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Archive for Sports

Sports Sponsorship Risks Flip in LA

The risk to brands of a sports sponsorship is that an athlete may end up causing reputational damage by bad behavior. In Los Angeles, the risk may be coming not from athletes but from university administrators and coaches.

United Airlines agreed in January 2018 to acquire the naming rights to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for $70 million. The naming rights are owned by the University of Southern California, acquired in 2013 as a result of the owners of the Coliseum (the state and the county) not performing significant upgrades to the facility as required by USC’s lease.

Despite having only one permanent tenant – USC’s football team – the Coliseum’s naming rights are relatively lucrative. Foremost, this is because of the national TV exposure USC’s football team gets, even in its off years. Also figuring in would be the history of the Coliseum. It’s a National Historic Landmark, having been home to the Trojans since 1923. At various times, it has also been the home the Rams and the Raiders of the NFL, the Dodgers of MLB, two Summer Olympics, two Super Bowls, UCLA, and – who could forget – the LA Express of the USFL. And not to be overlooked is its location under the normal approach path into LAX, able to showcase a United logo to incoming passengers of all airlines.

The Risk Flips

At first, the reaction was quite negative against United’s sponsorship. It came right around the time as a number of United PR gaffes, including the infamous dragging of a passenger off a plane and the death of a pet by placing it in an overhead bin. It seemed USC was getting the bad end of deal by getting into bed with United.

Let’s move the clock ahead a year. The United renaming goes into effect this Fall, as a fully renovated Coliseum opens for the football season with the Trojans and (for one more temporary year) the NFL’s Rams. The situation has really flipped. Here is what United is now associated with in terms of the Coliseum’s main tenant, USC.

Less serious than the above, but important to the value of the sponsorship, is a steep decline in the performance USC’s football team. Both the coach and the AD are overmatched, and little has been done to address the problems with the team. This is leading to a feeling of revolt among the boosters and fans. It could lead to the first year of the United sponsorship seeing the Coliseum half-empty for USC games, and many fans booing their own coaches. This could mean fewer appearances on ABC or ESPN, and more on the PAC12 Network. Try and find that on your TV’s program guide.

The Payoff

The bright spot, with the Rams in the Super Bowl next week, is that United may get the benefit of a Super Bowl champion for one season. This is before the Rams move to their own stadium near LAX (a stadium as yet without a naming sponsor).

As we see above, the risk can sometimes go both ways with sports or celebrity sponsorships. With naming rights, which typically run for a decade or more, the period of exposure to this risk can be lengthy – and even start before the name goes on the building.

UPDATE: Adding to USC’s woes since this was published is its implication in the college admissions bribery scandal that made headlines in March, including a key athletic administrator and current/past USC coaches.

[Disclosure: I am a graduate, and big fan, of USC]

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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NFL Ratings: Not Dead Yet

NFL logo/shieldFor the previous two years, would-be pundits acted like the barrow-man collecting dead bodies in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, throwing the NFL on the heap in the cart despite its protestations of “I’m not dead yet!.” Unlike the Holy Grail, where the old man was “helped” with a strong whack to the head, the NFL and NFL ratings have jumped off the cart looking increasingly hearty.

Ratings from the 2018 regular season show a 5% increase, compared with decreases of 10% and 8% the previous two years. Combined with a substantial ratings increase for the playoffs so far, and the NFL juggernaut appears to be coming up to speed. Recent doom and gloom aside, it is still a ratings powerhouse – it was just slightly less dominant in the previous two years.

Better Teams in Bigger Markets

It is likely much of this is simply due to team improvements and upgrades of matchups. Teams having good seasons and making the playoffs in 2018 after missing in 2017 are the LA Chargers (#2 Nielsen DMA), Chicago (#3), Dallas (#5), Houston (#7), Seattle (#13), Baltimore (#26), and Indianapolis (#28). These replace Buffalo (#52), Jacksonville (#42), Tennessee (#27), Pittsburgh (#24), Carolina (#23), Minnesota (#15), and Atlanta (#10).

