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CBS earned a 31.3 overnight Nielsen rating for its coverage of the AFC Championship game from 6:45-10:00pm ET last night. The game, which saw the Steelers hold off a late rally from the Jets and win 24-19, was down 6.0% from a 33.3 overnight for the comparable Saints-Vikings NFC Championship game last year, which also aired in primetime. However, it was up 10% from the early-window Colts-Jets AFC title game in ’10. Steelers-Jets peaked with a 33.1 rating from 9:00-9:30pm. It also earned the highest overnight rating for an AFC title game since the ’87 Broncos-Browns game. Meanwhile, Fox’ early-window broadcast of the NFC Championship game, which saw the Packers beat the Bears 21-14, earned a 30.0 overnight Nielsen rating from 3:00-6:15pm. The game is down 9.9% from Saints-Vikings in ’10 but up 6% from the comparable Colts-Jets game. Packers-Bears earned the highest overnight rating for a conference championship game in the early window since the ’97 Packers-Panthers game. Yesterday’s NFC game peaked at a 34.6 in the final quarter hour. The game drew a 57.0 local rating in the Milwaukee market and a 50.6 local rating in Chicago (THE DAILY).
COVERAGE REVIEWS: In N.Y., Phil Mushnick notes CBS "kept it simple" for Steelers-Jets, showing the game with "little visual or verbal adornments." There was "nothing more needed or wanted in CBS's AFC Championship production that wasn't provided." However, Fox during Packers-Bears "encouraged us to pretend to be dopey, but just for the sake of the telecast." Fox "brought its NFL pregame show on-site," and Mushnick writes, "Did it make the pregame better? Not a bit. But since when did that matter?" Meanwhile, Fox analyst Troy Aikman during the game was "as succinct and as strong" as he has been all season (N.Y. POST, 1/24). In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes Fox' camera work was "as good Sunday as it has been all year, and announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman were solid." When Bears QB Jay Cutler "fumbled the ball with just under two minutes left in the first half," Bears RB Matt Forte "picked up the ball and started to run with it, but officials blew the play dead for seemingly no reason." Buck "immediately reminded viewers that the only player who can advance a fumble in the last two minutes of a half is the player who fumbled it." Jones: "Nice work" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 1/24). In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley lists his Highs and Lows from Fox' coverage of Packers-Bears. Fox sideline reporter Chris Myers "did an outstanding job delivering important injury information in-game," as he was "on top of the right knee injury" to Cutler. Myers "let viewers know that Cutler was not coming back into the game after the first series in the third quarter," and in his postgame interview with Bears coach Lovie Smith, Myers was "able to get Smith to tell viewers that the injury Cutler suffered came in the last series of the first half." Fox also "did a good job of following up on the issue of the condition of the field as the game went along" at Soldier Field. However, Fox rules analyst Mike Pereira "missed on a challenge of an interception made by" Packers CB Sam Shields (JSONLINE.com, 1/23).
ASTUTE ANALYSIS: In Denver, Dusty Saunders writes Aikman's "sparse, almost quiet analysis, particularly about quarterback play, is outstanding." Aikman yesterday during Packers-Bears "ably dissected the play of Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie." His analysis was "superior to that of CBS' Phil Simms in the AFC title game" (DENVER POST, 1/24). Meanwhile, the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES' Jones writes, "Perhaps the best analysts of the NFL games on Sunday weren't on television, but on the radio." Westwood One announcers Randy Cross and Mark Malone "were excellent" in their coverage of Packers-Bears. Their "best moment came when Malone said it was well known that ... Cutler has some of the worst mechanics in the league and those poor habits often lead to an interception." Moments later, Cutler "threw off his back foot and the result was an interception" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 1/24).
A SECOND CAREER: In N.Y., Bob Raissman reported the "winds of change -- or addition -- could be blowing through ESPN or CBS' NFL pregame shows." Sources said that both networks are "impressed" with Jets DE Jason Taylor, "who has appeared on both outlets during the season, and might be reserving a studio seat for him" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/23). Meanwhile, USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand reports ESPN today will formally announce that Saints coach Sean Payton "will join its four-hour Super Bowl pregame coverage" before Fox starts its pregame programming. Payton also will appear as an analyst on the Thursday and Friday before the game (USA TODAY, 1/24). Payton that Friday will appear on "The Champions," a special that includes "round-table discussions among all of ESPN's analysts with Super Bowl rings" (NOLA.com, 1/23).
