Category Archives: Media

Back9Network Signs Deal With DirectTV, Hiring Aggressively

by Categorized: Entertainment/Tourism, Media, Telecommunications Date:

Back9Network, the startup golf lifestyle TV and online programmer, said Monday it signed a multi-year deal for a channel on DirecTV, its first television contract.

The deal means Back9 will immediately hire between 30 and 40 additional employees in downtown Hartford, adding to its existing staff of about 50, company president Carlos Silva said. The hiring has already begun.

Artist rendering of the Back9Network studio on Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford. Courtesy of Back9Network

Artist rendering of the Back9Network studio on Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford.
Courtesy of Back9Network

Back9, with offices in the Phoenix building and a studio under construction across Constitution Plaza,, also said it will open the studio in August, in time to launch the DirecTV shows in September.  Founder and CEO Jamie Bosworth had told me earlier this year that work was progressing on the $7.5 million studio at the site of the former Spris restaurant, but many people were skeptical it could thrive without a national TV contract.

Back9 has raised about $30 million including a controversial state package of $5 million, and has hired some big names, notably Ahmad Rashad as executive producer and host. Although Bosworth and others at the media company had said they could make it work with an online audience only, a national TV contract was widely seen as the sole route to success.

Rashad will host The Ahmad Rashad Show, a “behind the scenes” look at the world of golf, as one of three, half-hour shows at the core of the Back9Network programming.

Rashad, center, with Bill Murray, left, and Scott Burrell at the 2012 Travelers Pro-Am in Cromwell.  John Woike/The Hartford Courant

Rashad, center left, with Bill Murray, left, and Scott Burrell at far right at the 2012 Travelers Pro-Am in Cromwell.
John Woike/The Hartford Courant

The others are “Ball Hogs, “inside the never-before-seen world of the men and women who risk their lives diving for ‘white gold’ in ponds and lakes; and Golf Treasures, which will “follow prominent golf collectors Ryan Carey and Bob Zafian, owners of Green Jacket Auctions, as they travel the globe on a mission to hunt down and acquire the world’s rarest and most sought after golf memorabilia.”

In all, Back9 will produce about 1,100 hours of original programming in its first year, including ten original prime time series and live shows three times a day.

Terms of the DirecTV deal were not disclosed.Under the deal, as is typical in cable or satellite TV “carriage” contracts, both Back9Network and DirecTV will sell advertising for the shows. Ad sales staff is part of the current hiring, which mostly comprises production employees, Silva said.

“We’ll be evaluating more staffing as we move through the fall,” Silva said.

The company could also be eligible for additional state aid through the film and digital production tax credit program. That state assistance is not available for live shows, but much of the content on Back9 will be recorded productions.

Some productions will be done as a partnership with other companies and some will be exclusively created by Back9.  Rashad will be in Hartford, Silva said, because of his broader role as executive producer.

Among the names on Back9Network’s talent roster, Jennifer Bosworth, the wife of Jamie Bosworth and a former reporter on FOX CT, is no longer with the company, Silva said. The Courant reported previously that the Bosworths are divorcing after three years of marriage.

It remains to be seen whether this deal leads to a cable deal with one of the major carriers, including Comcast, which owns the Golf Network.  Bosworth, who testified earlier this year in Congress about the dangers of the proposed, $45 billion Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, said Comcast was initially negative about signing on Back9, while Time Warner was warm to the idea — until the merger was announced.

DirecTV is seeking federal approval for its own merger with AT&T, a $49 billion deal that would catapult AT&T into a major position as a TV provider.  It’s unclear whether AT&T would pick up Back9 on its U-verse TV package if the merger were to go forward.

Bosworth had also said that the satellite providers, including DISH Network and DirecTV, did not typically roll out their own new programming. But that picture is changing as everyone from Amazon to Netflix is producing or buying exclusive content.

DirecTV will place Back9 on channel 262, near other lifestyle channels, Back9 said.

