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News » Questions for Fox Sports' David Hill

Questions for Fox Sports' David Hill

Questions for Fox Sports' David Hill
David Hill, the chief executive of Fox Sports, is rarely at a loss for words. Mr. Hill approaches his job with the joy and irreverence of a teenage sports nut who gets to spend his days figuring out how to please America's most devout couch potatoes.

In an interview, Mr. Hill, who grew up surfing in Australia, explained why he loves both the National Football League and Olympic rowing, and he even confessed to a bit of concern about a possible Tampa Bay Rays — Milwaukee Brewers World Series on Fox next month. (Fox is owned by News Corp., which also owns FOXSports.com and Dow Jones and Co., parent of The Wall Street Journal.)


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  • That match-up might not be the marquee showdown between, say, the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox that every broadcaster craves. Even Mr. Hill, a self-proclaimed optimist, is left to root for his teams like every other fan. Excerpts:

    The Wall Street Journal: Your network was built on the back of the NFL. What did you think of the opening weekend?

    Mr. Hill: It was the cleanest start we had in terms of production. We had two great debuts. Brian Billick came out very strong, and the legendary Mr. [Michael] Strahan sat down at the desk and performed like he'd been doing it for years. You always have your heart in your mouth when you start. The longer you go, you worry about people getting complacent.

    WSJ: At this point, some 15 years in, has it become business as usual?

    Mr. Hill: No single year is business as usual. The nature of the audience changes day by day, so production has to change to remain fresh. You look at the demise of the Lawrence Welk show. At one time you could hear that music coming from every living room on Saturday nights. But he never changed it, and the reason it failed was because the audience died. No one was around to watch.

    WSJ: So how do you change the presentation of something as traditional as NFL football?

    Mr. Hill: We're really developing a minimalistic approach. We want to get rid of every production element that has been around since the 1970s. We want to be in the moment, don't clutter the screen, but keep the viewer informed for every second of the game. You don't want to wait all week for a game, and then at kickoff have us put up full-screen graphics of the offensive and defensive lines. So how do you get that in without blocking viewers' enjoyment? The problem if you make a change, sports fans are the most traditional viewers there can be, and they will say, "How dare you do this?" whenever you introduce something new.

    WSJ: It's been a big year for ratings for the big events. Is that luck or good match-ups, or something larger?

    Mr. Hill: For the last 20 years I've been hearing the epitaph for broadcast television. But to me big-time television is getting stronger. Look at the Olympics, the Super Bowl. All the big events are getting bigger and bigger and bigger. The more little things there are, when something big comes along everyone rushes to it.

    WSJ: But that's just this year, when you had perhaps the greatest Super Bowl ever, a Celtics-Lakers NBA Final, and perhaps the greatest athletic accomplishment in a generation at the Olympics.

    Mr. Hill: Well, I'd say the last two or three years everyone's numbers, across the board have been good, and I think a lot of it is because of high definition. When HD came on it was as important as color to the industry. Viewing sports in HD is so compelling you sit down and you just wallow in it.

    WSJ: Did you watch the Olympics?

    Mr. Hill: Absolutely. NBC did their best job since they took over the contract. Dick Ebersol deserves all the credit for getting the swimming live on the East Coast. It reestablished Olympics as a major sporting event in this country.

    WSJ: Which events do you like?

    Mr. Hill: Rowing and weightlifting. Rowing in the Olympics is what I get the most enjoyment from. I am atypical. But there is nothing to me like watching the eights.

    WSJ: With the World Series a month away, are you worried about having to sell the country Tampa against Milwaukee?

    Mr. Hill: As a matter of fact, yes. [Laughs heartily.] You have no idea how many times that question has been asked of me in the last three or four days. But to be in this business you have to be an optimist. You're making huge bets and all you can change is way you present the games. You can't impact what happens. You make big bets and you hope every game is a Patriots-Giants Super Bowl. But that doesn't mean you don't think how good the Red Sox and Dodgers in the World Series would be. But whatever it is we put the games on in the most compelling way so we can refresh the fan base every day. You can't lose sleep about what you can't control.

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    WSJ: What do you miss covering in Australia?

    Mr. Hill: I spent my life doing cricket and an awful lot of tennis. I loved that. Unfortunately tennis has shot itself in the foot so severely so many times in recent years. But I was thrilled to see the high ratings for the U.S. Open women's final Sunday night. That was terrific. Also, doing the soccer games from Great Britain, I loved that.

    WSJ: Do you want the NFL to lengthen its season?

    Mr. Hill: I think it would dilute the product. One of the things [former NFL commissioner] Pete Rozelle got absolutely right was the less games you have the more important each one becomes. That is the power of the National Football League. The game should be on Sunday or Sunday night, and I don't even like putting them on Thursdays I'm speaking like traditional fan, but it's something that should be on Sunday and that is it.

    WSJ: Are you concerned about the NFL's desire to begin simulcasting games online?

    Mr. Hill: No. It won't in any way harm the telecast. The figures we saw out of the Olympics back that up. As long as you don't get your affiliates up in arms, as long as you keep them happy I can't see anything wrong with that.

    WSJ: As a foreigner, did you have to learn to love the NFL?

    Mr. Hill: I married into it, though I did bring Monday Night Football overseas in the late 1970s, and for some reason I became a Broncos fan. Then I married a girl from Omaha who was Broncos fan, and we'd stay up late watching it. Then suddenly I'm covering it in 1994.

    It's the greatest sport to watch on television. It's a multi-dimensional game of tough chess. It's played at such a high visceral and cerebral level that I don't know anything that comes close to it.

    Baseball is a different animal. I enjoy it, but it's not like doing football. It's not even like doing college football. I probably watch more of that than anything else, since my wife is from Nebraska and went to school at Ohio State.

    WSJ: What is the next great innovation in sports broadcasting?

    Mr. Hill: HD is merely a stepping stone on the way to 3D. When it comes it's going to be incredible, and the one sport that will do so well from it is boxing. I've seen boxing on 3D. It's the thing that is going to save boxing. I can't wait.

    Author:Fox Sports
    Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
    Added: September 12, 2008

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