Continuing its grand-scale pivot to video, Time Inc. has launched Sports Illustrated TV, a $4.99-a-month streaming network offering a mix of documentary, narrative and talk programming under the tagline “Because you love sports.”
The network will offer 130 hours of on-demand programming and has deals in place for documentary projects with Mike Tollin and Jonathan Hock for documentaries in 2018. Tollin has produced films like Coach Carter and Varsity Blues and in 2012 teamed with Peter Guber to launch Mandalay Sports Media. Hock has written and directed several docs under ESPN’s 30 for 30 banner.
Movies will also be part of the offering, a selection of sports titles including the first five Rocky films and documentaries like Racing Dreams. Another element will be studio shows leveraging the magazine staff’s expertise and access to sports figures, with five original series focusing on lifestyle, soccer, gambling and the magazine’s own editorial history, including its covers.
In the launch announcement, Time Inc. boss Rich Battista called the network “a broad slice of sports culture, complementing the pages of the magazine consumers have long loved. The brand’s unmatched storytelling is now available to audiences in an unparalleled holistic way through print, online, and on television.”
Since spinning off from Time Warner in 2014, Time Inc. has faced headwinds, as have all traditional publishers. After deciding to end discussions to be acquired, it has warned of significant cutbacks to print circulation and frequency amid softening ad sales. The focus, increasingly, will be digital. And that means video.
On the company’s quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts last week, Battista stressed that the company takes in about $1 billion in non-magazine revenue, from initiatives like native advertising. Investors haven’t fully embraced the company’s story, though, and shares began the day at $12.50. In the first months of 2017, they were trading at more than $18.
The OTT video landscape is already crowded with more than 200 offerings (87% of which have a subscription element, according to Parks Associates), and the sports category even more so, as longtime dominant power ESPN has learned of late. As pure digital upstarts like Barstool Sports destabilize the traditional players, one question for SI TV will be how it can drive tune-in without games or highlights. Often overlooked in the analysis of ESPN and other networks that shell out billions for sports rights–something Time Inc. is unlikely to ever do–is the fact that those rights enable them to pump highlights and clips through their linear and digital platforms 24 hours a day.