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ESPN earned an 8.4 overnight Nielsen rating for last night's Ohio State-Arkansas Allstate Sugar Bowl, which is up 16.7% from a 7.2 overnight for the comparable Iowa-Georgia Tech Orange Bowl on Fox in '10. The increase marks ESPN first BCS window-to-window ratings gain thus far when compared to last year's games. Last night's telecast is down 3.4% from an 8.7 overnight for the Florida-Cincinnati Sugar Bowl last year on Fox, which aired in primetime on New Year's Day. Ohio State-Arkansas ranks as ESPN's second-best college football overnight after Saturday's TCU-Wisconsin Rose Bowl. Last night's game also earned 248,000 viewers on ESPN3.com, marking the channel's best college football audience ever. The game earned a 46.2 local rating in Columbus, which topped all U.S. metered markets, and is the market's best rating ever for a college football game on ESPN (records date back to '00). The 46.2 local rating is also the highest rating for any market during the current bowl season. There is no metered market in the state of Arkansas (THE DAILY).
AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT: ESPN earned a 6.7 U.S. rating and 10.682 million viewers for Monday night's Stanford-Virginia Tech Discover Orange Bowl, which is down 18.3% and 22.7%, respectively, from an 8.2 rating and 13.819 million viewers for the comparable Boise State-TCU Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last year on Fox. Stanford-Virginia Tech is also down 1.5% and 1.8%, respectively, from a 6.8 rating and 10.879 million viewers for the '10 Orange Bowl, which aired on Fox on a Tuesday night (THE DAILY).ORANGE BOWL RATINGS, VIEWERSHIP TRENDYEARMATCHUPNETDAYRAT.VIEWERS
(000)'11Stanford-Virginia TechESPNMon.6.710,682'10Iowa-Georgia TechFoxTues.6.810,879'09Virginia Tech-CincinnatiFoxThurs.5.49,319'08Kansas-Virginia TechFoxThurs.7.411,958'07Louisville-Wake ForestFoxTues.7.010,655
NOT SO DOWN: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes in addition to the teams' appeal, matchups and Oklahoma's blowout win over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl, the "move to cable was a major factor" in the ratings declines for the Rose and Fiesta bowls. Still, ESPN was "jubilant about its Rose and Fiesta debuts because it does not have to beat broadcast numbers to succeed." ESPN Senior VP/College Sports Programming Burke Magnus prior to Monday's Orange Bowl said, "We're pleased with these numbers, and with three more BCS games to play we'll stack up well and the broadcast-to-cable comparisons will not matter. There's no broadcast-to-cable case to be made." But Sandomir writes "there is," and it is "at the heart of the battle between broadcasters and cable networks." Horizon Media Senior VP/Research Brad Adgate noted that the "gap in viewership between broadcast and cable is narrowing." Adgate: "ESPN is leading the trend." Magnus said that it is "possible to play in ESPN's universe and still have more viewers for a bowl game than one on broadcast TV." Sandomir writes, "Sure it is, especially if the cable event has a better matchup or a tighter game or higher-ranked teams -- and the comparison is to one of the least-viewed past bowls. Of course, it can also be serendipity" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/5).
CHECKING THEIR WATCHES: SLATE.com's Andrew Bouve noted ESPN's broadcast crew of Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden were overheard discussing the length of Monday's Orange Bowl at the end of the ESPN3.com broadcast of the game. Gruden said, "Go ahead, Jaws, have another lozenge," to which Jaworski, in a "celebratory" tone, said, "God dang, I made it!" Gruden then said, "My god, these are the longest games ever." Jaworski: "Holy cow." Tirico added, "Wait 'til Monday," in reference to the Auburn-Oregon Tostitos BCS National Championship Game (SLATE.com, 1/4).
NBC's "Sunday Night Football" this season became the first sports series to be the "most-watched TV show in prime time, ahead of any reality, drama or comedy series," according to Michael McCarthy of USA TODAY. "SNF" averaged 21.8 million viewers this season, up 12% from last year and ahead of second-place ABC's "Dancing With the Stars," which averaged 20.5 million viewers. It marks the "first time a sports series has ranked as the most-watched show from the start of the TV season on Sept. 20 through the end of the NFL regular season." "SNF" still has to "beat Fox's 'American Idol,' which returns to the air Jan. 19." But NBC Sports & Olympics Chair Dick Ebersol said that it is the "first time in 40 years a sports series hit No. 1 in prime time." Ebersol: "To finally see (the NFL) become TV's No. 1 program is unbelievable. It's never happened with any sports series." McCarthy notes "SNF" finished No. 3 "behind 'Idol' and 'Dancing' during the last full TV season, which ran from Sept. 20 through late May." Meanwhile, "all five of the NFL TV partners -- CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and its own NFL Network -- are posting big audience gains for the last three years" (USA TODAY, 1/5).
