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HBO Sports to target ‘high access, high ambition’ programming after dropping boxing

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Peter Nelson Kevin Winter Getty
HBO Sports’ Executive Vice President Peter
Nelson.

Kevin
Winter/Getty


  • HBO recently announced that it would soon stop broadcasting
    professional boxing matches after 45 years.
  • In an interview with Business Insider, HBO Sports Executive
    Vice President Peter Nelson detailed some of his programming
    plans going forward.
  • Nelson said the goal is to do “high access, high ambition”
    programming going forward, like the Bill Simmons-produced “Andre
    the Giant” documentary and LeBron James’ “The Shop” show, which
    will feature Drake in the next episode.

 

Thursday marked a major pivot for HBO when the network announced
that it will
no longer feature professional boxing content
.

That’s 45 years after its first televised match, and in that
time, HBO didn’t just air some of the greatest boxing matches
ever, it also produced award-winning programming on the sport.

But without a dominating force like Mike Tyson to keep the casual
boxing fan interested throughout the last few decades, HBO Sports
Executive Vice President Peter Nelson pulled the plug.

“We’ve had consistent audience research saying that boxing is no
longer a determinant factor for HBO subscribers,” Nelson told
Business Insider on Friday.

In many ways, HBO’s move away from broadcasting boxing is an
indication of how far interest in the sport itself has fallen
from the zeitgeist. But it also shows where HBO Sports wants to
focus going forward: programming that draws in a wide audience,
not just in a specific sport but on aspects of the culture that
transcends it.

Or as Nelson put it — “high access, high ambition” programming.

“Our mission is to use sports as a lens into socio-economic,
political, and cultural issues,” Nelson went on to say. “I think
humanizing individuals, creating empathy around different
communities, allowing that to cross-pollinate for people in a way
that allows them to contextualize themselves and the world around
them. That’s at the heart of what we strive to do.”

And there are different ways HBO Sports is planning to accomplish
that going forward, including continuing some of the programming
that’s a staple to the network, like the HBO Sports documentary.
But some of those plans are a bit more outside the box.


Andre the Giant 2 WWEWWE

Documentaries will still be front and center

With Bill Simmons signed onto the network, he’s brought more
current topics of sports documentaries to HBO, the sort that made
ESPN’s “30 for 30” brand — which he helped launch — so popular.
His executive produced “Andre the Giant” documentary, released
earlier this year, became the most-watched doc in HBO Sports
history. Nelson said he’s currently in talks with Simmons about
making more documentaries, in addition to unscripted projects.

Then there’s the first-ever acquired documentary by HBO Sports,
“Momentum Generation.” Executive produced by Robert Redford, the
surfing documentary was purchased by HBO at this year’s Tribeca
Film Festival, and Nelson said festival acquisitions will be part
of their content strategy going forward.

But perhaps HBO’s most ambitious project in the documentary space
coming up is the multi-part Muhammad Ali documentary, “What’s My
Name?”, which is directed by Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day,” “The
Equalizer” movies).


Muhammad Ali
Muhammad
Ali during a news conference that he conducts from inside the
ring in Atlanta, Ga., in this Oct. 24, 1970.

AP Photo/FILE

Though a documentary on the greatest boxer of all time is hardly
anything new (HBO itself has done numerous docs already on Ali),
Nelson touts this one as having a different feel than most
because of Fuqua’s involvement and how it will be told.

“It will be told in Ali’s own words,” he said. “That will be the
driver of the narrative. I think that is what makes this project
special, the perspective of the viewer is going to be shaped by
what Ali has to say about himself, his own time, and the context
of which he lived.”

“What’s My Name?” will air in the spring of 2019.

Making programs that go beyond sports

Outside of the traditional documentary space, Nelson said he’s in
talks with IMG’s original content division about partnering on
more projects similar to “Being Serena,” the series HBO aired on
Serena Williams this past year. It’s also expanding its “24/7”
series beyond boxing to golf, as its next one will be focused on
the Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson match that will take place on
November 23. The all-access style of “24/7” will air during the
lead-up to the match.

And then there’s “The Shop,” the unfiltered conversational show
from LeBron James set in a barbershop that has already gained
attention for its honest, unfiltered chats with the likes of
Odell Beckham Jr. and Jon Stewart, not to mention James’ own
frank talk on it.


The Shop John Johnson HBO
“The Shop.
John
Johnson/HBO


Nelson revealed to Business Insider exclusively that the show’s
next episode will feature a chat between James and Drake and is
set to run in October.

Though HBO has been a staple of all facets of sports for decades,
it’s never been in close collaboration with some of the biggest
names in sports until now. Nelson is focused on continuing the
type of programming that delves deeper into the people we cheer
for.

“What we look to do is programming that tells stories that bring
in viewers beyond what they care about that particular sport or
sporting event,” Nelson said.

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