I’ve been waiting to see if any analyst would slam News Corp’s decision to launch Fox Sports 1, the national general sports makeover for the company’s Speed channel. You can make a compelling case that the pay TV sports bubble is about to pop, especially if cable and satellite companies follow through on their threats to cut high-priced sports channels from the basic cable bundle. But the investment pros continue to bet that the current system will remain intact, and that Fox Sports 1 will be a winner. Several raised their target price for News Corp stock. The consensus view is that pay TV distributors will agree to pay about $1 a month for each subscriber — up from the the estimated 22 cents the company currently collects for Speed — raising affiliate revenues to $1.1B a year from $312M. News Corp will have several opportunities to push for higher rates: about 30% of its current pay TV deals expire by mid 2014, and another 40% will be due the following year, Barclays Equity research’s Anthony DiClemente notes.
The big question, then, is whether Fox Sports 1 can hold the line on costs. Based on the plans unveiled yesterday there’s “not enough programming to fulfill a Murdoch-sized aspiration,” Bernstein Research’s Todd Juenger says. “They will need more.” That’s why many will be watching to see whether News Corp agrees to pay more than $500M for a 12-year deal to broadcast college basketball’s Big East, the new conference of seven Catholic schools including Georgetown. Credit Suisse’s Michael Senno says he expects an announcement “soon.” Meanwhile Macquarie Equities Research says that it’s “not entirely impossible” that Fox will try to buy rights to the Thursday night NFL games that now run on the league’s NFL Network. And Juenger notes that Murdoch may bid aggressively for NBA games — the “next big property up for grabs” beginning in 2016. If that happens then “there will be a period of several years of losses (at least),” he says.