Fledgling MyNetwork TV was anxious to expand its offerings beyond the Americanized telenovelas it currently presents.
Fox Sports Network was looking for a broadcast and online home for the mixed martial arts league it recently bought the rights to.
Key the wedding music: It's a marriage made in media heaven for the two companies, both of which are units of News Corp. They announced they were linking up last week to share some sports programming mixed martial arts.
The move comes on the heels of Greg Meidel's appointment as president of MyNetwork TV. His top priority is a retooling of the all-telenovela channel that will bring more diversity to the programming lineup, especially sports. The network isn't pulling the plug on any of the telenovelas yet, only adding other elements to the lineup.
The New York-based International Fight League, Inc. (publicly traded over-the-counter), is the first team-based professional mixed martial arts league. The 12-team league launched its first full season two weeks ago in Oakland.
The move further establishes Fox, and now MyNetwork, as a major player in the expanding world of televised mixed martial arts, the nearly no-holds-barred bouts that have exploded in popularity over the past few years.
The network has aired past events from Pride and Ultimate Fighting Championship, the dominant promoters in the mixed martial arts space, over the past several years, but this is the first large-scale rights agreement for the net.
Fox Sports Net now has multi-year rights to televise 22 one-hour late night event programs produced by the IFL, beginning in the second quarter of 2007, as well as the rights to produce ancillary programming like pay-per-view and video-on-demand events.
"There is an audience out there. It's nowhere near the numbers for the NFL, of course, but when you get outside our core televised sports it's one of the highest-rated things we have," said Bob Thompson, president of Fox Sports Net. "At first when we got into mixed martial arts people thought we were crazy. The sport has come a long way and really cleaned up its act."
The sports network has in the past used mixed martial arts as a counter-programming measure, when other networks are airing NFL games or other live sports draws. But now it could become part of more mainstream programming, depending on when and where MyNetwork opts to play the content.
Significantly, the deal between the fight league and Fox includes Internet rights. Under the agreement, Fox Sports and the IFL will establish a joint venture to manage, maximize and distribute IFL-related digital media rights including via Internet, broadband video and mobile, with access to Fox's digital assets including MySpace.com, IGN and other potential third party digital platforms.
"We liked that we were able to enter into an agreement for a variety of new media and digital rights; we've been unable to do it in the past because other entities had already done something with those rights or preexisting commitments for them," Thompson said.
Anti-Semitic rants from comedians, pop stars' panty-free romps and the drunken tirades of Hollywood hotshots have become Internet staples.
Now, through a deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, an entertainment show on the Los Angeles-based celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.com, they will air this fall on Fox stations nationwide.
The daily tabloid-style show called "TMZ" will run for a half-hour on weekdays and expanded to one hour on weekends. Local sites will feed news live to affiliates round-the-clock and provide TMZ-branded news reports.
The footage will be available for use in local news telecasts, as well, and refer viewers to the TMZ.com site for additional detail. Fox TV stations will be able to post TMZ.com content on their Web sites. Fox owns 35 stations in 26 markets, though plans are in the works to sell the show to other stations in more markets.
"It's a triple-threat, a cross platform solution," said Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. domestic distribution. "Shows like 'Extra,' 'Entertainment Tonight' and 'Insider' skew much older, 25 to 54 years old, and are much more heavily female. We want to go for a younger, more gender-balanced audience by embracing a different visual perspective and storytelling method."
The show will be produced in Los Angeles by Warner Bros.-based Telepictures, Harvey Levin Productions Inc. and paraMedia Inc.
The show will have a host, though no casting decisions have been made at this point and there is no word on who is being considered for the job.
"We need a personality that's evocative and consistent with the feel of the show," Werner said.
Harvey Levin, managing editor of TMZ.com, will be "closely involved" with the project and serve as a co-executive producer, but won't host.
TMZ.com is a joint venture between America Online and Telepictures Productions, first launched in December 2005. It has seen its unique user visits skyrocket to 16 million since this summer, when the site gained national notice by posting the police report on Mel Gibson's drunken driving arrest and his subsequent anti-Semitic rant. It also posted video of Michael Richard's enraged racial tirade against two black hecklers during a performance at the Laugh Factory comedy club in West Hollywood. The site also has blogs from Levin a former producer of "Celebrity Justice" and Claude Brodesser, host of National Public Radio's entertainment program "The Business," as well as a growing archive of paparazzi photos.
"A lot of television companies, being publicly traded, can't publish large-scale on the Web because they would need so much more staff to do that and such an undertaking costs a lot," Werner said. "
Financial terms of the deal were not released.
Staff reporter Anne Riley-Katz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 225.
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