TO SERVE & PROTECT? FANHOUSE.com's Milton Kent reported CBS' Simms and Jim Nantz last week "were all too happy to refute allegations that they took a little off their respective fastballs recently and made too nice" with the Patriots during their coverage of the Jets-Patriots AFC Divisional game. Simms: "I walk out of the booth almost every week (and hear), 'Aw, you don't say enough good things about us.'" Simms added sarcastically, "That's OK. You're right. I want to show favoritism and get fired." Nantz: "We're never out to protect anyone. We're there to observe and tell people what we see" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/21).
Top Rank Chair Bob Arum has "closed a deal with Showtime and sister network CBS to handle" the May 7 Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley PPV fight instead of HBO, according to sources cited by Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. Both Pacquiao and Mosley "have never fought with Showtime's involvement and both have fought all of their numerous significant fights on HBO or HBO PPV." Sources said that part of the Showtime deal "will include CBS promoting the fight by running commercial spots advertising the pay-per-view during prime time programming." Also in development is a "series of preview shows that would run on CBS, or possibly Showtime, which would be similar to HBO's hit reality series '24/7.'" Rafael wrote the move is a "seismic shift in the boxing business landscape." Arum also recently "struck a deal with Showtime to handle the production and distribution" of the March 12 Miguel Cotto-Ricardo Mayorga PPV. However, Arum and HBO "are still doing business together" (ESPN.com, 1/21). Pacquiao adviser Michael Koncz "acknowledged a big advantage" to Showtime's bid for the fight was its "ability to televise a multi-part series that is equivalent to HBO's 24/7 -- on CBS." Koncz: "We've worked with HBO for many, many fights, and it's always great working with them. But, you know, sometimes change is good for everybody involved. So we're making that change and we're going on Showtime this time. It's a big benefit for us, economically, and he's going to be getting wider viewership" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/21).
Time Warner Cable and ESPN have "engaged in preliminary discussions that would give the cable operator an ownership stake -- as much as 20 percent -- in the new University of Texas channel in exchange for wide distribution throughout the state," according to sources cited by Smith & Ourand of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. ESPN said that it will "push for the broadest possible distribution, meaning expanded basic carriage in Texas and sports tier carriage elsewhere." A deal with TWC is "essential" for the channel's distribution, as Media Business Corp. indicated that the company is Texas' "dominant cable operator, with close to 2 million subscribers." TWC is a UT corporate sponsor, has "wired the university for cable and broadband services, and it has a system that covers" the state capitol, Austin. Smith & Ourand note execs are "tight-lipped on how much the channel's license fee will be for the channel when it launches in September." IMG College, UT's multimedia rights holder, "negotiated the deal for Texas and will lead the channel's advertising sales." Meanwhile, ESPN Senior VP/College Sports Programming Burke Magnus said it is impossible to know "how long it will be before the channel is profitable." But he added, "We wouldn't be doing this unless we thought it was a good business proposition." Oklahoma has reiterated its desire to create a 24-hour Sooner network, and Magnus "didn't rule out cutting a similar deal with another school." However, he said that ESPN "has nothing in the offing." Magnus: "Our focus is here for the foreseeable future" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/24 issue).
SKIPPING THE CONFERENCE? In Detroit, Drew Sharp wrote under the header, "Texas Longhorns Set Bad Precedent With TV Deal." The partnership with ESPN is "another indication of the continuing devaluation of conference affiliation," as Texas "officially became an 'independent' with this exclusive network deal." Sharp: "The Big 12 is nothing more than a convenient scheduling partner for the Longhorns now." The NCAA "must look closely at an exclusive 24-hour channel tied to one institution." Sharp: "It's basically a paid commercial for the school. ... Does 24 hours of 'Hook 'Em Horns' constitute an unfair recruiting advantage?" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/23). In Providence, Kevin McNamara wrote the UT network means that the "rich get richer, so rich in this case that Texas has no need to look to the Big Ten or the Pac-10 or anywhere else to play its games." McNamara: "The Longhorns are doing just fine, thank you, beating up on ... their neighbors in the Big XII" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 1/23). In Orlando, Matt Murschel writes the deal is a "win-win for all those involved, except maybe conference football." UT as a result of the network may not "even need the Big 12," and it "could be the first salvo to freedom from conference restraints." Murschel: "I believe that this deal only hurts college football in the long run" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 1/24). But Big12Sports.com's Wendell Barnhouse said, “This is really good for the Big 12 because Texas with its own network is going to be pretty happy now as far as another revenue stream. A lot of people say this might be the start of the end for the Big 12, and I kind of tend to disagree with that theory." He noted the conference will be "even more powerful, stronger, than before.” Barnhouse: "What’s going to be interesting is to see whether or not another school can come up with that kind of monetary windfall, and I think that might be a little bit difficult” (“College Football Live,” ESPN, 1/21).
