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Fox Sports Chief Unsure About Live Streaming

Major sports properties are moving toward more live streaming of games, but not everyone is so sure this is such a great idea.

The National Football League has a new deal this year to stream the NBC Sunday-night games, and now the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball are both reportedly looking at live local streaming, as well.

But at a time when major sporting events have never been more valuable to television outlets, there is some concern that doing anything to potentially subtract television viewers -- infinitely more valuable than online viewers right now -- may not be without drawbacks.

One of those at least flagging the issue is Fox Sports president Ed Goren, whose division is deeply embedded in major properties from the NFL to MLB to the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing to college football.

Goren’s network doesn’t have the rights to stream its NFL package, which kicked off this past weekend, as there are conflicts with a DirecTV out-of-market package, as well as affiliates.

However, Goren is also cautious about the sudden explosion of online streaming and what it could mean to the golden goose -- television ratings.

In a wide-ranging conversation with B&C’s Ben Grossman, Goren spoke about streaming games, how the baseball standings are looking pretty good to Fox and why NBC Sports & Olympics chief Dick Ebersol should be working in Washington, D.C.

Would you like to stream more events online at the same time as your network airings?

In today’s marketplace, the big dog is definitely viewership on network television and the ad revenue that generates. Even if you look at the tremendous success of the Olympics across multiple platforms, if it doesn’t perform on NBC, no matter what the rest bought in, you couldn’t run a business right now. So I think we can’t lose track of the power of the mass audience and revenues that network television brings.

So does that mean you think online streaming of sporting events cannibalizes audiences now?

At this point I think that’s debatable. Down the road it certainly could be a factor.

If the baseball season ended as we speak, the playoffs would be stocked with big-market teams, including one from New York, two from Chicago [yes, including the Cubs], one from Los Angeles and the defending champion Boston Red Sox. That’s not a bad thing for the rest of your baseball season.

Most definitely. Right now there is no question that the markets and the teams in contention for postseason play are very appealing not just as national entities, like the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, but even from the perspective of our Fox [owned-and-operated stations], where we have stations in markets like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Phoenix.

Did the success of the recent Olympics make you more interested in acquiring the property?

We had discussions before the Beijing Olympics about involvement down the road, and there was an interest then, and maybe even more so now. But the Olympics continues a success story for major sporting events that may be unprecedented. I exchanged e-mails with Ebersol during the Olympics congratulating him and he responded how good it was for all of us.

How much did the Olympic price tag go up after this past outing?

You have to look at the full package, and this was sort of a perfect storm for ratings. But nothing seems too go down, so why not?

How did NBC do? What would you have done differently?

I thought they had a hell of a run, and they made a lot of adjustments off of past years. I thought the scheduling of events, for what Dick Ebersol was able to accomplish and settling things with China and the IOC [International Olympic Committee], if he could go to Washington, he could settle a lot of issues there too.

NASCAR, another one of your properties, seemed to bounce back this year ratings-wise after a couple of slower years. Was it the recommitment of NASCAR to its core fan base that turned things around?

It brought them back. In fact, that core group that had some erosion came back in full force this year. I think we all felt that there were legitimate reasons for the erosion and that it would turn around, and it did.