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TNT earned a 7.7 overnight Nielsen ratings for last night's Bulls-Heat Eastern Conference Finals Game Three from 8:33-11:10pm ET, which is likely to end up as the most-viewed NBA game ever on cable when fast-national data is released later this afternoon. Game One of the series set the current viewership mark last Sunday with 11.1 million viewers. Game Three is also up 26% from the comparable Lakers-Suns Western Conference Finals Game Three on TNT last year. The telecast earned a 22.5 local rating in Chicago and a 24.9 rating in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale. Meanwhile, ESPN earned a 4.5 overnight for Mavericks-Thunder Game Three on Saturday from 9:00-11:45pm, up 2% from a 4.4 overnight for the comparable Celtics-Magic Game Three last year (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). Last night's game was the first in the series since Wednesday, and ESPN's Len Elmore said, "Strategic programming, that's what we're talking about. Remember the NBA did the highest ratings ever. They know what they're doing right now. But having that much time in between creates a situation as far as momentum is concerned" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 5/22).
HAVES AND THE MAV NOTS: In Dallas, Barry Horn noted of the four markets with teams in the Conference Finals, Dallas-Ft. Worth is "dead last through two games when it comes to watching the home team." ESPN averaged an 18.3 local rating for last Thursday's Thunder-Mavericks Game Two, which was "one full ratings point less" than Game One, and also "attracted 25,946 fewer homes." Horn: "So much for the notion that the opening-game win ... would be a momentum-builder." By comparison, Horn noted last year's Rangers-Yankees ALCS averaged an 18.8 local rating on TBS through two games, and the "lowest rating for a Cowboys game of the 2010 season was a 23.8 for an Oct. 31 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars that dropped Dallas to 1-6" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/21).
BROADCAST ROUNDUP: USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand notes ESPN's Doris Burke was "trending on Twitter and piling up page views for the video of one of her sideline pregame reports" before Saturday's Mavericks-Thunder Game Three. Burke in the video "starts speaking, stops and starts again -- seeming to mouth an expletive -- as if she's doing a routine taping." Burke said, "At the last minute, they decided to tape it. And like it happens in TV when you're taping, I kept stopping." She said the wrong report aired, noting, "It was as simple as someone hitting the wrong button." ESPN VP/Communications Mike Soltys: "We just played the wrong tape" (USA TODAY, 5/23). Meanwhile, the DALLAS MORNING NEWS' Horn wrote ESPN's announcing team of Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson "has been stellar." They "genuflected at the altar of Dirk Nowitzki in Game 1 and went nuts over Kevin Durant's monster throwdown dunk late in the first quarter of Game 2." However, where ESPN "can't match TNT is in the studio." Horn: "Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley deliver the best studio show in all of sports, smart and never contrived. Ernie Johnson is the perfect host and isn't afraid to tweak his partners" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/21).
UNITED AGAINST LEBRON: In DC, Mike Wise wrote under the header, "LeBron James Makes The NBA Playoffs Must-See TV." Wise: "The moment Team LeBron partnered with Jim Gray and ESPN last summer to televise the career choice of the greatest free agent this side of Prince William, the NBA didn't merely have its first uber team since Michael Jordan's Incredi-Bulls; it had a built-in, ready-made villain: LeBron James." The Heat is the team "you can't wait to see get beat," something that "hasn't happened in sports since Barry Bonds was chasing Hank Aaron's career home run record" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/21).
NBC saw year-over-year ratings declines for both of their NHL Stanley Cup Playoff telecasts this past weekend. Sunday's Canucks-Sharks Western Conference Finals Game Four earned a 1.3 overnight Nielsen rating from 3:00-6:00pm ET, down 35% from the comparable Blackhawks-Sharks Game Four last year. The net also earned a 1.5 overnight for Bruins-Lightning Game Four on Saturday afternoon, down 6% from a 1.6 overnight for Flyers-Canadiens Game Four last year (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
HOCKEY VOICES: In California, Brian Hiro wrote Jeremy Roenick has "translated his knowledge of and passion for hockey into a job as an analyst for NBC and Versus." Roenick said, "It helps me in my retirement staying near hockey, staying in the public eye, getting my opinions out. That makes it a lot easier to be retired, and I enjoy the game so much. I'm probably one of the biggest fans of hockey out there, and hopefully people can see that come across on television." Hiro wrote Roenick was "one of the most charismatic and outspoken players of his generation." However, Roenick said, "I work for a very conservative, reputable station. NBC and Versus take things very seriously, and you have to represent them well." He did add though, "There's no question they're going to have their hands full when it comes to me because I am more animated and more outspoken, and I don't mind throwing daggers once in a while because daggers were thrown at me" (NORTH COUNTY TIMES, 5/22). Meanwhile, in St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes, "Isn't it practically impossible to take ESPN hockey analyst Barry Melrose seriously knowing what a mess he was as coach of the Lightning?" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 5/23).
