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ESPN: ‘Comfortable,’ Not ‘Disappointed’

Despite ultimately being outbid by Comcast and NBCUniversal for the Olympics, ESPN president George Bodenheimer remains extremely positive about ESPN’s
prospects going forward. After returning from Switzerland, he took time out to speak with Broadcasting & Cable business editor Jon Lafayette about the future of
sports, the effect of technology on television and where the industry is going.

MCN: How disappointing was this Olympics

George Bodenheimer: We were very comfortable
with what we bid, and those were the
terms upon which we would have been happy
to get it, so conversely, we’re not disappointed
in the least. It would have been nice to win it
at the dollars we had bid. But we made a disciplined
bid and we were very comfortable with
where we were.

MCN: Beyond the assets of ESPN and ABC,
were there other parts of Disney that were part
of your bid?

GB: Yes. All divisions of Disney were supportive.
Consumer products was particularly active.
There was nice value we could have brought to
the IOC on the consumer-product end.

MCN: The IOC and NBCUniversal both
thought that doing four years was a key to
making this work from a business point of
view. You guys bid for two. Why?

GB: We just felt we were comfortable with two
Olympics. There was uncertainty about where
the 2018 and 2020 games were going to be held.
It wasn’t more complicated than that.

MCN: You’ve taken at look at NBCU’s numbers.
Do you see any way they can make a profit?

GB: I’m not going to speak to the economics of
their company. They made a bid that evidently
they were comfortable with and I leave it to
them to discuss the specifics of their plan.

MCN: How does this affect ESPN’s momentum
going forward?

GB: I don’t see it affecting it in the least.
We’re active in all sports negotiations because
that’s what we do, but we’re not about
any one sport. We put our best foot forward
and we’re comfortable with that, so not getting
[the Olympics] will have zero impact on
ESPN going forward.

MCN: When the rights come up again, will
ESPN be a bidder?

GB: I would certainly think the company
would. It’s a world-class product.

MCN: Where is ESPN’s business and the business
of sports heading? Where is the growth?

GB: I see growth in all things digital, whether
it be our traditional online types of
businesses—we have many now. But beyond
that, from a distribution standpoint obviously
mobile communications are continuing
to grow. There are nearly 300 million handsets
here in the United States alone, 5 billion
across the world. The percentage of those that
are smartphones is going to continue to grow,
and so we’re looking to serve fans in an evergrowing
march of technology. So I certainly see
big growth in those areas. And if you look at the
numbers and what we’re doing and how fans
are utilizing ESPN, the trends are very good for
growth in that area.