LOCAL SUCCESS: Patriots telecasts averaged a 34.9 local rating in the Boston market during the '10 regular season, marking the team's best average local rating ever. The previous record of 33.6 was set during the '07 regular season in which the Patriots went 16-0. Four Patriots games this season rank in the top six all-time for regular-season ratings in the Boston market (Patriots)....In St. Louis, Dan Caesar noted KSDK-NBC averaged a 38.7 local rating for Sunday's Rams-Seahawks game, making it the "best-rated Rams regular-season game in nine seasons." The 38.7 rating is the "seventh-highest nonplayoff figure they have drawn in their 16 seasons in town." Two cities in Oklahoma, "home of Rams rookie QB Sam Bradford, ... cracked the top six" in local ratings for the game, as Oklahoma City ranked fifth and Tulsa ranked sixth (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/4).
POST-GAME ENTERTAINMENT: CBS yesterday announced that it will broadcast an original episode of its "Hawaii Five-O" series immediately after its telecast of the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 23 (CBS).
ESPN has fired college football announcer Ron Franklin following his interaction with colleague Jeannine Edwards before the Chick-fil-A Bowl. ESPN in a brief statement said, "Based on what occurred last Friday, we have ended our relationship with him" (THE DAILY). Franklin joined ESPN in '87 and "for a while was one of its most prominent college football announcers" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/5). In DC, Paul Farhi notes Franklin is the "latest ESPN personality to lose his job or face disciplinary action for behavior toward a female colleague that the network deemed inappropriate." Baseball analyst Harold Reynolds and ESPN Radio host Jason Jackson were fired in '06 and '02, respectively, for "alleged sexual harassment." Also, baseball analyst Steve Phillips "lost his job in 2009 as a result of an affair with an ESPN production assistant" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/5). FANHOUSE.com's Milton Kent wrote that ESPN's firing of Franklin for the incident is a "sign that the Worldwide Leader truly does take the concerns of female staffers seriously, or is at least doing a better job of letting the public know that it does." ESPN has been "plagued over its 31-year history by allegations that it essentially condoned sexual harassment or worse against female producers, on-air reporters and anchors and support staff, with winks and nods, but little punishment to male offenders." But to its "credit, the channel has gone to great lengths to clean up the perception that it allowed an 'Animal House' mentality to prevail." Kent: "Franklin's firing reaffirms that boys shouldn't necessarily feel comfortable being boys at ESPN" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/4).
ONLY BECAUSE OF MEDIA PICK-UP? YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Chase wrote once word of the Franklin-Edwards incident "proved to have legs throughout the holiday weekend, ESPN had little choice but to fire Franklin." ESPN should be "praised for taking a stand, but the fact that it waited four days suggests that if the Franklin story had gone away quickly, he'd still have a job today" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/4).
FSN has reached a multiyear TV deal with Conference USA that sources say will nearly double the conference's annual rights fee to around $7M per year. C-USA's current six-year, $22M deal with ESPN expires this spring. FSN picks up the conference’s rights starting with the '11 football season. FSN execs confirmed the deal, saying that they are committed to telecast at least 20 college football games -- twice the number that is currently on TV -- 10 regular season men's basketball games, five women's basketball games and some Olympic sports. FSN also picked up the rights for the conference's football championship game, as well as men's and women's basketball championship games. A key aspect of the deal for the conference is a provision that allows select C-USA events to migrate to Fox' broadcast channel and FX. Another key part of the deal for the conference is a provision that does away with Tuesday and Wednesday night games. FSN said most games will be on Saturdays; a handful will be Thursdays. The conference has schools from East Carolina to SMU -- a territory that is covered by nine FSN channels: FS South, SportSouth, FS Carolinas, FS Tennessee, FS Southwest, FS Houston, FS Oklahoma, FS Florida and Sun Sports. CBS College Sports in July renewed its rights deal with C-USA.
Golf Channel Exec Producer Jack Graham said that the PGA Tour has given the network permission "to put mikes on players" during the '11 season, but a lack of player interest means that it "might not happen" at this week's season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, according to Doug Ferguson of the AP. Some golfers "don't want to do it," while others are "interested, just not in the first tournament of the year." Graham said that "at some point he expects players will get comfortable with the idea." Graham: "If you look at where we are compared with other sports, we're pretty far behind." When the players are miked, "it will not be live, rather repackaged during the telecast." Graham added, "It will work if we get some cooperation. But it's problematic. Some players will do it. Some won't." Ferguson noted given the "economy and growing entertainment choices -- and especially with a new television contract to be negotiated this year -- the PGA Tour is doing what it can to make broadcasts more interesting." The Tour also is "allowing some flexibility in the pairings to help with TV." There will be around 20 "featured players from the 'A list' that can be moved around to accommodate television." That means "certain players from that group would be chosen to tee off from No. 1 in the afternoon on Friday so Golf Channel could feature them on the back nine -- where most of the TV towers are located -- in the peak hours of the telecast." PGA Tour VP/Rules & Competition Slugger White: "We're just trying to take care of our TV partners. We're all in this together. We're trying to promote our sport" (AP, 1/4).