NBC earned a 6.0 overnight Nielsen rating for the race segment of Saturday's Preakness Stakes from 6:00-6:45pm ET, marking the lowest overnight for the race since '00. Shackleford's half-length victory over Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom is also down 6% from a 6.4 overnight for Lookin At Lucky's win at Pimlico Race Course last year. For the entire broadcast on NBC from 5:00-6:45pm, the net earned a 4.6 overnight, flat compared to last year (Austin Karp, THE DAILY). In St. Petersburg, Tom Jones writes NBC's coverage of the Preakness shows the network "has this horse racing thing down pat." Hosted by Bob Costas, the "show is fast-paced, whirling from analyst to analyst and feature to feature and news story to news story." The two hours before the race "fly by, and the coverage is so good that it's almost disappointing that it has to end when the race arrives." Jones: "All in all, it was an outstanding two hours of coverage" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 5/23). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes Costas' pre-race interview with Animal Kingdom's manager and part-Owner Barry Irwin "would make a strong case study for pure professionalism and its rewards." Irwin, after Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby, "essentially accused the thoroughbred industry of being loaded with liars and assorted bad guys." Saturday, "without apologizing, Costas asked good, tough questions, and Irwin returned them with good, firm answers" (N.Y. POST, 5/23).
NBC Sports Group Chair Dick Ebersol resigned Thursday after contract talks collapsed, and Comcast was "unwilling or unprepared to accept his penchant for behaving like a corporate king with the sort of freewheeling portfolio he had under GE," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. Ebersol was "admired, followed and sometimes feared within NBC," but Comcast "had no such loyalty to him." A source said that Ebersol over the last few months "could be dismissive, difficult, meddlesome and patronizing." Sandomir wrote Ebersol "overbid dramatically" for the rights to the '10 and '12 Olympics, and he now "will not get a chance to redeem himself." Instead of Ebersol "playing the Olympic maestro in presenting NBC's plan to the IOC next month, it will be his protege," NBC Olympics President and NBC Sports Exec VP/Strategic Partnerships Gary Zenkel, "who disdains the public profile that Ebersol embraced" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/21). In Chicago, Philip Hersh noted if NBC "did not get the rights to future Olympics, Ebersol would not be as valuable to Comcast, especially at a salary price" that was substantial. Ebersol said, "I had a whole new job with suddenly thousands of new employees working for me. Money is not a problem going forward in my life but I sure wanted a certain amount." Ebersol said that he "thought he and Comcast had been close to a deal three weeks ago but 'suddenly it just started getting more complicated'" (CHICAGOTRIBUNE.com, 5/20).
EBERSOL'S LEGACY: In Denver, Dusty Saunders writes Ebersol's resignation "signaled the end of a broadcasting era." He "created a television power base before cable TV and electronic conglomerates began running the sports programming franchises that now dominate our TV and computer screens." Saunders adds, "Don't look for Comcast to produce its version of Dick Ebersol" (DENVER POST, 5/23). In Dallas, Barry Horn wrote Ebersol was a "mover and shaker in the TV sports business, but his greatest legacy may be as an entertainment executive for leading the NBC team that came up with the idea for Saturday Night Live." Ebersol's "sports legacy is NBC's dominance of Olympic coverage during his tenure" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/21). SI's Peter King, who works on NBC's "SNF," wrote of Ebersol, "He was a very good boss. A unique boss. ... You'd think the most powerful man in sports television would flex his muscles around the employees sometimes, and I'm sure he did. But Heavy-Handed Ebersol's not the one I ever saw. He was more like a peer than the average boss." King added, "I think what made him good -- and what will make him good again -- is his curiosity. Everything interested him" (SI.com, 5/23).
