HBO Sports in 2015 completed one of the most successful boxing campaigns in its history, led by the record-setting May 2 Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view fight it co-promoted with Showtime. Leading the division’s charge into 2016 is recently named executive vice president Peter Nelson. He will set the strategic direction and oversee programming for the division, which along with boxing also produces the network’s long-running sports magazine show, Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, as well as its sports documentaries. He spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about the HBO Sports brand and its strategic outlook. Here are edited highlights of their conversation.
MCN:How would you define the HBO Sports brand?
Peter Nelson: We encapsulate a portion of the broader mosaic of HBO’s brand, which champions unique voices in their artistry and excellence, and that overarching vision is one we endeavor to meet and exceed every day within sports.
Ranging from live fights to the illegal hunting of African elephants chronicled on Real Sports, what encompasses our sports programming as a whole is depth and quality of storytelling. In capturing disparate and unimaginable worlds through the lens of sports, we hope the passions, sorrows and triumphs brought to light reflect back to sharpen the focus of our own humanity.
MCN:Boxing for years has been the staple of HBO Sports. How important is boxing to HBO Sports from your perspective?
PN: Boxing has been integral to HBO’s DNA nearly from its inception, and our work today is entwined with and a continuation of that legacy begun in 1973. In 2015, we saw double-digit percentage of increase in viewership, underscoring the sport’s appeal with our subscribers. As with any sport, as stars dim, others begin to glow brighter, and currently we have a generation forming a new constellation of superstars: Canelo Alvarez, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, Terence Crawford, Sergey Kovalev, Andre Ward, Roman Gonzalez, among others. These fighters embody that historical commitment HBO has shown to exhibiting the best fighters in the world against the best possible competition.
MCN:HBO Sports has already scheduled two pay-per-view boxing matches this year. Coming off a record-setting 2015, how aggressive will the company be in PPV boxing?
PN: For pay-per-view, 2015 was an unprecedented year. We approach pay-per-view keeping in mind the various needs of all involved: of fighters, promoters, affiliate partners, and, above all, consumers. We’re excited to see where 2016 takes us.
MCN:Given the shifts in how viewers watch television, how important is live sports programming in general and to HBO in particular?
PN: Live sports programming is by definition destination programming, a key component in a VOD landscape for networks looking to maximize appeal and audience. For four decades, we’ve had live boxing on HBO, a property that our subscribers are passionate about. We strive each year to be known as the network to turn to for the biggest names, the best fights and the highest quality presentation in the sport. We look every day to meet and exceed those expectations in curating that experience.
MCN:HBO Sports is also known for its documentaries. What role will they play in HBO Sports’s future, and what should viewers expect to see from the genre in 2016?
PN: Sports documentaries are part of our sports culture, ever since our first doc back in 1991 through last year’s biographies of Greg Louganis and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. As we look to the future, we seek to continue with stories that dovetail with a brand known for prismatic, compelling, and innovative narratives. We have the privilege of unrivaled documentarians working with and reaching out to us. When the right projects come together, it is our job to ensure these filmmakers wish to call HBO Sports home.
MCN:How will new technologies such as 4K and virtual reality affect the future of sports television, and will HBO look to implement such technologies in its telecasts?
PN: Technology enhancements are the lifeblood of live sports production telecasts. We actively look to test new technology and are poised to incorporate them as they make sense for us. Live sports are an incredibly exciting space in which to see the future of tech flourish.
MCN:Are there any other sports that HBO Sports will look to add to its portfolio?
PN: We keep an eye on the landscape, always having the optionality of being flexible and opportunistic. Right now, however, it’s unlikely that we would add another live sport to our slate. We’re excited to play the hand we’re playing.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.