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truTV averaged a 1.0 overnight Nielsen rating for the two First Four games of the NCAA men's basketball championship last night from 6:30pm-12:00am ET. UNC-Asheville's defeat of Arkansas-Little Rock earned a 0.9 overnight from 6:30-9:30pm, with Clemson-UAB earning a 1.1 overnight from 9:45pm-12:00am. Last year's play-in game on ESPN featuring Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop earned a 0.8 overnight (THE DAILY). CABLEFAX DAILY notes things "get cooking for truTV later this week when it covers games featuring well-followed programs such as Duke and Syracuse." The "trick for truTV, however, will be to translate that increased exposure into new regular viewers" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 3/16). In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley reported Time Warner Cable, the "largest cable TV carrier in Wisconsin," will make truTV "available in high definition on channel 1220 to its subscribers in time for Wisconsin's second-round NCAA Tournament game on Thursday." Both Wisconsin and Marquette's first tournament games are on truTV (JSONLINE.com, 3/15). Wolfley also noted Charter "added truTV high definition to its channel lineup" ahead of last night's games (JSONLINE.com, 3/15). In L.A., Diane Pucin notes in Orange County, Cox Communications "is offering TruTV in HD on Channel 792 through the NCAA tournament." Turner President of Sales, Distribution & Sports David Levy last week said the joint CBS-Turner coverage of the tournament is "far better" than CBS' solitary coverage. Pucin: "As long as you can find truTV" (L.A. TIMES, 3/16).
CHECKING LOCAL LISTINGS: Georgetown Friday plays the winner of tonight's USC-Virginia Commonwealth game, and Georgetown coach John Thompson III said, "We're trying to find out where we can see truTV. We have to find a venue to watch, and wherever that venue is may dictate the mood" (WASHINGTONEXAMINER.com, 3/15). ABC's Jimmy Kimmel during his monologue noted last night's games aired on truTV. Kimmel: "Nothing gets you ready for a basketball tournament like a six-hour marathon of 'Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura'" ("Jimmy Kimmel Live," ABC, 3/15). Meanwhile, in Houston, David Barron wrote his "first thought of the NCAA Tournament" is that truTV "needs some new promos by Wednesday night." Barron: "I'm already sick of the loud talker and the chest punchers" (CHRON.com, 3/15).
SETTING THE SCHEDULE: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes scheduling the tournament this year is "simpler ... with all games aired in their entirety." But it is "not as simple as putting any game in any time slot." There are the "usual mandates to avoid overlapping games involving teams from the same regions." Thursday's BYU-Wofford game, which CBS will televise at 7:15pm ET, "might have been a good draw in CBS' later prime-time slot," but that "would have meant putting the other game in that Denver doubleheader -- St. John's-Gonzaga -- in the early slot." That "would have left St. John's overlapping with Connecticut, which CBS wanted to avoid because both have appeal in the Northeast." Hiestand notes scheduling "was a CBS-Turner collaboration." CBS Sports Exec VP/Programming Mike Aresco said "everybody got something, because the cumulative rating is what's being sold" to advertisers. CBS and Turner "likely will get lower game ratings" this year, but "higher overall viewership -- especially with brand names North Carolina, UCLA and Michigan that missed the tournament last year" (USA TODAY, 3/16).
AFFILIATES SUFFER: In Salt Lake City, Scott Pierce writes if "anyone's getting the short end of the stick" under the new broadcast deal, "it's the local CBS affiliates." Salt Lake City's KUTV-CBS will televise St. John's-Gonzaga as opposed to Kansas State-Utah State, which will be played at the same time on truTV, and KUTV VP & GM Steve Carlston said, "We wish we had the Utah State game. But we are excited that we have the BYU game." Pierce notes St. John's-Gonzaga is "preferable to no game at all." Carlston: "I don't like it all. But the price of doing business got so high that we had to sublease the games so we could retain the rights instead of giving everything in the world to ESPN" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 3/16). In K.C., Blair Kerkhoff noted Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State "will be spread across the new NCAA Tournament dials," and none of their opening games "will be televised on" KCTV-CBS. KCTV VP & GM Bobby Totsch: "Do we wish we had all their (opening round) games? Absolutely. But we've known for a year that this was a possibility" (K.C. STAR, 3/15).