“This long-term agreement provides us with a strong initial television distribution-base and sends a clear message to the marketplace of our goal of becoming a fully-distributed lifestyle network,” Bosworth said in a written release.

8 Crisis Management Principles Adam Silver Followed Deftly

by Categorized: Entertainment/Tourism, Management, Media Date:

The consensus is that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver nailed it by banning Donald Sterling for life, fining him $2.5 million and declaring he’ll force the L.A. Clippers owner to sell the team. How Silver did it was as important as what he did. Here are eight ways Silver followed the  textbook on crisis management in his mass public debut:

1. Quick But Not Impulsive Action — Sure, three days was fast. But two would have been too quick. Silver showed up at the podium at the perfect moment with the Clippers preparing for a night game and the nation waiting for him to act.

2. Short Answers — Silver didn’t owe long explanations and he didn’t offer any. His response to the first question, whether he thought Sterling would fight a forced sale, set the tone: “I have no idea.”

3. Passion and Personal Stake — You can’t make up a cracking but clear voice unless you’re Daniel Day-Lewis. And Silver connected himself to the NBA with a bond of emotion by saying, “The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful; that they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage.”

4. Support, Not a Poll — We all know the commissioner of every sport works for the owners, not the players or the fans. But Silver proved he’s his own man when asked how his poll of owners came out. He didn’t poll the owners like a lackey, he marshaled support like a leader. A poll would have risked backlash from the likes of Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban.

5. Resisting the Tribal Urge — As with other groups, Jews often worry when one of our own commits a big, shameful public act, such as Bernard Madoff’s fraud. There’s even a word for it, a shonda. Silver, as a New York Jew, knows very well that to many, it’s important that the hero is also Jewish. Wisely, he would have none of this tribal talk, when asked.  “I think my response was as a human being…this is regardless of anyone’s religion, ethnicity, nationality.”

6. It’s Personal But Not An AttackSilver, a lawyer himself and the son of a prominent labor relations lawyer, didn’t give Sterling’s legal team much to work with. Even when pressed, he didn’t make statements about Sterling’s character or describe Sterling himself. He might have erred in saying, “There’s nothing I’ve ever seen in his behavior that would evidence these kinds of views.”

7. Direct Connection to History — Many fans never heard of “Sweetwater” Clifton but we now know what he stands for. Silver didn’t just invoke the names of African American trailblazers of the sport and apologize to them, he did it at the single most important moment of his press conference. “To…pioneers of the game like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, Sweetwater Clifton, the great Bill Russell, and particularly Magic Johnson, I apologize. Accordingly, effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life…”

8. Strongest Possible Action — The gold standard of corporate crisis management is Johnson & Johnson’s complete recall of 31 million bottles of Tylenol in 1982 after cyanide-laced pills killed seven people. At every turn the company took responsibility and opted for the most extreme measure. That’s what Silver did.

Back9Network Chief To Testify At Senate Hearing On Giant Cable Merger

by Categorized: Entertainment/Tourism, Media Date:

James Bosworth, CEO and co-founder of Back9Network, is one of six executives and experts slated to tell the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee what they think about the proposed Comcast acquisition of Time Warner Cable on Wednesday.

CEO James Bosworth Jr. Nick Caito photo courtesy of Back9Network

CEO James Bosworth Jr.
Nick Caito photo courtesy of Back9Network

The fledgling golf lifestyle network is hoping for a cable TV deal, so the $45 billion merger could matter hugely to its fate as a growing downtown Hartford employer with studio space.

It’s not clear whether Bosworth is for or against the merger but the answer is probably not straightforward. I spoke with him on Feb. 13, the day the merger was announced, and he was nervous because talks with Time Warner had gone well up to that point, while Comcast — which owns the Golf Network — had said outright it would not launch Back9Network on its systems.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the cable merger would hurt Back9Network. Comcast “could be encouraged to carry alternatives to programming that they already own,” Bosworth said last month.

