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truTV averaged a 0.7 overnight Nielsen rating for the second pair of First Four games of the NCAA men's basketball championship last night from 6:30-11:56pm ET, down from the 1.0 overnight the net averaged on Tuesday night. The early window featuring Texas-San Antonio's defeat of Alabama State earned a 0.6 overnight from 6:30-9:06pm, while the late window featuring VCU-USC earned a 0.9 overnight from 9:27-11:56pm. truTV averaged a 0.8 U.S. fast-national Nielsen rating and 1.268 million viewers for Tuesday night’s doubleheader. The early window featuring UNC-Asheville’s OT win over Arkansas-Little Rock earned a 0.8 rating and 1.200 million viewers, while the late window featuring Clemson-UAB earned a 0.9 rating and 1.354 million viewers. ESPN last year earned a 0.8 rating and 1.053 million viewers for the opening-round game featuring Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Winthrop. By comparison, last week during the same window (6:30pm-12:00am), truTV averaged a 0.8 U.S. rating and 1.210 million viewers for a slate of programs including six episodes of “Hardcore Pawn” and an episode each of “Cops,” “Lizard Lick Towing,” “Southern Fried Stings” and “TruTV Presents: World’s Dumbest.” The figures for last night's games are also up 15% from truTV's average audience during the same window since the start of '11 (THE DAILY).
IT'S A NEW DAY: In Houston, David Barron notes CBS and Turner during their coverage of the tournament will "try to steer neutral viewers toward the closest, most compelling game." Each network "will have a strip across the screen featuring logos of the other networks and the time and score for each game either in progress or about to start." However, CBS Sports Exec VP/Programming Mike Aresco said the objectives "didn't change" as a result of the joint coverage. Aresco: "You don't want geographic or competitive imbalance. You don't want three No. 1 seeds in the same window. And you want to have marquee names in prime time." Aresco said that one goal for today and Friday "was to have strong games early to hook viewers for the rest of the day." Turner Senior VP/Strategy, Marketing & Programming Christina Miller said of the coverage, "You're seeing a real blend of talent and a blend of networks, with everyone trying to find a way to leverage all of our strengths and give the Tournament a new voice. We're trying to create one TV universe." Barron writes there were a "few unscripted moments" during yesterday's coverage, including when TNT's Charles Barkley referred to CBS' Greg Anthony's "suggestion that UNC-Asheville could challenge top-seeded Pittsburgh." Barkley said, "I need to call my financial people and get some cash on that one." Meanwhile, CBS analyst Seth Davis closed the show "with a borderline risque comment that he probably would not have made on the more straight-laced CBS set" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/17). N.Y. Daily News columnist Bruce Murray said of every game of the NCAA tournament airing nationally, "If there's a game going on, this is going to be interesting to hear broadcasters say this, 'There’s a good game going on over on truTV. Go over there for the finish'" ("Daily News Live," SportsNet N.Y., 3/16).
AGAINST MOVE TO CABLE: U.S. House Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) has addressed a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert and CBS Corp. President & CEO Les Moonves regarding NCAA tournament coverage expanding to cable. In the letter dated Tuesday, Courtney notes "150,000 households in Connecticut will not be able to watch" today's 7:20pm ET Bucknell-UConn game on TNT. CBS is scheduled to air Wofford-BYU in roughly the same time slot, and Courtney requests that Hartford's CBS affiliate, WFSB, "be given the license rights to carry the Connecticut game" instead. Courtney: "NCAA's new contract with four television channels is a significant departure from previous years" (THE DAILY). THE HILL's Jordan Fabian notes CBS and Turner execs last week said taht they "were not concerned about the lack of regional coverage, considering home fans who do not get cable could still watch the games for free online" (THEHILL.com, 3/17). In Connecticut, Ray Hackett wrote, "Enough already with the requests from politicians seeking to force changes in TV scheduling for sports games. ... How about we let the broadcasters make decisions based on what's good for their business and we all stick to our own business" (NORWICHBULLETIN.com, 3/16).
NCAA MEN'S TOURNAMENT: FIRST ROUND GAMES ON THURSDAY
CBS TRUTV West Virginia-Clemson Butler-Old Dominion Kentucky-Princeton Pittsburgh-UNC Asheville BYU-Wofford Wisconsin-Belmont St. John's-Gonzaga Kansas State-Utah State TBS TNT Louisville-Morehead State Penn State-Temple Vanderbilt-Richmond San Diego State-Northern Colorado Florida-UC Santa Barbara UConn-Bucknell Michigan State-UCLA Cincinnati-Missouri
APP REVIEW: In N.Y., Bob Tedeschi reviews the "three free apps that every fan should consider for March Madness," which are March Madness on Demand 2011, ESPN Bracket Bound 2011 and NCAA Fan Zone -- March Madness for Android and Apple. As useful as MMOD "may be for surreptitious viewing, it is versatile enough that you will want to use it while watching games at home, especially on an iPad." MMOD "uses the full breadth of the iPad's screen to deliver information to nicely complement TV viewing." The app "also takes advantage of Turner's editorial staff to offer curated Twitter and Facebook feeds." Meanwhile, those who "tilt toward the casual side of fandom will get much of what they need from Fan Zone," but if fans "enter more than one tournament pool ... Bracket Bound is more your speed." Tedeschi writes Bracket Bound is "nicely designed," but Android users are "at a disadvantage when it comes to video." Both Android devices "played the video in stops and starts" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/17). Meanwhile, SI yesterday announced the launch of Front Row, a new series of free apps that will deliver scores and photos to the iPhone, Android Smartphones and a Front Row section available on Flipboard for the iPad. The app launched around the tournament and will provide access to all 67 games (Sports Illustrated).
