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TNT earned a 7.4 overnight Nielsen rating for last night's Heat-Bulls NBA Eastern Conference Finals Game One from 8:03-10:37pm ET, up 40% from a 5.3 overnight for the net's comparable Lakers-Suns Western Conference Finals Game One last year, which aired on a Monday night. Heat-Bulls Game One is also up 34.5% from the comparable Celtics-Magic Game One on ABC last year, which aired on a Sunday afternoon. Heat-Bulls earned a 24.3 local rating in Chicago and a 2.3 rating in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale. Cleveland-Akron ranked fourth among all metered markets with a 10.5 local rating. The rating for ABC's coverage of the Thunder-Grizzlies Western Conference Semifinals Game Seven yesterday was not available at presstime (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
OPRAH'S NOT THAT POWERFUL: In N.Y., Howard Beck reported rumors that Oprah Winfrey has "bumped the playoffs" from United Center are untrue. Winfrey "will occupy the arena the next two days to set up and tape a farewell show," with Heat-Bulls Game Two scheduled for Wednesday. The Eastern Conference Finals were scheduled to begin Wednesday, but because "both Eastern Conference semifinals series finished early ... Game 1 was moved up to Sunday." The "earliest Game 2 can be held is Wednesday, because Tuesday is reserved for the Western Conference finals." Television contracts do "dictate some of this," as ESPN and ABC are airing the Western finals this year and were "guaranteed the Tuesday slot." NBA Senior VP/Basketball Communications Tim Frank said Tuesday "was never on the table for the East." He added Winfrey's show "wasn't a factor" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/14).
Fox earned a 3.0 overnight Nielsen rating for MLB regional coverage on Saturday night, the network's first primetime baseball telecast this season. Fox' coverage, which featured Red Sox-Yankees in 71% of U.S. markets, is up slightly from the net's last primetime telecast last June. That window earned a 2.7 overnight rating for coverage featuring Yankees-Dodgers. Fox also earned a 1.1 overnight last May for a primetime MLB telecast which featured Yankees-Mets (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
THREE'S A CROWD IN THE BOOTH: Comedienne Sarah Silverman appeared in the broadcast booth with Fox' Joe Buck and Tim McCarver during Saturday's Red Sox-Yankees broadcast. Buck said Silverman was "representing all of the Red Sox fans that are out there." Silverman noted the Red Sox’ World Series win in ‘04 was "bittersweet." Silverman: "Being a Red Sox fan is about being a loser, and it was very identity crisis-sy to win. As Red Sox fans, they're Massholes. You can say that because it's with an 'M.' It's not as charming when you're winning and a Masshole." Silverman said coming back against the Yankees down 0-3 in the '04 ALCS was "incredible" but then as "winners, when we won it all, it was great and then you're just stuck going, 'Well what now? This doesn't feel like us?'" Silverman: "Personally and as a Red Sox fan we're better as underdogs." She later added, "I think steroids are wrong, but what about LSD for pitchers? That worked so well for Doc Ellis and I think that should be okay." Buck: "No, we do not condone that whatsoever" ("Red Sox-Yankees," Fox, 5/14). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin wonders "who will be fired" for putting Silverman in the booth. Dowbiggin: "Ostensibly booked to flog her new Fox series, the profane Silverman served up zingers to a fawning Joe Buck and a mortified Tim McCarver" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/16).
HITS & MISSES: In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes Silverman is "one of the funniest people on the planet," yet her appearance during the game was "akin to crickets chirping," mostly because Buck and McCarver "gave her absolutely nothing to work with." Buck "tried but, while being an excellent play-by-play announcer, he is not nearly as hip as he tries to come off." McCarver "seemed totally out of his comfort zone and barely uttered a word." Meanwhile, Fox was "all over the Jorge Posada story." Posada "pulled himself from the lineup Saturday after learning he was hitting ninth," and Fox' coverage included reports from Ken Rosenthal and an interview with Yankees GM Brian Cashman (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 5/16). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes Fox did a "good job reporting on the Jorge Posada drama." But the net "wrecked its Red Sox-Yankees telecast" by bringing in Silverman for an "endless, needless, awkward and excruciatingly painful episode" (N.Y. POST, 5/16). USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes other than a "lame semi-joke about pitchers using LSD, it was stultifying TV. And a reminder that those celeb cameos in live sports coverage should include cue cards" (USA TODAY, 5/16).