And that could include Back9Network, which is moving ahead with a buildout of its $7.5 million studio on Constitution Plaza.

The Senate committee will hear from top executives of Comcast and Time Warner, as well as opponents of the merger including Gene Kimmelman of Public Knowledge, Reuters reported Monday.

Shut Out of Boston Casino License, Foxwoods Takes Key Spot On Fenway’s ‘Green Monster’

by Categorized: Entertainment/Tourism, marketing, Media Date:

Five days before Friday’s opening day at Fenway Park, Foxwoods Resort Casino said Monday it upped the ante on its Red Sox advertising package, taking “center position signage” on the Green Monster in left field.

The sign on the iconic wall is part of a new agreement between Foxwoods and Fenway that runs through 2018. Terms were not disclosed.

This year marks the eighth year in which the Connecticut casino has been an “official partner” with Fenway and the Sox — and it’s all the more crucial now that Foxwoods will face more competition from Massachusetts gaming resorts.  Foxwoods vied for the Boston area casino license with a $1 billion proposal in Milford but was defeated by residents of that town in a referendum.

Now Foxwoods is in a partnership hoping to build a casino in Fall River, vying for the Massachusetts license in that part of the state — a decision that’s months away.

“We believe the Red Sox are one of the finest organizations in professional sports and like Foxwoods, provide unique, once in a lifetime experiences for its guests,” said Foxwoods Resort Casino CEO Scott Butera in a written release. “The ‘Green Monster’ is the most iconic element of any stadium in the world.”

Even Yankee fans can’t argue that point, especially now that the center field monuments are

Foxwoods will have other Fenway visibility, including promotions. But the main Green Monster ad won’t be unveiled until Thursday.

In addition to its Fenway Park deal, Foxwoods has been an active advertiser in New York Yankees broadcasts, including its current status with the Yankees Radio Network.

Back9Network Moving Ahead With $7.5M Constitition Plaza Studio, Fox Sports Deal

by Categorized: Entertainment/Tourism, Media, Real Estate, Telecommunications Date:
Artist rendering of Back9Network studio at Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford. Courtesy of Back9Network

Artist rendering of Back9Network studio at Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford.
Courtesy of Back9Network

A lot of people in Hartford have been skeptical about progress at Back9Network, the golf lifestyle media outlet with a flashy culture, a plan for a studio on Constitution Plaza and the goal of launching a cable TV channel.

Back9 founder and CEO James L. Bosworth Jr. had hoped to have a cable deal and a working studio on the plaza in 2013, and neither one happened, fueling fears that the capital city would once again find itself snakebitten.

But I spoke with Bosworth on the day Comcast and Time Warner Cable announced their $45 billion merger — which could greatly affect Back9 — and he had plenty of good news to report.

That studio space in the former Spris restaurant location, briefly Braza, is not only going to open, Bosworth said, but it’s more than halfway there.  Without making any announcements, the company has spent $4.5 million toward the $7.5 million total cost of the studio, starting in 2012.

The firm is now seeking approval from the city of Hartford for exterior signs and large “video boards” that need a special permit, Bosworth said, and Hartford’s development director, Thomas Deller, confirmed.

A decision will take at least two months, Deller said.

CEO James Bosworth Jr. Nick Caito photo courtesy of Back9Network

CEO James Bosworth Jr.
Nick Caito photo courtesy of Back9Network

With no city permits in hand, there’s no timetable for an opening of the 6,500-square-foot space. An artist rendering shows a sign on the outside, “Clint Eastwood Studio,” which might make sense since the iconic Hollywood star is a shareholder and adviser to Back9.  But the name on the rendering is just a visual device, Bosworth said.

What’s real, he said, is the company’s progress even without a cable deal.  Back9 is up to 43 employees at its offices and smaller studio space on the 10th floor of the Phoenix “Boat Building” across Constitution Plaza, and on the road making content about the culture and lifestyle of golf. Its web page, www.back9network.com, is up to 600,000 unique visitors a month, he said, with videos, stories, photo galleries and other features added every day.