DRIVE FOR SHOW: The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Brooke wrote Erik Kuselias and Gary Williams' analysis on Golf Channel's new "Morning Drive" program will determine "whether the talk-radio-style show moves the meter and becomes an important part of the channel's daily programming." Kuselias and Williams are "top-notch talkers," and Williams on the show's debut Monday "came across as the more serious of the pair." They "have the right tone," but "can they add anything to the wider golf discussion?" Meanwhile, Brooke noted Golf Channel's latest print ads "include a broadcast schedule of the PGA Tour's first six events, beginning with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions this week and ending with the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in mid-February." The schedule is "superimposed over a close-up image of Tiger Woods swinging a golf club." However, Woods "rarely, if ever, plays in five of the six tournaments listed so viewers really won't see much of him at all." But Golf Channel's "ties to Tiger remain strong" (GLOBEANDMAIL.com, 1/4).
ESPN is expanding its 3D TV channel to full 24-hour, seven-day per week programming beginning Feb. 14. When live events are not shown on the channel, ESPN 3D will air replays of prior events. ESPN 3D began last June 11 with the FIFA World Cup from South Africa, and to date has shown nearly 60 events in the enhanced format, including its first NBA 3D TV game last month. ESPN first announced plans for the 3D TV channel at last year's Int'l Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and is using the high-profile forum again to trumpet the expansion, even as 3D TV remains dogged by disappointing sales and widespread skepticism (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). MULTICHANNEL NEWS' Todd Spangler notes "very little of the programming on ESPN 3D will be live." The net next month "has currently scheduled live coverage of just two events: the Feb. 11 Lakers-Knicks meeting and a Feb. 25 Thunder-Magic matchup." Meanwhile, ESPN 3D on Friday will host a special edition of "College Football Live" at CES with Rece Davis, Lou Holtz and Mark May. Spangler notes Comcast and DirecTV "currently do not charge HD customers extra to receive ESPN 3D," while Time Warner Cable and AT&T U-verse TV "both include ESPN 3D as part of a premium 3D programming tier for $10 per month extra" (MULTICHANNEL.com, 1/5).
CIRCUIT CITY: In N.Y., Brian Stelter writes ESPN's "embrace of CES attests to the importance of the show." ESPN VP/Strategic Business Planning & Development Bryan Burns, who is leading the network's 3D push, said, "You have to know what the screens are today, and what the screens are going to be in the future, and where you do that is CES." Analysts believe that "this year’s show is in some ways an amplification of last year’s trends." There is "talk, like last year, about 3-D TV; about connected TVs, also sometimes called 'smart TVs,' which pledge to pair the Internet and traditional TV viewing; about cloud computing; and about apps on screens of all sizes." But more than "anything else, there is talk about tablet computers." Also, 3D supporters "will be trying to renew interest in expensive 3-D sets," sales of which have "been sluggish at best" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/5).
Hendrick Motorsports has retained Ray Evernham as a consultant in a deal that "will not allow Evernham to remain an analyst for ESPN's NASCAR coverage." Evernham said, "I have had a great relationship with ESPN. If there was any way I could have worked that out I would have loved to do it. That was one of the hardest things about making the decision." ESPN VP/Motorsports Rich Feinberg: "Ray has been a valuable member of our NASCAR team for the past three seasons and we wish him all the best in his new role. If he ever wants to come back, we'd be happy to talk to him" (ESPN.com, 1/4).
HARD TO REPLACE A LEGEND: In Tacoma, Larry Larue reports the Mariners for '11 are considering "filling the airwaves with the presence of former players and broadcasters on a rotating basis, rather than hiring one voice" to succeed Larry Niehaus, who passed away in November. Mariners VP/Communications Randy Adamack said, "There's a line of thought that we could make 2011 a transitional season for our fans." Adamack and other team execs in the next few days "will sit down again with television and radio producers from the Mariners’ flagship stations and discuss the options for the upcoming season." Broadcasters Rick Rizzs, Dave Sims and Mike Blowers are all under contract for '11 (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 1/5).
SWIMSUIT MODEL: SI has struck a new licensing and distribution deal with Sony to develop 3D TV video based on the upcoming '11 Swimsuit issue. The 3D video will be exclusively distributed for rental or purchase on the PlayStation Network video delivery service through the PlayStation 3 console, as well as on the Qriocity VOD service available through connected, late-model Sony Bravia 3D TVs and Blu-Ray players. A 2D version of the Swimsuit video content will also be distributed through the same channels. The 3D content will premiere Feb. 15, the scheduled launch day for the '11 Swimsuit issue. The agreement builds upon a prior pact in which Sony last year also distributed 2D Swimsuit video content through the PlayStation Network (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).