The seven new 2018 playoff teams came from markets that on average rank 12th in population.  These replaced 2017 playoff teams that came from markets that on average ranked 27th in population. Making the reasonable assumption that playoff contention increases interest in and viewing of a team, the compounding of larger markets and higher interest levels certainly doesn’t hurt the NFL.

Even though it believes in franchise parity, the league is much healthier with its big market teams doing well. To paraphrase George Orwell’s Animal Farm, all teams are equal – but some are more equal than others.

The return of teams with a national following, like Dallas and Chicago helps, and Pittsburg was competitive until the final week of the regular season. Even teams that mostly looked hapless – like the NY Jets and NY Giants in the #1 TV market – drew audiences to see their rookie franchise saviors (Sam Darnold and Saquon Barkley, respectively) play.

Factors Outside the Lines

Certainly other external factors unrelated to competition have had their impact. Matchups for Monday and Thursday night games were judged much improved over previous years. This season saw little in the way of the national anthem controversy nor the issue of brain injury for players, which may have affected viewing the past couple of seasons. Even the move of the Chargers (from DMA #29 San Diego) and the Rams (from #21 Saint Louis) to the L.A. (#2) market may finally be paying off as indifferent Los Angelenos begin to root for their returned franchises.

And the NFL is subject to the same forces that are impacting viewing overall. These include the long-term impact of Peak TV, fragmentation of viewing, and the siphoning off of viewing time in favor of other media like videogames. Their ratings are indeed down on a net basis over the past few years despite the revival this season. But just like the broadcast networks or ESPN, the NFL still commands a dominant – even if decreasing – audience and will continue to command premium rates for the networks that carry its games.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Friday Finds: Appreciating “Grand Prix” amid the debris of racing films

Friday Finds shares a piece of content I’ve recently experienced.

Poster from "Grand Prix"I’m a big fan of car racing and racing films. Not so much today’s scene, but racing from the early ’60s to the late ’70s. Thus it was with a pleasurable surprise that I saw this week that a film is heading to production this fall, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, about the mid-’60s battle between Ford and Ferrari for supremacy at Le Mans.

It has all the elements of a good story. Two industry titans (Henry Ford II and Enzo Ferrari) going toe-to-toe. Ford depending on good ol’ Texas boy and racing genius Carroll Shelby to design and produce his challenger, and British driver Ken Miles to test the beast. A classic story of New World versus Old World at the macro level, and an oil-and-water buddy story at a personal level.

The Curse

However, despite A-list actors and director (James Mangold), this film will have a hard time to avoid the historical curse on movies about car racing. Ron Howard’s Rush was the last attempt at a prestige racing film. It failed miserably at the box office. Racing films are unfortunately more represented by candidates for the annual Razzie awards, including Sylvester Stallone’s Driven, Tom Cruise’s Days of Thunder, and even Elvis Presley’s Speedway (apologies to The King).

One has to go all the way back to 1966, to John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix – starring James Garner and featuring many real Grand Prix drivers in cameos – to find a racing movie that was both a critical and a box office success. It was a technical and editing tour de force. Grand Prix remains one of my all-time favorite movies, period.

Others might point to Steve McQueen’s Le Mans (1971). It’s more a product of the late ’60s confusing creativity with a hot mess. But the filming of the cars and racing of this era is undeniably well done (and features my favorite Porsches!).

Looking for a Win

Ironically, documentaries have recently fared better than features. Senna (2010), Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (2015), and The 24 Hour War (2016) all present interesting stories (the latter also being about the Ford-Ferrari battles in the mid-’60s).

As for the new Ford-Ferrari feature, if having Matt Damon and Christian Bale can’t open it and get it past the checkered flag, then this niche market may have seen the last racing film for some time. Heck, since Damon somehow got The Great Wall to pull in $45 million in US box office, he might be able to drive this new film to a win and beat the curse.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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RSNs not VIPs in Merger Deals

[update: the day after this was posted, the Dept of Justice approved the terms of the Disney-Fox deal provided Disney divest itself of the Fox RSNs]

FSN Southeast logoRecent reports in the trades say that both Disney and Comcast are willing to divest the regional sports networks (RSNs) owned by 21st Century Fox to facilitate their proposed purchase of Fox assets. An interesting development, especially since each would be the most likely partner in such a divestment by the other.

