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Star: FSWC chewing off its own tail


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This is a Chris Zelkovich article from earlier this month which I didn't see posted:

Fox Sports World chewing off its own tail

Less soccer means shrinking audience

Apr. 7, 2006. 01:00 AM


When Canadian television thrust itself into the digital world in 2001, one of the early stars was Fox Sports World Canada.

Providing live sports to viewers who were underserved, mainly soccer and rugby fans, it established itself as the most-watched sports digital by far.

But that was then and this is now and the rabbit has become, if not a tortoise, then a gimpy hare. Fox Sports World still tops its digital sports brethren, but while the others have seen their paltry audiences improve the Global-owned channel's 24-hour average audiences have dropped from a high of 3,000 to about 1,600.

It's not hard to see why Fox is in reverse.

The channel's English Premier League schedule has been trimmed and its rugby lineup eviscerated. There's less live soccer at a time when a new digital channel, GolTV, is offering upwards of 10 live games a week and cable channels have increased their live schedules.

At times, Fox airs more on tape than the History Channel.

Its programming decisions have also angered some of its 630,000 subscribers. Self-described rugby nut Dave Fisher even launched an unsuccessful challenge to federal regulators when Fox dropped rugby.

Fox admits the past year hasn't been a great one, but promises things will improve.

``We want to make our schedule as robust as possible," says Global specialty channel spokesman Dan Kenning. ``At the end of the day we want to make sure we're putting out stuff that people want to see."

Fox's problems began when Rogers Sportsnet boosted its English soccer schedule, dulling the digital channel's edge.

Things got worse last year when its American parent renamed itself Fox Soccer Channel and dumped all other sports. The Canadian guys decided against following suit, mainly because they had already applied for a licence change to add sports such as cycling and auto racing.

That application was subsequently approved but Fox has yet to add any new sports.

``When Fox Soccer Channel dropped rugby that put us in a bit of a bind because we were dependent on them for programming," Kenning says. ``We've taken the step of looking for other sources internationally."

Fox isn't exactly moving quickly on this one. It did add National Rugby League games last month, but that hasn't satisfied fans who want more popular Rugby Union games.

Fisher says advertising the best rugby from around the world and then offering the NRL is like CBC promising fans Hockey Night In Canada and substituting field hockey.

Kenning admits some of Fox's decisions are financially motivated. That's why instead of airing three live English soccer games a week, as it did in the beginning, it often has only one.

``A lot of that has to do with economics," he says, noting that Fox will air four games live April 17-19.

Money is obviously a big factor in the small digital world, where no channel is making a profit. But a bigger issue is the Canadian television system that grants licences based on programming promises that are either never kept or broken.

For example, The Score was supposed to be a highlights channel and Sportsnet was supposed to provide hours and hours of university sports coverage.

The losers are viewers who pay for one channel and get another.

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