EXCLUSIVE: In a spring season that has already seen Disney launch ESPN+ and Turner announce Bleacher Report Live, a new sports challenger is entering the subscription video on demand (SVOD) ring: Sports Illustrated TV.
The over-the-top (OTT) service linked with the noted magazine will now be available direct to consumers via Roku, iOS, Android and web browsers for $4.99 a month. SI TV launched last November on Amazon Channels and recently was added to fuboTV’s skinny-bundle service.
Josh Oshinsky, head of programming for SI TV at Meredith Corp., told Deadline that he views the flurry of new sports video apps as a positive sign. “As a sports fan, I am excited that there is such a healthy and a lot of different ways to engage with sports content,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an either-or between ESPN+ or BRLive or us. We do things that they don’t.”
Unlike ESPN and Turner, which face pressure to expensive rights to live game action, SI is on a somewhat different wavelength. Consistent with the magazine’s mission over the years, it is emphasizing personality, color and analysis via studio shows, long-form documentary programming and library films. SI TV’s rotating library of narrative features ranges from Rocky to The Cutting Edge, a 1992 romantic comedy set in the world of Olympic figure skating. The network also aims to leverage its decades of experience profiling sports figures and analyzing on- and off-field moves. The timing of the launch on the eve of the NFL Draft — a peak moment in the sports year for conversation, analysis and in-depth looks at individual players — is no coincidence.
As an SVOD service, SI TV has no ads for the time being, but Oshinsky said, the company is “exploring a range of monetization and distribution strategies.”
During the rollout of the SVOD service, SI has been in a significant transition phase. Meredith Corp., which bought it along with other Time Inc. titles last year, said in March it would be selling SI, along with Time, Fortune and Money. Meredith plans to keep several of Time’s mainstay brands, including People. While People launched an OTT channel along with younger sibling Entertainment Weekly last year, it is an ad-supported service and not a direct model for SI TV, Oshinksky said.
Among the NFL Draft features planned on SI TV will be in-depth visits with college players coming to the NFL, among them Saquon Barkley, Baker Mayfield and Leighton Vander Esch. The final two episodes of The MMQB Draft Preview Show with PFF will also air this week, timed to the direct-to-consumer launch.
Ongoing weekly studio shows include The Crossover, which focuses on basketball culture and features guests such as Big Daddy Kane, Cookie Monster, and Roy Wood, Jr.; Planet Futbol with Grant Wahl (a longtime writer and soccer expert at SI) exploring soccer with top flight guests from around the world; and The Line, about sports wagering and daily fantasy.
Original medium and long-form documentary series and specials include Under the Cover, with subjects from the current issue of the magazine; three new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit 2018 specials; and The Vault, a series drawing on SI’s rich historical archive. The first made-for-SI TV feature length documentary film, We Town, will spotlight possibly the greatest high school basketball team every assembled, including likely future NBA stars Mo Bamba and Cam Reddish.