RSNs are interesting beasts. There are about 40 RSNs in the USA serving the 82 local major league professional franchises in MLB, the NHL, and the NBA. 20 of these are owned by Fox, 8 by Comcast (NBC Sports), and the remainder split between AT&T, Charter, and independent owners. While most serve all the franchises in their region, a few are dedicated to just one or two teams.

RSNs have a strong local presence. Their connection to their respective “home teams” creates a substantial halo that rubs off on advertisers. This was established at least as far back as 2006, when I executed research for Fox Sports Net. This study conclusively showed the benefits of advertising in RSN MLB coverage versus generic MLB national games. It was repeated with similar results for local NBA teams.

However, despite their success at the local level, the Fox RSNs resisted tries to weave together the local RSNs into a competitor to ESPN. Their differing schedules made establishment of national sports content, cleared at a consistent time, impossible. Ultimately, this led to the establishment of the FS1 and FS2 networks.

Conversely, ESPN’s attempts at local coverage to complement their strong national TV presence and local radio affiliates – with dedicated sports websites for Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York – met with less-than-hoped success.

When the original Disney proposal for Fox came to light, it was naturally assumed that the Fox RSNs would be combined into ESPN – although a dip back into local was something I questioned in my first post about the Disney-Fox deal. However, if nothing else, adding the RSNs may provide more value and content for the ESPN Plus SVOD service.

On the other hand, a Comcast acquisition means trying to integrate the 20 Fox RSNs with their 8. Controlling 28 of 40 RSNs could raise questions about market competition. And, with NBCSN already existing as a national sports network, there is really no need to acquire these RSNs to cobble together a pseudo-network.

The L.A. Lesson

It may be that RSNs are just too much trouble for these large national media companies. With each RSN having to negotiate with several major league teams, and numerous minor league or college teams, every few years, is it really worth the trouble? Ask Charter about Spectrum SportsNet LA, the Dodgers RSN with a huge 25-year contract, that hasn’t been able to get carriage on any other provider than those now owned by Charter. Less than half of Los Angeles has access to it.

Much will happen with the Fox deal, regardless of who wins, between an agreement and the deal being closed. As with the rest of the media industry, sports stakeholders will be watching and wondering how it will effect them. Stay tuned!

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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The Mets, Facebook, and Streaming Sports

Mr Met logoSome comments on yesterday’s Boomer and Gio show on WFAN struck a funny cord. As is the wont of sports talk radio, people were complaining. That morning it was about Wednesday’s Mets game being only available to view on Facebook Watch. This is via the recent agreement between MLB and Facebook that provides some regular season games on an exclusive basis.

The bit that got my attention was when both Boomer and Gio started saying how unfair this exclusive agreement was to Mets fans… that taking the games off TV was tantamount to treason by MLB.

I guess their memories aren’t too long. Surely Boomer Esaison, who grew up in the New York area the same time I did, remembers when almost all baseball coverage was on free, over-the-air stations – WOR for the Mets, WPIX for the Yankees. However, for the past 20 or so years, since the creation of the MSG, YES, and SNY networks, we’ve seen almost all game coverage transition to regional sports networks. The fans who could watch almost all games for free, have had to subscribe to pay TV (and in some cases, pay for a sports tier) to get games.

One could argue that coverage on Facebook Watch – which is free, aside from the data you’re letting Facebook know about you by creating an account (the implications of which we all know more about now than a few weeks ago) – is actually a benefit for fans who can’t afford or don’t want pay TV service. Certainly Dodger fans would have appreciated it when the Dodgers’ RSN was unavailable to most of Los Angeles for the past four(!) seasons in a dispute over carriage fees.

Play Ball!

We all know that we’re in a stage of dynamic change in TV (or premium video, if you prefer), with lots of experimentation in outlets between traditional and streaming sources. Let’s call it an extended spring training that could take years for the “managers” to find out which “players” in which “positions” make up the strongest team.