Labor uncertainty in the NFL and NBA is "hanging over this year's upfront presentations," according to Brian Lowry of DAILY VARIETY. ESPN and Turner "will host presentations to advertisers this week, touting their new fall lineups and seeking billions in advance commitments." What remains unknown, given the labor stalemate between NFL players and owners, is "whether TV's most formidable attraction will be around not just to attract eyeballs, but to assist in promoting and launching new series." In addition, the NBA "faces its own potential work stoppage following this year's playoffs." As a result, all networks this week will "toe a rather delicate line, with ESPN, CBS, NBC and Fox all allied with the NFL, and ESPN, TNT and ABC having a sizable interest in the NBA." To date, the networks and the NFL are "seeking to reassure buyers like a cop at a crime scene." Yet having "additional hours to fill, especially for struggling NBC if 'Sunday Night Football' is delayed, is an unappetizing prospect." Lowry noted network execs during the upfront presentations will "try to ignore the elephant in the room, most likely." Thanks to MLB, Fox is the "only network heading into the fall certain at least one of its major sports will suit up next season" (DAILY VARIETY, 5/14).
SPREADING THE FIELD: DAILY VARIETY's Wayne Friedman noted TV's "annual upfront advertising market, which is already poised to grab hefty increases for broadcasters and cable networks, may have a bigger wild card thrown into the mix: more NFL advertising dollars looking for a home." Roughly $2.5B is "spent annually on NFL TV spots on Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN in the third and fourth quarters," so if the "season gets cancelled or even significantly truncated due to the threatened lockout, the bigger question is what happens to intended NFL TV advertising dollars?" Some estimates suggest that $80M of the $2.5B is "spent in August -- where most preseason games run." That number increases to $440M in September, when the NFL regular season begins. Friedman noted "all this is compounded by an already strong TV marketplace -- which looks to peg TV marketers to double-digit price hikes during an upfront market that is estimated to give around $9 billion to the four broadcast nets for their primetime programming and a collective $9 billion for all cable nets for all dayparts." Still, media agency execs believe that the "likelihood is that many marketers will make deals on the assumption that the league will go ahead." But if the "lockout continues, then there are other issues." Initiative Exec VP & Dir of National Broadcast Kris Magel: "For Fox, CBS, ESPN and NBC, they'll have to decide when to give the money back." College football, late-season baseball and "some male-skewing cable networks may be viewed as replacement programming for the NFL." But one ad exec said, "You have to be realistic, not all money is going to get spent" (DAILY VARIETY, 5/14). In N.Y., Stuart Elliott notes the total take for cable channels during upfronts could be around $9-9.2B, a 10-15% increase "from their upfront season last year and close or equal to what the broadcast networks are expected to sell." If cable channels "achieved parity with their broadcast brethren, it would be a first for the television business" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/16).
AGE AIN'T NOTHING BUT A NUMBER: In N.Y., Carter & Vega reported several marketers during the upfronts will be "broadening their focus to those 55 and up, who were largely ignored in most of their media plans until recently." The median audience age for all broadcast networks "has moved upward since 2006." Carter & Vega: "NBC has moved to 50.1, from 48.5; ABC increased to 52.3, from 47.4. Fox, always the youngest network, aged to 45.4, from 41.5. CBS began at 53 and is now at a median age of 56" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/14).
ESPN hockey analyst Matthew Barnaby pleaded not guilty Saturday in Amherst Town Court in New York to "five charges, including one felony, following a domestic incident Friday evening involving his estranged wife and her friend," according to Gene Warner of the BUFFALO NEWS. Amherst Police Capt. Stephen McGonagle said that there were "no injuries -- and no physical contact." But there "was property damage." Police said that when Barnaby arrived at his former residence, he "attempted to enter and kicked the door, leaving an estimated $300 in damages." Barnaby "faces charges of felony criminal mischief, criminal contempt, criminal trespass, harassment and aggravated harassment." Barnaby on Saturday issued a statement that read in part, "The past few months have been difficult on our entire family, as my wife and I decided to separate and divorce. Last evening, there was an unfortunate disagreement between us regarding a family matter" (BUFFALO NEWS, 5/15).