More details are emerging about Fox' planned cable rights deal with the Big 12, which sources say is worth an average of around $90M over 13 years. At that rate, Fox would pay a 350% increase over its current fee of $20M per year. But as part of the deal terms being negotiated, Fox would end up with much more content. The deal would have FSN double the number of football games it is allowed to carry, from 20 to more than 40. Fox also is keeping all digital and mobile rights to those games, and it would retain cable exclusivity for all Big 12 contests. That means that ESPN will be able to show Big 12 games only if it buys them in syndication from Fox. It also gives Fox flexibility to carry games on its other cable channels. The current deal ends after the '11-12 academic year. Sources said the new deal should close in the next few weeks. Last summer, as Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe attempted to hold the conference together, Fox suggested that it would be willing to pay at least $60M annually as part of a new cable rights deal.
NFL Network is the first league-owned network to cover a work stoppage, and its "reporting about the owners' lockout of players is a way to shift assumptions that the channel will give knee-jerk priority to management position," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. NFL Network Senior VP/Programming & Production Mark Quenzel said that league and team officials “had never suggested that the network shade its lockout coverage their way.” Quenzel: “The only thing asked of us is to cover both sides straight and get our facts right. If people don’t look back and say that the NFL Network didn’t give us balanced coverage, it’ll be two labor agreements before we get over that. That would be bad business.” The NFLPA “has not advised players to boycott the network,” but it is "not pushing them to appear on it, either.” NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir for External Affairs George Atallah said, “My message is, regardless of the outlet, check with the association to get a sense for its previous coverage.” Cardinals K and player rep Jay Feely said, “I wouldn’t go on there now. It’s a league-owned network, so I would take that stand. But other players can go on if they choose.” Atallah’s “main criticism” with NFL Network's coverage of last Friday's decertification was that it left NFLPA outside counsel Jim Quinn “before his question-and-answer session began," yet showed NFL Exec VP & General Counsel Jeff Pash answering questions from media. But Sandomir notes the network did stay "long enough to carry Quinn’s tart contention that Pash had lied about the league’s offer to players that day during mediation.” Atallah said that he is “reserving further criticism until he analyzed the association’s review of a swath of recent media coverage, including the NFL Network’s.” But he said since he started work for the NFLPA two years ago, network officials have done “a very good job in their attempt to be objective” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/17).
MEDIA TRAINING: In Houston, Richard Justice wrote "every interview with an NFL player sounds like every other interview, and the NFL likes it that way" because players are "taught to fear or distrust the media, either directly or indirectly." During the labor dispute, NFL players "could use the media to explain their position.” But many “rank-and-file NFL players have had so little experience dealing with the media they don't have the relationships with reporters to contact them and explain their position.” Justice added, "If NFL teams expended as much time and energy on improving the football product as they do keeping players away from the media, things might be better” (CHRON.com, 3/16).
MLB Giants Senior VP & GM Brian Sabean said MLB Productions and Showtime's filming of the team for the upcoming documentary series has "been seamless." Sabean: "They had to shoot a lot of footage to get what they need for each relative program. But they've also spent a lot of time in different areas, as far as the organization, with fans, etc., to try to tie in what was done last year and the feeling or the expectation is this year." He added, "As we get into this thing you kind of wonder where it will go from episode to episode. ... But so far, you haven't even noticed them" (MERCURYNEWS.com, 3/15).
DISPUTED REPORT: The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin noted Toronto's The Fan 590-AM host Bob McCown last Friday reported that Penguins C Sidney Crosby's family is "counselling him to retire" due to the lingering effects of a concussion, a report CAA Hockey co-Head Pat Brisson, who reps Crosby, called "irresponsible." While McCown "declined to identify his source," he said that he "was comfortable with his story." McCown: "You weigh these things, the impact, what it's going to be. And I was comfortable with the legitimacy of it. I have no motivation to make this up. It's impossible to suggest they'd have absolute knowledge of every conversation going on in the family" (GLOBESPORTS.com, 3/16).
SPONSOR REASON FOR EXIT? In Atlanta, Rodney Ho reported WCNN-AM's Chadd Scott, who "does sports updates for the station's afternoon shows and produces the Chuck & Chernoff show," said that he was fired Tuesday "for negative Tweets about Delta Air lines, a major sponsor at the station." Scott "complained about a Delta delay Monday in St. Louis on his Twitter page and the fact they didn't have enough de-icing fluid." He was let go "within a few hours." In one tweet he referenced WCNN host Buck Belue's endorsement deal with Delta, posting, "hey @buckbelue8 ur boys at #delta have botched my travel – & thousands of others – miserably today. may want 2 rethink that endorsement." WCNN President & GM David Dickey confirmed that Scott "has been let go but declined to say why" (AJC.com, 3/15).
BEST OF THE BLOGS: About.com named ProFootballTalk.com's Rumor Mill its Best Football Blog of '11. The recognition was part of a "Readers Choice" contest in which four football sides were named award winners for '11 (NBC Universal).