Early next week Back9 will announce a new deal with FOXSports.com and Yardbarker, a Fox-owned blog site, in which Back9 stories and other content will appear on the Fox web sites, editors will collaborate and the companies will share advertising revenue.

Back9 would like to appeal to women, especially younger ones, not just the middle-aged men who make up the bulk of golfers. To that end, Back9 this week added reality TV star Audrina Patridge to its talent roster.

Audrina Patridge Courtesy of Back9Network

Audrina Patridge
Courtesy of Back9Network

Those two developments could give Back9 significant added exposure — and would be part of the company’s “what if” strategy of growing as an online-only platform, called “over the top” in the media industry.

The goal, of course, remains for Back9 to be a cable TV channel. And the planned buyout of Time Warner Cable by Comcast complicates matters.  The reason: Among all of the national cable TV and satellite companies in talks with Back9, Time Warner is the one that seems most excited about the channel, Bosworth said Thursday.

That does not mean a deal is near — Bosworth was adamant on that point.

“You’re never quite sure because they’re negotiations,” he said. “But outwardly, in terms of response and engagement, we’ve probably had the most momentum with Time Warner Cable.”

Comcast, by contrast, which owns the Golf Channel, told Bosworth and his team outright that it would not launch Back9.

Back9 has also had talks with DirecTV and Stamford-based Charter, among others. As Back9 builds an audience, the TV industry is starting to see the value of a network devoted to the stories and expensive lifestyles tied to golf, Bosworth said. There may only be 27 million golfers in the United States, but, he quipped, “Nobody buys a second home next to Giants Stadium.”

Bosworth rushed into the office in Thursday’s snowstorm to deal with the Comcast-Time Warner situation. He resisted the urge to call Jennifer Chun, the Time Warner Cable program acquisition chief, figuring she’d be plenty busy; they’re meeting next week anyway.

The merger announcement would seem to be more bad than good for Back9. But Bosworth sees an upside as regulators and critics eye the deal’s anticompetitive aspects.

Comcast “could be encouraged to carry alternatives to programming that they already own,” he said. “That’s a realistic scenario…And I think we could be one of the examples that they point to.”

Back9, meanwhile, remains in full compliance with the terms of its $5 million loan from the state Department of Economic and Community Development — and has raised six times that amount from private investors, 60 percent of them in Connecticut, Bosworth said.

That state assistance came under some criticism when Back9 posted a lewd video in late 2013. Show host Jennifer Bosworth, Bosworth’s wife and a former reporter at Fox CT, the Courant’s partner, did a spoof of a sex question-and-answer show, in which she offered raunchy answers, not repeatable on a family blog post, or a business blog post.

Jenn Bosworth Courtesy of Back9Network

Jenn Bosworth
Courtesy of Back9Network

James Bosworth called it a “skit that didn’t go right,” and said Back9 took it down quickly. “We apologized because we didn’t like it,” he said.

I can’t excuse it readily. As Eastwood said as “Dirty Harry” Callahan in Magnum Force, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”  And so does a media outlet.

That segment was an extreme example of the wild, Hollywood style that Back9 is planting on the front yard of the buttoned-down Insurance City.  Bosworth is keenly aware of the cultural divide and insists his people work harder than anyone.

If they can deliver some zook to Hartford, great. The cable merger announcement comes at crucial time for the fledgling network and Back9′s optimistic company culture seems helpful. “I’m obviously very concerned,” Bosworth said, “But maybe it’s good for us.”

Warren Buffett’s Billion-Dollar Layup Based In Connecticut

by Categorized: Insurance, Media Date:

Before Warren Buffett offered $1 billion for anyone who filled out a perfect NCAA March Madness bracket, he turned to one of his Connecticut insurance companies to make sure it was a safe bet.

And it’s about as safe as a bet can be. ESPN, after 16 years and 30 million entries, has never seen a perfect bracket, spokesman Mike Humes said Wednesday.