Sports is one of the last frontiers in terms of streaming. The various SVODs have gotten the hang of comedies and dramas, but sports and sports streaming remain a stronghold of legacy TV/media – even exclusive streaming experiments with digital-first companies still use the legacy networks to produce the coverage. As long as that’s the case, legacy TV will retain its primacy in sports and keep one of the last bastions against cord-cutting safeguarded.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Olympic (research) memories

Olympics on NBC logoThe advent of another Olympics always recalls memories of past research work in support of NBC and their Olympic coverage. The most salient memory: trying to fax (yes, it was pre-email, pre-internet days) well over 200 pages a day of research data to our NBC research contact on the ground at the Olympic site. Needless to say, there was much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

Let’s go to the way-back machine

But let’s take a step back for a moment. The company I worked for, Statistical Research, Inc. (or SRI), had been involved in Olympic research for NBC since they first acquired rights for the 1988 Games in Seoul. Although I was not involved at the time (I was still in my first career as an aerospace engineer – but that’s another story), SRI worked with NBC for years to help develop the NBC Olympic format. This format was tremendously successful in building the audience for the Olympics from fans of niche sports to a broad-based audience that would dominate primetime.

The genesis of this format was addressed in a notable article, Inside-Out Olympics in The New Yorker magazine at the time of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. While often assailed – every time I mentioned I worked on the Olympics, I had to field comments about why this or that sport wasn’t covered – the format, in those days of limited media options, was what NBC had to do to make the Olympics work as a business. As I said to people, NBC’s job is to maximize the audience for the Olympics, not to give the smaller or odder sports the same level of exposure as the major ones. And the “up close and personal” segments, while cloying, were important factors in attracting and maintaining the female audience.

Faxes and dot-matrix printouts

But I digress from my experience back in the pre-internet days. While we did a lot of studies before and after the Games, the most intense study was our “overnight” survey. We at SRI (and later after being acquired by Knowledge Networks) would do daily telephone surveys for NBC on Olympic coverage. This then got turned around ASAP so we could use that darn fax machine to get data to our NBC partner – ideally, NBC would receive first thing Wednesday morning the data from our surveys done all day Tuesday about Monday’s Olympic viewing.

This required the entire company being on a “war footing” for the Olympics. Our call center (yes, we had our own) knew that any other work would be a secondary priority during the Olympics. Our stats, data processing, and coding people worked around the clock as needed to get the data out. And within our client service group, we had to distill the data into topline reports to fax along with the banner tabulations.

According to our NBC partner, these data transmissions were very valuable to the Olympics effort. While most of the Olympic schedule was set, there was some ability to tweak coverage. Although this was not often shared with us, I do recall one adjustment that was made. During the medal ceremonies at one Olympics, NBC would often only show the Americans getting their medals but none of the other medalists – you could see the American get a bronze but not the gold or silver medals. Feedback from viewers was clear they thought every medalist should be shown – and NBC tweaked their coverage to do that.

Later years became a little easier in terms of transmitting data – email is a great thing! – and in fielding overnight surveys as we transitioned to using the online (but still representative) KnowledgePanel. But there was still a lot of manual effort needed to get the data and reports out to our NBC partners on time and correct.

Helping out 100 million?

My wife works for a pharmaceutical company and helps get literally life-saving drugs to market. In comparison, I sometimes feel a bit less significant working on TV and media. But I could always point to the work on the Olympics and say, “hey, you may save lives but I just helped 100 million people enjoy the Olympics a little bit more last night!”. It was a lot of work but also very rewarding.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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TNF: Never bet against the NFL getting a raise

dollar sign made from footballsNot surprisingly, the NFL has sold the rights to Thursday Night Football to FOX at a healthy increase from the last contract. Despite TNF‘s bad matchups, declines in audience, and the eye-searing “Color Rush” uniforms, FOX has agreed to pay between a 20 to 40 percent increase in rights fees (depending on which news source you read). In either case, this is a big win for the NFL.