CAN YOU IMAGINE IF GUS DID THAT? During truTV’s coverage of UNC-Asheville's victory last night over Arkansas-Little Rock, ESPN’s Bill Simmons criticized the announcers' tone, tweeting, “Sorry Jim Nantz - a #16 tying a #16 on a 3 w/ 10 secs left in a bogus play-in game doesn't mean ‘March Madness is under way!!!’ Settle down.” In response to Simmons, CBS announcer Seth Davis posted on Twitter, “Lame!” SI’s Richard Deitsch added, “Bill Simmons Twitter-smacks Jim Nantz for over-hyping First Four. Seth Davis responds by calling the shot ‘lame.’ God, I love March Madness” (TWITTER.com, 3/15).
CLASSIC ROCK: Turner Sports, which runs NCAA.com, and Denver-based Thought Equity Motion, which manages the NCAA's archives and the NCAA Vault, have reached an agreement to share their assets. Turner will be using Thought Equity's video management platform and publishing tools to move digital content from previous NCAA tournaments into editorial and social features at NCAA.com. The clearest use of the archives will be evident in the Classic 68 Bracket, which launched this week. It allows fans to vote on their favorite moments in NCAA tournament history and each winning highlight will advance through the bracket until a winner emerges. "The content that we're streaming to Turner Sports will help make NCAA.com a year-round destination for college sports enthusiasts," said Thought Equity Motion CEO & Founder Kevin Schaff. "We're bringing more classic NCAA video online for fans to search and share" (Michael Smith, SportsBusiness Journal).
McManus says Turner was his first call
when seeking March Madness partner
Q: Sean, I guess you were talking to ESPN about taking the last three years of the (old) NCAA Tournament deal, and you gave David a call. Take us through your thinking, back in the fourth quarter of 2009.
McManus: It became pretty evident early on in the process, when the NCAA informed us they were going to start having television discussions, that if we were going to be competitive we needed a partner to bid with us. The first call that I made was to David. … We did a thorough analysis on our own, and then with Turner, on the value of the tournament and came up with a figure that was competitive enough for us to get the television rights to the tournament with Turner.
Q: David, you said before this is a landmark deal for the company. What about for cable and the continued migration of big sports properties from broadcast?
Levy: We looked at this deal as four distribution platforms -- TBS, TNT, TruTV and CBS. And ultimately you're seeing programming, whether it's Conan O'Brien or the NCAA tournament, they're finding outlets to get to their fans. And this is a way for us to do that.
Q: You guys have already mentioned the cross-promotional aspect to both media companies. You have a Kings of Leon-driven marketing campaign. Is there enough push toward the first Tuesday night with TruTV?
Levy: We won't know until Tuesday night. … The reality is, I think that some people just won't catch it, but that's what happens over a 14-year deal. At the end, they will (MULTICHANNEL NEWS, 3/14 issue).
MLBAM this week has begun to experiment with live games on Facebook, placing one Spring Training game per day for free on the social networking site. The effort will continue for the duration of Spring Training as MLBAM evaluates usage patterns for the video content on Facebook, as well as the platform's marketing value for the MLB.tv subscription package. MLBAM has not yet decided whether to continue the effort into the regular season. But conceptually, it is an extension of the one free live game per day offered since '09 within the MLB.com At Bat mobile application and on MLB.com beginning this season, again acting in part as teasers for the full package. The interest in Facebook as a potential means of video delivery amplifies an already fast-growing interest by MLBAM in the platform. Other sports entities such as UFC have attempted similar strategies by using Facebook to distribute free content and upsell larger premium content offerings.
ESPN studio show "Baseball Tonight" will be produced from the site of the network's "Sunday Night Baseball" games this season, starting April 3 with the Giants-Dodgers game. The set-up will resemble ESPN's popular "College GameDay" sets. "Baseball Tonight" will position the sets just outside the ballpark to try and tap into the atmosphere from fans entering the stadium. The shows will air live at 12:30pm and 7:00pm ET.
