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Mobile, A La Carte and Live Sports Hot Topics at Variety’s Sports Entertainment Summit

Connectivity everywhere a goal

Breaking down such topics as the use of mobile devices in sports entertainment and the economic realities of televised sports, prominent figures from Fox Sports, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the NFL and more gathered at the Variety Sports Entertainment Summit on Thursday.

Randy Freer, COO and co-president of Fox Sports, said in his keynote Q&A that a la carte was an unworkable “fantasy,” and others backed up his sentiment.

“A la carte is not as good of an idea as those people in that position think it is,” said Terry Denson, vice president of content strategy & acquisition for Verizon Communications, in a panel about regional sports networks. “It’s not a healthy way to go.”

Henry Ford, SVP and general manager of Fox Sports San Diego, echoed his thoughts, though admitted they could do a better job of selling the bundle and emphasizing its value to skeptical consumers who feel they are paying for unwanted channels.

During the same panel, Denson argued that RSNs themselves would become less necessary in an increasingly mobile world. The use of alternate platforms in sports entertainment was an ongoing discussion point throughout the day.

Joe Inzerillo, SVP and chief technology officer at MLB Advanced Media, and Brian Dunphy, senior director of business development at Qualcomm, explained their emphasis on mobile connectivity in sports arenas in a chat.

“It’s a utility at this point,” Inzerillo said. “If you go to a sporting event and can’t get a phone call, it creates anxiety.”

Dunphy went on to explain the promise of expanding “small cells” in crowded ballparks to take on the challenge of connectivity. Inzerillo said attendees should be able to order food, check bathroom lines and even view instant replays on their phones during a game.

“When we think about engagement, we don’t think of mobile as a companion device or a second device,” added Alex Vargas, vice president of business operations at  Bleacher Report, in a panel about companion mobile, social and online experiences. “For the majority of users, it is their primary device.”

The panel came at a fitting time, as ESPN today launched an app called WatchESPN, which includes a live toolbar, as Christen Harris, VP of digital video distribution at Disney and ESPN Media Networks, explained at a panel for TV Everywhere.

Jonathan Wilner, VP of product at Ooyala, said in the same panel that everyone they work with is working on mobile first, and that live sports are increasingly crucial.

“It’s no surprise that sports is the stickiest content,” Wilner said. “Live sports are incredibly important in getting people to try a new platform.”

The summit was held at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, two days before the launch of Fox Sports 1, Fox’s new 24-hour national sports cable network.

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