As noted in my blog post last week, the award of TNF to FOX made a lot of sense, both for FOX and for the NFL. It certainly proves that it will take a lot more than two years of declining ratings to put a dent in the NFL’s revenue stream from television rights.

Let’s put up the stats

The fact is that even with declining ratings, NFL games are still going to garner the most eyes for marketers in one place. In a happy coincidence (or perhaps not), MoffettNathanson just released data via MediaPost that  show that two thirds – 66 – of the top 100 telecasts last year were regular-season NFL games.  Their data also claim that the highest price for a 30 second commercial in primetime NFL ($700,000 for Sunday Night Football or  $550,000 on CBS’ or NBC’s Thursday Night Football games) dwarfs the highest-priced primetime entertainment shows (NBC’s This is Us at $394,000 or CBS’ Big Bang Theory at $286,000). Hard to argue with those numbers.

The NFL, even with its ups and downs, has only ever experienced “ups” concerning its TV rights fees, at least since 1982. This agreement with FOX on TNF should silence those predicting a drop in NFL value and presages another big win when the AFC and NFC packages come up for negotiation prior to 2022. If there were a media fantasy league, the NFL should always be the #1 pick.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Don’t be surprised to see a big NFL payday for TNF

TNF logoThe SportsBusiness Journal and USAToday report Fox has outbid both CBS and NBC for the upcoming new rights agreement for the NFL’s Thursday Night Football (TNF) franchise. Notables dropping out of the race include Facebook as well as Disney/ESPN, the latter still coming to terms with the less than stellar matchups now featured on Monday Night Football. No mention of Amazon, which was also expected to be a player in the bidding.

As in the articles, the move makes perfect sense for the “new Fox.” Rupert Murdoch pulled the trigger on the Disney deal to give up his cable entertainment networks – but keep his national sports and news networks – because he believes live news and sports are among the few content genres that minimize and mitigate time-shifting viewers.

The NFL would provide a shot in the arm for the FS1 sports network, lost among the alphabet soup of sports networks like NBCSN, CBS SN, SEC, BTN, YES, NESN, etc – plus don’t forget its even less known sister network FS2. Thursday Night Football and its related shoulder programming, spread across Fox broadcast and FS1/FS2, would help build up the latter into better known sports destinations.

Unlike an Amazon, Fox is a known quantity when it comes to NFL coverage, having been in the business for two decades. And CBS has shown it’s possible to integrate a Thursday night game with their regular Sunday game commitments. However, will the ongoing relationship and experience with NBC/CBS on TNF be too advantageous to pass up for the NFL, even if it leaves a little money on the table?

Who wins?

Who will win the TNF rights matchup? Rights battles are always an interesting bellwether for the sports economy.  And despite the gloom-and-doom about NFL ratings in recent seasons, don’t be surprised to see the NFL’s total take for TNF increase between “traditional” and digital media partners. It’s like when your favorite player leaves your favorite team in free agency and says “It wasn’t about the money”… guess what, it’s ALWAYS about the money.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.

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Amazon, digital, and sports rights

Amazon logoAccording to several sources, Amazon may be bidding on UK rights to the Premiere League. Coupled with the rumor Amazon may extend this season’s NFL experiment into something more significant, this indicates what all sports leagues are dreaming of: new money in the market that will support current rights fees. Even in a world of decreasing viewership for the NFL and most leagues, bidding competition will lead to higher rights fees overall.

The NFL’s musical chairs

NFL logoThis has played out numerous times in the past, with particular focus on the NFL here in the USA. After three decades of stable coverage on CBS, NBC, and ABC, the emergence of the FOX network in the 1990s created a two decade game of musical chairs. FOX outbids CBS for their package, so CBS is out. Then CBS outbids NBC for their package, and NBC is out. And most recently, NBC outbids ABC for Monday Night Football, gets it moved to Sunday nights, and ABC’s Disney stablemate ESPN takes Monday Night Football to cable.