The Oracle of Omaha could afford to be wrong, of course, with $50 billion or so to his name. But the offer made Tuesday by Quicken Loans and Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., is backed by an insurance policy.  It’s similar to a hole-in-one contest at a charity golf tournament, where an insurer backs the big payout by the sponsor.

Neither Berkshire nor Quicken would talk about the deal, including the premium Quicken paid to Berkshire. But sources confirmed the policy in the billion-dollar bracket challenge is from Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance, based in Stamford.

There, actuaries would have done the same calculations that were produced last year by DePaul University math professor Jay Bergen, whose YouTube video shows him writing out the 19-digit number, 9.2 quintillion.

That is, in a 64-team, single-elimination bracket, there are that many possible game outcomes. And that doesn’t even count the play-in games.

Such a number is so big there’s no way to imagine it. But Berkshire Re would also have calculated the odds of a perfect bracket for fans who know the game and use the seedings. Bergen calculated that as 1 in 128 billion.

That means if every American filled out a bracket every single year, there would be one winner in 400 years, as USA Today reported a year ago.

ESPN, which had 8.2 million brackets last year, not only has never had a clean one, it rarely even has one with all of the Sweet 16 teams correct.

Think about it: To correctly pick all 16 of the second round winners, a bracketologist only needs to pick those teams to win the first round, then correctly mark down the 16 second-round games. Most of us get seven or eight, maybe 10.

In 2011, not one of ESPN’s 5.9 million brackets had all 16.

So it’s an odd insurance product, but that’s part of the business. Berkshire Hathaway also owns Gen Re, or General Reinsurance, in Stamford, which said it did not do the bracket deal, and GEICO — but this was no job for the gekko.

Sennheiser Snags an Emmy

by Categorized: Media, Technology Date:

The Sennheiser Group, the German audio electronics firm with its U.S. headquarters in Old Lyme, has won an Emmy award.

Daniel Sennheiser accepting the award Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images

Daniel Sennheiser accepting the award
Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images

No, the maker of microphones is not joining Netflix and Amazon in creating its own entertainment content. Sennheiser won the Philo T. Farnsworth Award at the 65th Primetime Emmy Engineering Awards in Hollywood — for television technology.

Sennheiser was one of seven recipients of Engineering Emmys at Thursday night’s ceremony, including YouTube.

 

 

 

 

Sturm, Ruger Leads CT Firms On Forbes Best Small Companies List

by Categorized: Corporate finance, Firearms, Management, Media Date:

What do gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Co. and Annie’s, the organic food firm with the bunny mascot, have in common? Not much, you might think, but both companies with Connecticut ties are in the top 10 of the Forbes list of best performing small public companies.

Sturm, Ruger, based in the Southport section of Fairfield, comes in at No. 5 in the ranking, which is based on sales and profit growth over the last five years.

Annie’s, at No. 10, is based in Berkeley, Cal., but was founded by Canton native Annie Withey, who still grows and sells vegetables in Hampton and consults with the company.

Three other Connecticut companies also made the Forbes list, which ranked 100 publicly traded companies that have sales under $1 billion — solidly midsize by most standards. They are SS&C Technologies of Windsor, No. 28; TransAct Technologies of Hamden, No. 57; and FactSet Research Systems of Norwalk, No. 78.

Ruger has only its headquarters in its home state and recently announced a major manufacturing expansion in North Carolina. Over the last five years Ruger has ridden the gun wave, with its sales ballooning by 24 percent a year to $595 million and a massive 54 percent a year average gain in earnings per share.

At SS&C, the maker of software and systems for the financial services sector, with more than 400 employees in Windsor, founder and CEO Bill Stone moved to Florida late last year said this month he is considering moving company headquarters elsewhere.

Top Wooden Roller Coaster? Boulder Dash!

by Categorized: Consumer, Media Date:

We usually don’t report on industry awards since they’re too numerous, but here’s a fun exception: Boulder Dash at Lake Compounce Theme Park in Bristol has taken the prize as “Best Wooden Roller Coaster in the World” for 2013, from Amusement Today.