FLORIDA INTRIGUED BY UT DEAL: In Jacksonville, Gene Frenette noted Univ. of Florida AD Jeremy Foley is "intrigued by UT's lucrative deal." Foley: "At some point, we'll ask the question. We'll see if there's more opportunities for us, as I'm sure other schools will." Frenette wrote if there is anything Foley "knows, it's how to follow the money." But there is "one big glitch for the Gators," as the SEC's 15-year deal with ESPN "precludes member schools from making a similar deal." As a result, UF "will have some legal hurdles to cross." But SEC Associate Commissioner for Media Relations Charles Bloom said, "Technology-wise, who knows what will happen five years from now?" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 1/22).
TSN's "long-rumoured radio operation will go ahead later this year, after BCE Inc. takes full control of CTV Inc., the parent company of TSN," according to Bruce Dowbiggin of the GLOBE & MAIL. TSN Radio, designed to challenge Rogers Communications' Sportsnet Radio Fan 590 in Toronto and Fan 960 in Calgary, has been "one of the prime projects championed by BCE's Bell Canada unit as it takes over operations." Fan 960 morning host Mike Richards has signed on "to become the morning drive host" for TSN Radio in Toronto. Richards did "not appear on his FAN 960 show Friday morning and his identification is being removed from the website." Sources indicated that Richards "sent his resignation late Thursday night to the station where he’s worked the past six years." It is believed that he will "have full creative control over his show, which will likely be simulcast on TSN or TSN2" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 1/21).
BATTLE FOR ATTENTION: In Toronto, Chris Zelkovich noted Canada's sports broadcasting business is "about to change even more" than it already has. There are "battles being waged for talent as broadcasters scramble to entrench themselves for the ultimate war for sports fans’ eyeballs." It is a "war that includes the usual suspects -- TSN, Rogers Sportsnet and the CBC -- as well as a relative newcomer in Shaw Communications." Zelkovich noted at the "epicentre of this seismic activity" is Rogers Media President Keith Pelley, whose "departure from the CTV/TSN family for rival Rogers Communications last summer set things in motion." The first "real showdown between Sportsnet and TSN will come, not on television, but on radio when TSN launches its national network of stations in April." TSN could "run a relatively inexpensive operation using a lot of its own simulcasts." Also in play are "some of Canada’s most valued sports rights," including the '14 Sochi Games and "Hockey Night in Canada" (TORONTO STAR, 1/22). The GLOBE & MAIL's Dowbiggin wrote with news last week of "talent raids and TSN’s plan to challenge Rogers on sports radio, the skirmishing between the two media giants finally broke into the open." Pelley is "about as popular with his old TSN chums as Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/24).
After his "sudden split with MSNBC, Keith Olbermann could be going back" to sports, according to Nina Mandell of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Olbermann at the conclusion of Friday night's "Countdown" program announced that he and MSNBC had agreed to part ways after eight years. Following the program, he changed the biography line on his Twitter account to read, "Watch This Space. MLB.Com Baseball Nerd blog returns 2/14." Olbermann last posted on his MLB.com blog on Thursday. Mandell noted it is "unlikely he's headed back" to ESPN, as he "slammed that former employer on his way out from MSNBC, too, in his goodbyes" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/23). FANHOUSE.com's Milton Kent noted there "may be places for Olbermann to turn up, even back in sports." Olbermann is "known in baseball circles as a historian, which could make him a prime candidate to serve as an anchor on MLB Network." He also would be an "intriguing choice for a show on HBO, which could have elements of news and sports." Kent added, "Despite his having been bounced from MSNBC and from a spot on Football Night in America, one wonders if a rebranded Versus or an entirely new NBC sports channel wouldn't welcome a personality like Olbermann's, even if he is anathema to conservative viewers" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/22). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Tim Goodman suggests 10 "career path decisions that Olbermann should consider." Olbermann returning to ESPN "would add some welcome gravitas." He also could "become the Commissioner" of MLB after Bud Selig retires (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/22).
HEADING TO HOLLYWOOD? ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's Lynette Rice cited a source as saying that screenwriter Aaron Sorkin "has long had a pilot script in the works about a cable news show, and Olbermann could be tapped to contribute rants." Sorkin spent time on the set of Olbermann's show "while penning the behind-the-scenes script (think 'Sports Night' meets 'Countdown')." Sorkin recently told the BBC that he "also shadowed Chris Matthews and Fox News and that he's working with HBO on the project" (EW.com, 1/22).