On cable, quite a number of networks grabbed the crumbs off the table, most notably TNT and ESPN (which ended up with MNF as noted above). The NFL even created its own stalking horse, the NFL Network, to bid on a new package of Thursday night games – which finally ended up as a Frankenstein package of split seasons on CBS and NBC, while being simulcast on NFL Network, Twitter, and Amazon.

The new entrants

The point here is that the entry of extremely deep-pocketed companies like Amazon and Facebook into the market for sports rights guarantees that there will be no “correction” in their value relative to overall viewing levels. The scarcity of, and the competition for, these sports packages will support their current values – or even make them more expensive.

It’s the counterintuitive situation seen for TV overall – ratings for individual broadcast networks tend to drop every year, but advertising CPMs always seem to rise. But the answer is rather simple – even with large drops in viewership, broadcast networks still bring more eyes to the screen than any other option.

The same logic applies to the NFL or other sports leagues. Even as the NFL’s viewership has dropped close to ten percentage points each of the last two years, it’s still by far the #1 program on TV or any video screen. And while its competitor leagues like the NBA, NHL, or NASCAR may not have the gaudy mainstream reach of the NFL, they each do have a strong appeal to particular slices of the population.

Would an Amazon or Facebook face strong challenges trying to bring quality coverage of a major sport? Absolutely. Will sports leagues totally cut out their bread-and-butter TV partners for a mountain of digital dollars? It’s unlikely (for an illuminating case study, check out the history of the NHL’s ill-advised agreement with SportsChannel in the late 1980s, where the NHL took a lot of money but set back the league several years in media exposure and brand-building).

What may happen

The likely outcome of a digital push into rights will be a continuation of the current situation where digital coverage will be partnered with traditional TV coverage. Perhaps the digital coverage will be allowed to do more innovative coverage elements or shoulder programming, to allow avenues for innovation. In any case, the next rounds of bidding for the NFL – and other leagues – will be quite interesting and may even lead to some surprises.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Quick thoughts on Disney-Fox

Disney & Fox logosToday’s final confirmation of the Disney deal to acquire much of 21st Century Fox has been quite a while in gestation, but a deal of this size should take a while to birth. It is really transformational for Disney and guarantees the House of Mouse will continue to be the preeminent media content company.

An earlier iteration of this deal at the beginning of November had me a bit concerned about potential impact on the Disney brand. But the truth is that the overall strategy seems to make sense, even if the Disney brand is diluted.

  • Disney gets more content to feed the maw of its nascent SVOD service.
  • Disney gets National Geographic channels, a good fit with its Disneynature brand, and a prestige (if sometimes raw) cable network in FX
  • Disney gets a controlling interest in Hulu. This is a place its network programs can continue to reside, assuming they will not be included in the new Disney SVOD service
  • Disney gets to reunite the last piece of the licensed Marvel universe (X-Men) with its stable of Marvel characters (after its partnership with Sony that bring Sony’s licensed Marvel characters into the MCU). This is not an insignificant outcome, given the performance of Marvel for Disney.
  • Disney’s inclusion of the Fox Sports regional sports networks (RSNs), a new aspect of this deal compared with the previous iteration, is an interesting choice. Although ESPN has had spotty luck trying to operate at a local level, having outlets tied to local home teams’ games may be more successful. It may also be a way to reinvent SportsCenter as a hyper-local service. This leaves the national SportsCenter to pursue its seeming strategy of becoming a personality-driven program rather than a rundown of sports news and highlights.
    — The RSNs may also provide more value and content for the upcoming ESPN SVOD service, depending on what shape that takes.

Other pieces of the agreement may or may not last long in the Disney inventory, such as the Fox pieces of SKY in Europe and STAR in India. Does Disney want to jump into managing legacy satellite program distribution services while at the same time forging ahead on streaming? To me, that does not make strategic sense, but then again I’m not getting ~$45 million a year to make these decisions like Mr. Iger.

Bulking up

There are undoubtedly changes and tweaks that will be made to the deal before it is finally consummated, either voluntarily or as forced by the US, EU, or other regulators. But the end result should be a Disney more capable of taking on the Netflixes and Amazon Primes of the world.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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