HBO's Reported Play for Bill Simmons Shows Hunger for Sports Programming

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Everyone in the TV world wants more sports -- even HBO.

The Time Warner (TWX) premium cable network's reported play for outspoken sports personality and writer Bill Simmons, soon to be out of his ESPN contract, underscores how sports programming has taken over the ratings-starved TV world. And few could command the impact of Simmons, TheStreet's Chris Ciaccia wrote.

The decline of overall TV viewership, estimated to be down 9% last month according to MoffettNathanson, due to digital recording and young people getting their fix online, has put added emphasis on networks generating revenue from sports, TV's last bastion of consistent mega viewership.

Tuesday's decisive Game 6 of the NBA Finals drew 18.9 million viewers for Disney's (DIS) ABC, according to Nielsen estimates, nearly doubling any other program on broadcast TV.

Comcast-owned (CMCSA) NBC's Sunday Night Football topped all broadcast programs in the 2014-15 season in the valuable 18-49 demographic advertisers desire most. CBS's (CBSThursday Night Football was third in a move that paid off for CBS CEO Les Moonves, who spent $275 million for more NFL games in a move to counter slowing ad sales as fewer viewers tune into primetime TV. The move paid off, helping fourth quarter revenue rise 3%.

Live sports has turned Disney's ESPN into cable's most expensive channel and is viewed as the sought-after lynchpin to any skinny pay-TV bundle or over-the-top offering.

In a research report released Tuesday, MoffettNathanson urges investors to put their money into TV networks that own sports broadcast rights. "The evolution of media favors scale players with must-have sports content and broadcast reach," the report said. Among TV's top networks, that includes ESPN, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, Turner's TNT and TBS, as well as the network's cable channels.

Discovery Communications (DISCA) has gone far afield to add sports programming to its portfolio. The company on Tuesday said it bought Asian sports network Setanta Sports Asia, which primarily broadcasts rugby. Last year, the company acquired a controlling stake in Eurosport International, the European sports network.

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