When Fox Sports executives announced their plans for a 24/7 network designed to compete with Goliath ESPN, they pushed for a light approach. Fox mocked ESPN's obsession with Tim Tebow, and the buzzword in interviews during the run-up to the Aug. 17 launch of Fox Sports 1 was fun.
So how much fun are network suits having? Well, they could use more viewers. FS1 has outrated NBC Sports Network in many weeks, but it is in a different universe when compared with ESPN, averaging 280,000 viewers in prime time compared with two million for ESPN and 666,000 for ESPN2. "What we're focused on is making our presentation and our personalities unique so that we are clearly an alternative," says Fox Sports president Eric Shanks.
FS1's presentation of live events has generally been good, but its studio programming—especially its college football pregame show—needs work. Fox Sports Live, the network's news and highlights show, has fresh and funny anchors, but its athletes-only panel (led by the miscast Donovan McNabb) too often fails to rise above ex-jock banter. FS1 has unearthed one star: the surprisingly television-friendly Randy Moss.
Still, the long-term outlook for FS1 is strong, given the rights—including some postseason baseball—Fox has acquired. "It's less about looking at audience figures and more about whether the quality of the product continues to improve," Shanks says. "Right now, my satisfaction level is high."
Masters of the Mike
The Year's Best Broadcasters
BROADCASTER OF THE YEAR
JAY BILAS (ESPN)
Along with his top-notch advocacy work (he Twitter-shamed the NCAA for using players' names to sell jerseys), Bilas is one of the most thoughtful and prepared voices in any sport, a broadcaster who can move seamlessly from the studio to a game site. He proves smart can be successful in television.
Honorable mention: Rece Davis (ESPN)
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
REBECCA LOWE (NBC)
The network's coverage of the Premier League has been exceptional—the network took over the rights this year from ESPN and Fox—and Lowe has already vaulted to the top echelon of studio hosts thanks to her intellect and knowledge of the league. The former ESPN UK and BBC staffer is the rare ego-free host who makes a studio show about the panelists.
Honorable mention: Pedro Martinez (TBS)
PLAY-BY-PLAY ANNOUNCER OF THE YEAR
ROD BRAMBLETT (Auburn IMG Sports Network)
Bramblett was given two once-in-a-lifetime plays this year, and he delivered on both. Though his call of Chris Davis's 109-yard dash in the Iron Bowl will be played for eternity, even better was his description of Ricardo Louis's 73-yard catch of a tipped ball that gave the Tigers a 43--38 win over Georgia on Nov. 16: "A miracle at Jordan-Hare! A miracle at Jordan-Hare!"
Honorable mention: Mike Breen (ESPN)
MICHAEL O'NEILL FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (HANDS)
ALLEN KEE/ESPN IMAGES (BILAS)