Production Television

Merit Street Media & CBS Split Media Rights for Professional Bull Riders

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Even Dr. Phil is getting in on TV’s frenzied battle for sports rights.

The daytime mainstay has long been known for doling out common-sense advice without any bull. Now that’s about to change.

Starting in July, a significant chunk of Professional Bull Riders events will be seen on Merit Street Mediathe TV outlet launched earlier this year by Phil McGraw, who had previously hosted the syndicated “Dr. Phil” program between 2002 and 2023. As part of a new four-year deal, McGraw’s Merit Street will carry PBR Teams events; the full schedule for PBR Unleash The Beast, the sport’s individual competition series; and 50 episodes of “PBR Now” a news, information, and analysis program.

“I think we’ll bring viewers to bull riding, and I think bull riding will bring viewers to us,” says McGraw in an interview.

CBS, meanwhile, which has broadcast PBR events since 2012, has extended its agreement with the Endeavor-backed league through 2030, and will carry 25 hours of PBR events on its flagship broadcast network and Paramount+. PBR is moving some of the events that had been shows via cable’s CBS Sports Network to Merit Street.

“PBR’s aptitude for growth and dynamic spirit have pushed them to new heights, and we look forward to delivering PBR to viewers across the country on CBS and Paramount+, with more broadcast hours than ever before,” said Dan Weinberg, CBS Sports’ executive vice president of programming.

Terms of the deals were not made available, but a person familiar with the matter says PBR has increased the fees for all its TV rights and expects to more than double what it has secured in the past for the Unleash the Beast series.

The new pacts will give PBR more visibility and make more events available to fans, says Sean Gleason, PBR’s CEO and Commissioner. Splitting the rights across different parties to maximize access to the property is “the wave of the future,” he says in an interview. “You have to go where the viewers are and follow their eyeballs and not be bound by traditional cable and satellite,” he says. In the new structure, PBR will retain the visibility it gets on CBS’ large broadcast outlet, but also distribute more of the sport to fans through Merit Street, which is available via over the air stations as well as a variety of digital and streaming outlets, including its own.

Merit Street plans to boost PBR in many ways, says McGraw, televising about 300 hours of PBR content each year. “We are going to really help people get to know the bull riders and go in depth on their stories, and we are going to be producing highlight shows, post-game shows.” RidePass, a western sports and lifestyle channel that streams on Paramount Global’s Pluto streaming service, will move to McGraw’s Merit+, a free broadband outlet. Merit Street will also carry six two-hour Women’s Rodeo World Championship events, through the WRWC’s partnership with PBR.

The battle for sports rights has engulfed the entire video business. Earlier this week, Netflix said it would carry at least one NFL game on Christmas for the next three years under a new pact with the NFL. Wall Street is eyeing Warner Bros. Discovery with new scrutiny after reports emerged that both NBCUniversal and Amazon Prime Video were poised to snare new rights deals from the NBA, even though Warner has been a key league partner since the mid-1980s.

In the streaming era, TV viewers can watch their favorite dramas and comedies at times of their own choosing. But sports matches lose some of their appeal as soon as they end, a dynamic that spurs more people to watch such stuff live, as it happens. As such, sports is perhaps the last TV format that is guaranteed to generate the large simultaneous viewership that advertisers and distributors still crave.

Since launching in February by teaming up with Trinity Broadcasting Networka large religious broadcaster that is a significant owner of TV stations, McGraw has lured several longtime TV personalities to his cause, including Nancy Grace and Steve Harvey. “I think we are way ahead of where we hoped to be,” says McGraw. At present, Merit Street can reach more than 80 million homes via broadcast stations, cable and satellite distribution and broadband outlets., “It’s early to have a lot of metrics, but all the metrics that we have so far are multiples of where we thought we would be and where they modeled us out to be,” says McGraw.

He’s never ridden a bull himself, he says. “I’ve had enough sense to stay off them.” But he’s long been interested in rodeo, and feels PBR has room to grow. “We think there is so much more that can be done with the sport than is being done so far. There are so many interesting stories and characters involved in the sport that have never been fully developed.” He expects PBR content to potentially make its way into other parts of Merit Street content.

McGraw remains sanguine about traditional TV’s prospects in a business that is becoming increasingly digital. “I’m not new to this. I know that linear television is trending down, not up,” he says. “But it’s still such a big way for people to get information. Even though it’s trending down, it’s still a monster.”

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