BEHAVIORAL ISSUES: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand reports Barnaby was "scheduled to appear on-air today but won't." ESPN VP/PR Josh Krulewitz yesterday said, "We continue to look into the situation." Hiestand wonders, "Is ESPN running amok?" Episodes in which ESPN announcers "did something that publicly cost them paychecks, or their jobs, seem disparate." NBA analyst Jalen Rose recently was cited and suspended for suspicion of DUI, while former NFL analyst Sean Salisbury was suspended in '06 after he admitted that he had "publicly shown cellphone photos of his private parts." Other incidents at ESPN "involved people without ties to pro sports." Dana Jacobson was suspended in '08 for "inappropriate language" during a roast, and college football announcer Ron Franklin was "fired this year after unacceptable (off-air) workplace language." Hiestand writes, "It's hard to spot any obvious patterns in this group, whose members might never have even worked with one another." But ESPN announcers "should know that the flip side of being paid to be a public face" is that "your personal problems will be public property" (USA TODAY, 5/16).
A year after Fox Sports Media Group Chair & CEO David Hill "cited the decline of the young male TV viewing audience as NASCAR's biggest problem, that group is starting to return to the sport," according to Dustin Long of the Norfolk VIRGINIAN-PILOT. Heading into yesterday's Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400, Fox' ratings were "up 19 percent among males 18-34 from this point last year, helping the network's overall ratings increase 2 percent in the same period." Fox Sports Exec VP/Research & Programming Bill Wanger: "To us, it's a very important step and a great sign for the sport that those young guys are starting to come back in a much greater degree than some of the other demographics." However, Long reported as much as the 18-34 male audience has increased, its number "remains lower than in 2009, showing that NASCAR has more work to do." Viewership among males 18-34 "averages 641,300, down about 100,000" from '09. The 18-34 audience is "one of three key groups NASCAR targets." NASCAR CMO Steve Phelps said that the others are "those younger than 18 and a multicultural audience." NASCAR "has tried to reach those groups with an updated fantasy game that debuted this season and a video game that was released in March." Phelps said that "other programs will be introduced over time." He said, "We need to make sure that we continue to be relevant to this group. We need to make sure we are doing a better job in digital and social media, which we've done, but we need to work even harder at it. We will need to make sure we are using technology both at track and off the track to create a great experience for this young male demo" (Norfolk VIRGINIAN-PILOT, 5/15). Yesterday's race earned a 3.8 overnight Nielsen rating on Fox (THE DAILY).
RUNNING SIDE BY SIDE: The VIRGINIAN-PILOT's Long noted the "biggest thing" to come from yesterday's FedEx 400 telecast was Fox' "experiment in showing the race and commercials together late in the event." The split-screen coverage came during the "last commercial break before the checkered flag." Fox had "never done that before during a NASCAR race broadcast," but the net found "three sponsors in Sprint, Fed Ex and Pizza Hut willing to share part of the TV screen with the race." A Fox spokesperson said, "The idea re-surfaced earlier this week and after some discussions it was decided we would experiment with it if we could get enough advertisers to go along with it." Sprint Dir of Sports Marketing Tim Considine added, "We like the concept. If it's something that enhances the experience for fans, it's something we certainly want to support." Long noted NASCAR fans "have been wondering for years why they couldn't see the race and commercials together." TNT had been the only network to do that for NASCAR races, and they only do it for the July race at Daytona Int'l Speedway. A Speed spokesperson said that he was "unaware of any plans for Speed to show a split-screen of commercials and racing action" during this weekend's Sprint All-Star race (HAMPTONROADS.com, 5/15).
Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard beginning Sept. 12 will host a new 30-minute show on ESPN2 called "Dan Le Batard is Highly Questionable," according to Barry Jackson of the MIAMI HERALD. ESPN VP/Content Integration & Strategic Planning Marcia Keegan called the show, which will air from 4:00-4:30pm ET on weekdays, "an opinion show with humor." Le Batard has "impressed ESPN executives as the primary fill-in for Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon on PTI." He also has "written for ESPN The Magazine and appeared as a guest or panelist on various ESPN platforms." Keegan: "He's always our go-to (fill-in) host and we felt he deserved a wider audience." Jackson noted Le Batard "will continue hosting his radio show" on WAXY-AM in South Florida, but will "cut back from four hours to three." The TV show will be taped "a short time before airing, which will allow him to do his radio show when the TV show airs" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/13).