Teams and leagues are beginning to "break their own news, over and around the independent news media that cover them," according to Paul Farhi of the WASHINGTON POST. Pro and major college teams "aren't just news sources now; they're in the news business, too, with their own radio, TV and Internet operations." Teams and leagues at the same time have "imposed an increasing array of restrictions on news organizations limiting how and what they can report." Teams years ago "welcomed coverage as free publicity," but in an age when "technology permits almost anyone to broadcast text, photos and videos instantly, some are far more wary of reporters, viewing them as info-competitors." Journalists usually "chafe at any attempt to handcuff their work," but some reporters "see a pernicious effect on the quality of sports reporting" as teams and leagues try to limit access. L.A. Times Deputy Sports Editor John Cherwa: "We're definitely being disadvantaged. Some of these sports were built on the publicity that we in the media gave them. They need to remember that it's important to have independent voices covering them." Farhi reported the Redskins "have been aggressive in policing the use and misuse of their 'brand' by others." The Redskins name for years "was used freely in the titles of local sports highlights shows," but the team "put an end to the practice several years ago, now only permitting 'authorized' uses of its name -- that is, under contractual agreement." Comcast SportsNet is the team's official TV network, and the station airs a "highlight program called 'Redskins Nation' hosted by Larry Michael, a broadcaster who is an employee of the team." Sources said that the franchise also asked the Washington Post "to rename the newspaper's video webcast and blog about the team, which was called 'Redskins Insider.'" The team "had used the name 'Redskins Insider' first, and The Post agreed to switch to 'Football Insider'" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/15).
Studio 3 Partners CEO
Q: How did this deal come together for Epix?
Greenberg: I wish there was a straightforward answer, A led to B led to C. ... We launched this network about 15 months ago. Because of my relationships with just about every promoter with the exception of one, they all came in and we had conversations about what do we do and about problems in the sport. Boxing clearly has lost a little bit of its luster. We had a lot of conversations about what we'd be interested in doing. We think there's an opportunity. Some of the networks have done a great job over the years, but they really haven't reinvented what's going on with the telecast and where you take it.
There have been lots of conversations with the Don Kings and Shelly Finkels and Gary Shaws and obviously Lou (DiBella, who bought the foreign rights to this fight and brokered them to Epix). Where do we take this? I think we're trying to find new ways to bring life into the sport. We're not the answer. But we can contribute maybe a new outlet, a new way of thinking, a new way of doing it.
Q: So why this fight? Why now?
Greenberg: The question is, do you do it today? Do you do it a year from now? At what point does this become interesting? We sat back and said what would be a good fight to start with? I think this one has an interesting storyline. ... As we've learned over the years from the heavyweights, one punch can change the world.
Q: If you're going to use boxing to try to turn somebody into a subscriber, it obviously has to be more than one fight. You haven't committed to that. At this point, is the value mostly promotional?
Greenberg: It's great exposure. And there are more possibilities here. I've already had a number of phone calls. ... I think one of the challenges for boxing today is that there aren't enough outlets. The number of dates from some of the pay TV outlets over the last five years have shrunk. ... The fighters want to get paid x amount of money and you can't do it without TV. A fighter should fight four times a year or maybe five times a year. But the problem is, they want to get paid. They can't get paid unless they have a date. There aren't enough dates to go around. And so I think we hopefully offer a more consistent diet of what is possible. We may or may not be part of that mix, but my suspicion is that I'm probably going to get a few more texts and e-mails and probably a few phone calls. We'll see what's out there. We're not tied to any fighter. We're not tied to any promoter, although there are a few that I've worked with over the years that I think are very good. We'll see what happens.
Q: People don't necessarily know Epix at this time. But they know Showtime and HBO and they know those channels are in boxing. Does doing this fight help you brand a little bit and connect with consumers? Is there a parallel there?
Greenberg: Without question. HBO was founded in 1973. Showtime in '76. There are two brands that have been out there for a long time. Let's face it, Showtime's programming for a long time was Mike Tyson. He built ratings and awareness of what that brand was all about. Look at Marvin Hagler. At one point we used to joke that HBO stood for Hagler Boxes On. So I think that, for us, we launched on Oct. 30 of 2009. That's 15 months ago. ... We've done some massive deals and turned profitable and gotten great distribution. We're (available) in 35 million homes. This (fight) clearly helps us build awareness of who we are.
Q: What's the overall place of sports on Epix, and the place of sports in the Epix acquisitions budget?
Greenberg: Our business plan always called for some sort of ring sport. Generic. We weren't sure if we were going to do MMA or WWE or boxing. And I still reserve the right that we may explore any and all those options. ... We just finished a documentary of (skier) Lindsey Vonn. ... We think sports docs can be a fun thing for us to do, as well as some other things like boxing or MMA. Those are good places for us to be. We have an enormous commitment to movies, similar to HBO. ... We feel that's what drives pay television. But we do know there are strong passion groups, like boxing fans, that we have an opportunity to engage and embrace, and find new ways to do it. And that's exactly what we'll do.