New Fox Sports Network Hopes To Challenge ESPN's Cable Dominance

Rupert Murdoch announced on Tuesday the launch of Fox Sports 1, an all sports cable channel that will compete head to head with ESPN.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. News Corp announced a brand new cable sports channel today. It's called Fox Sports One. TV sports have become dominated by ESPN, which takes in one of every $4 earned by all cable stations in the U.S. So as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, Rupert Murdoch's media colossus is trying to get in on more of the action.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Chase Carey is News Corp's chief operating officer. He spoke to financial analysts last month about what he called the worst kept secret in television, that News Corp's Fox division wanted to create a new channel focused on sports.

CHASE CAREY: Our bundle of cable channels that really cover the spectrum of the four arenas of entertainment, news, nonfiction and sports, we want to continue to be opportunistic at finding things, you know, where we can build real value, we can build businesses that capitalize on the other assets we own.

FOLKENFLIK: News Corp is already a force in sports. The Fox broadcast network carries the NFL and Major League Baseball. It also owns 23 regional sports networks in major markets such as Chicago and Los Angeles that focus on local teams. Fox Sports One will broadcast college basketball and football and in subsequent years Major League Baseball and NASCAR. Fox tried to create a national network in the 1990s by binding together its regional sports networks in a station featuring former ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KEITH OLBERMANN: At Fox Sports News, we cover your team so closely coaches can often be heard screaming: Olbermann's open.

FOLKENFLIK: It failed largely because advertisers do not buy commercials regionally to reach a national audience. But a national network for sports remained a goal, especially as advertisers are attracted to sports viewers who tend to watch live television - commercials and all - as opposed to the increasing number of people who time shift - watching at their own convenience and often ducking the ads. Again, News Corp's Chase Carey.

CAREY: In a world of increasing fragmentation, we think sports continues to be a more and more important and unique part of that overall landscape.

FOLKENFLIK: In 1993, Fox paid $1.6 billion to secure the rights to broadcast the NFL's then dominant NFC division, swiping it from the CBS network. It was considered a lot of money to pay. Neal Pilson remembers it well. He had been president of CBS Sports for 13 years.

NEAL PILSON: It was a huge acquisition for Fox, basically helped launch and support their new network, allowed them to secure much stronger stations. And they bootstrapped their way to becoming a very equal competitor of ABC, NBC and CBS.

FOLKENFLIK: Pilson, now a consultant, says Murdoch will succeed once again.

PILSON: They'll do it the Fox way - aggressive, paying whatever it takes to secure rights on a long-term basis. And I think they're going to be very competitive.

FOLKENFLIK: Fox Sports One will be available to approximately 90 million homes from its first day in mid-August. Its name hints at the other open secret within Fox - they're mapping out a Fox Sports Two as well. David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

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