Live programming key to medium's future

Since he was a kid growing up in New York devouring those “the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat” moments, Ross Greenburg has been a sports glutton. And in his words, the sports TV biz is “blowing up.”

The former HBO Sports topper, now an independent producer, waxed poetic about the current state of televised sports in delivering the keynote speech at Wednesday’s Sports Entertainment Production Summit at the Luxe Sunset.

“Nowhere else will you see 58 million people show up to watch a football game,” he said at the event, sponsored by Sports Video Group and Variety, referring to Sunday’s NFC championship broadcast. “People love their teams and their sports. What you’re seeing now is the lid being blown off, and distribution is everywhere.”

Greenburg, who has moved on to multiple projects but has clearly soured on boxing, his former bread and butter, said the sports behemoth keeps getting larger, primarily because of live programming.

“What most people in the media are starting to recognize,” he said, “is that you have to be there live. You can’t get the same satisfaction watching it off your DVR. Advertisers know that you’ll be there live. Advertisers know that you won’t be fast-forwarding through commercials.”

It all comes down to storytelling, Greenburg emphasized. And he advised those in the business seeking ideas for programming: “If it tugs at your heart, chances are it will tug at the public’s.”

In earlier panels, Jon Slusser of Spike TV foreshadowed Greenburg’s views on live sports during the “Beyond the Ball: The Convergence of Sporting Events and Entertainment” discussion, saying that those in the 18-34 demo like live events, “and live is important for social media.” He emphasized the positive relationship, for instance, between Twitter activity and ratings.

On the same panel, Vince Pace of the Cameron-Pace Group talked about 3D in sports programming and said that after witnessing new technology by Sony and others, the proliferation of glasses-free 3D is not far off.

“It’s incredible to me that we’re on the right path,” he said, while noting also that 3D experiences with glasses have become much more comfortable and viewer-friendly as well.

During the “Sports Reality: Where Sports Takes a Lesson from Entertainment” gathering, Scott Messick of Mess Media pointed out the need for “DGA-level directors” in reality programming.

“You need a significant amount of directing in reality,” he said. “There is a nuance to shooting.”

Tim Duffy of Spike TV added that “athletes die twice,” the first time being the end of their playing careers, after which many are keen to remain in the limelight.

He told the story of meeting Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace) at a vegan restaurant to discuss a possible sports-based reality show. But the Lakers’ forward said he didn’t want to be depicted as a bad guy.

Concluded Duffy about the project: “Pass. Not everybody deserves to be on TV.”

Fox Sports Media Group offered a special tribute to the late Doug Sellars, a longtime executive who passed away in December at the age of 50.

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