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Justin Connolly

As Disney and ESPN’s lead negotiator for carriage
renewal deals with distributors, Connolly
will be front and center in 2012 on one of the
TV industry’s most controversial issues—the
rapidly escalating cost of sports programming.
Over the past two years, ESPN has agreed to
pony up hefty rights-fee increases to carry the
NFL’s Monday Night Football ($15.2 billion
over eight years), Pac-12 and BCS
college football and Wimbledon
tennis, among others.

At nearly $5 per subscriber per
month, ESPN already is by far the
most expensive channel available.
Connolly will need to extract even
higher fees to keep the net’s programming
on the air and other digital
platforms, at a time when distributors
are getting hammered with pushback
from customers frustrated about their bills.

Carriage renewal negotiations
can be nasty. Connolly, highly regarded
for his ability to find common
ground, will need all of his
collaborative talents to win renewals
on expiring deals with partners
said to include Dish Network,
Charter and AT&T. One positive
sign: Disney/ESPN’s groundbreaking
10-year agreement in January
with Comcast, which analysts estimate could
bring in $20 billion in revenue.