increases the cost of sports programming. 

SportsNet LA, home of the current World Series champion Dodgers, signed a carriage deal with DirecTV owner AT&T last year. Are you close to other deals? We announced our carriage agreement with AT&T last April, and now SportsNet LA is available to 100% of homes in Las Vegas and Hawaii. We do not have anything to report on negotiations with other distributors, but it should be noted that Spectrum and AT&T are available to the vast majority of potential viewers in the Dodgers in-market area. 

Charles Divins and Alex Stockwell of Spectrum News Texas

Charles Divins (l.) and Alex Stockwell co-anchor Your Morning on Spectrum News 1 in Austin, Texas, one of the channels overseen by Spectrum Networks executive VP Michael Bair.  (Image credit: Spectrum News)

You have news channels in markets as diverse as New York, Los Angeles and Bowling Green, Kentucky. How important is local news to the overall strategy? Local journalism is as essential to communities as are schools, parks and libraries. Over the past year, the pandemic has accentuated the critical need for reliable local news that informs and empowers communities. Yet, local news organizations are shutting down, cutting costs and reducing coverage. We’re largely going in the other direction, even launching new networks in Dallas, Texas, and Asheville, North Carolina, in the middle of the pandemic. 

What are your plans for those news channels? Over the past few years, we have launched networks in California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio and Wisconsin. In 2020, we expanded our networks in North Carolina and Texas, and we launched the Spectrum News App to better enable Spectrum customers to access our news and content to our video and our internet-only customers. Our plan is to constantly increase and improve on our local coverage.  Going forward, as news consumption habits continue to evolve, our goal is to ensure that our customers can always access our news anytime and anywhere, whether they are watching, listening or reading.