Boulder Dash Lake Compounce handout photo.

Boulder Dash
Lake Compounce handout photo.

Boulder Dash, built in 2000, also won the top prize in 2004, in the “Golden Ticket” awards, which are judged by a worldwide panel of park enthusiasts.

“The park is dedicated to maintaining it well and the coaster’s unique one-of-a-kind setting constantly brings in new fans,” said Gary Slade, editor and publisher of Arlington, Tex.-based Amusement Today. “A night ride on this amazing coaster is particularly fantastic. It’s my favorite time to ride Boulder Dash!”

Lake Compounce, the nation’s oldest continuously operating amusement park, has closed for the season and will reopen Oct. 4 for its Haunted Graveyard, and Nov. 29 for Holiday Lights.

 

Gun Group Brings Public Warning Ad Campaign To Hartford

by Categorized: Firearms, law, Media Date:

Here’s a public service effort that may serve a worthy political aim as well as reducing crime: The National Shooting Sports Foundation has expanded its “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” anti-straw-purchase campaign to Hartford and other Southern New England cities.

The campaign includes 13 billboards in Hartford, seven of them along I-91 or I-84, warning people that making a straw purchase — buying a gun for a person who isn’t allowed to buy one for himself — is a serious federal crime.

Billboard along Farmington Avenue in Hartford.  Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

Billboard along Farmington Avenue in Hartford.
Dan Haar/The Hartford Courant

The campaign, with the tagline “Buy a gun for someone who can’t…buy yourself 10 years in jail,” is a joint effort of the Newtown-based NSSF, which represents gun retailers and manufacturers, and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  In addition to Hartford, the latest cities with a spate of billboards are Providence, Worcester, Springfield and Boston.

The campaign comes to Hartford just months after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Sen. Chris Murphy accused the gun industry of selling firearms irresponsibly, following the Newtown tragedy, as the industry tried to beat back a ban on semiautomatic rifles. So, here at least, the Don’t Lie campaign could help burnish the industry’s reputation among the few people who aren’t glued to one side or the other.

The Don’t Lie web site, www.dontlie.org, includes videos and other materials that say straw purchases are responsible for relatively few crimes, since the average length of time between the initial purchase and the use of a gun in a crime is 11 years, according to ATF.   Despite that, straw purchases are a problem: Citing the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the web site also said “40 percent of criminals obtain their firearms from friends or family and another 40 percent obtain their firearms from illegal sources on the street.”

“This warning can help deter an illegal purchase long before a person steps into a licensed retail store,” Stephen L. Sanetti, the NSSF president and CEO, in a written release.

“Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” started in 2000 with the aim of educating retailers as well as the public.

“You can’t always tell if somebody is an illegal purchaser or not, but after a while you will get a feel for it and if things just don’t look right or don’t sound right or don’t present themselves right, that’s when we notify law enforcement as to our belief that this may be a straw purchase,” said Carl Roy, president of the Maryland Association of Firearms Retailer, in a video. 

It’s a laudable effort and obviously retailers are the front-lines soldiers in this, rightly.

As we’ve seen throughout the gun control debate, there’s no easy way to keep guns out of the wrong hands without impeding someone’s rights. The hope here is that “just doesn’t look right” is not a euphemism for racial profiling — which would not be a justifiable means.

A crackdown on straw purchases is part of a much broader set of reforms that’s needed in licensing and background checks for gun purchases. NSSF opposes the so-called “universal background check” for all private gun purchases because, NSSF says, the underlying federal system known as National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is ineffective; retailers would be subject to delays, added costs and potential legal liability; and definitions of gun transfers are confusing.

As long as gun-rights and gun-control advocates continue to press the conversation, it remains possible to address these objections and bring about real reforms, some of which will bring real inconvenience. The Don’t Lie campaign is a good-faith effort by the industry to be part of that conversation.