A WORTHY HEIR TO ARLEDGE: N.Y. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica said Ebersol is the "only real heir to the great Roone Arledge in the history of network sports." Lupica: "If Arledge really invented the Olympics on television, Ebersol brought Roone's template for covering them, including too much on tape-delay. ... So many television executives think they're stars, maybe because of the coverage they get. Dick Ebersol has actually been one" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 5/22). NBC's Bob Costas closed Saturday's Preakness broadcast by paying tribute to Ebersol, saying, "In the history of network TV sports, only his mentor, Roone Arledge, could match Eberol's impact and legacy." Costas: "For those of us who were there through all or most of his tenure, the loss is as much personal as it is professional. Through all the successes and the occasional missteps, through all the shared adventures and the inevitable disagreements, Ebersol -- charismatic, compassionate and at times, confounding -- was a real presence, not just in our careers, but in our lives." NBC's Tom Hammond: "He taught me so much about modern sports television. A friend as well as a boss, and I guess we'll carry on in a way that he will appreciate from here on" ("The Preakness Stakes," NBC, 5/21).
NOT ALL POSITIVE: In N.Y., Phil Mushnick wrote with Ebersol serving the "TV emperor of the Olympics," the Games "no longer existed as a sports and news event, but solely as a primetime, cut-and-past flag-waving melodrama aimed at the easy." The Olympics under Ebersol meant NBC "owning exclusive, first-run rights to events that were 6-12 hours old," and the thrill "was long gone." Mushnick: "That viewers in Ebersol's hands so often never knew that the Olympics, tennis, golf and other events were being shown on tape became a steady feature of NBC Sports." Ebersol also was "responsible" for the XFL, the "biggest embarrassment in sports and primetime TV history" (N.Y. POST, 5/22).
SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON GOLF: GOLF WORLD's Ron Sirak writes Ebersol's resignation "could have a ripple effect in golf." NBC is "about to embark on negotiations with the PGA Tour for a TV contract to replace the one that expires after next season." It also has "rights to USGA championships ... and the Ryder Cup, which is run by the PGA of America," and "both of those contracts expire after 2014." Sirak writes the question is "whether Comcast will continue to spend for the top-tier golf events, especially if ESPN or another network gets into the mix and drives up the price" (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 5/23 issue).
One excerpt from the book, "Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN," tells the story of when Dick Ebersol interviewed to be the second president of ESPN. Ebersol interviewed with Stuart Evey, who was the Getty Oil exec who provided much of the funding for ESPN in the early days (THE DAILY).
Ebersol: Stu invited me to a meeting in late June of 1979, and we met late in the afternoon. I was well-read enough as a kid to understand that these people were right of the Reichstag. This was no great middle-of-the-road American institution, this was Getty Oil. I found it so odd that they were really going to fund this wacky idea where you get a satellite and people everywhere could watch Connecticut sports. ... Anyway, Evey seemed intrigued by me but I didn't hear anything for four or five days, so I called him up late one afternoon and said we should have another conversation. We met at a restaurant on Ventura Boulevard in the Valley that was a favorite of his. Except for maybe some college escapade, there was more alcohol poured that night than any other night of my life. I'm not a drinker, but he just kept pouring and pouring. It's one of only two times in my life I went in the bathroom and put my fingers down my throat to throw up so I could go back and take more of this while this guy went on. I was very much intrigued by the job.
Evey: The major player who had the most to do with our broadcasting end of the business was Ed Hookstratten. Ed had a reputation of being the most powerful man, agent-wise, in the business.
Ebersol: This guy Stu was talking to said I was absolutely wrong, too young and too opinionated for the job. I put A and B together and figured out who was saying these things -- Hookstratten -- but I couldn't get him on the phone. He didn't know me. So I called Dick Martin from Rowan & Martin, who was a personal friend, and told him, "I think there's a great opportunity for me which would allow me to go home to Connecticut. Can you help me with Hookstratten?" He called Hookstratten and said I love this kid, been around him for the last three or four years, he's terrific, blah, blah, blah. So I went and saw Hook, and he, of course, said, "No, I'm not saying anything about you at all." He wouldn't own up to it. A day or two passed and I called Bill Rasmussen and I said, "I just don't see how this can go anywhere, it's clear to me that Evey has bought whatever Hook has told him." So I'm exiting stage right from this whole thing. I'm going to guess this might have been the third or fourth week of June.
Evey: At that time, Dick Ebersol and his wife -- I forget what her name is, but she was an actress -- had recently been married on the beach in bare feet and swimming trunks and they were part of the wild culture at that time. I don't know quite how to explain it, but I could not see him with that kind of publicity working with and for Getty Oil Company.
BOOK GOOD, BUT TOO LONG: NEWSDAY's Neil Best wrote the book, written by Jim Miller and Tom Shales, delivers "with some caveats." It is "too long, by a couple of hundred pages." Best: "While juicy excerpts circulating on the Internet have focused on on-air personalities, at its core this is a business book, one focused on the birth and growth of a sports media monolith as told by the executives who made it happen." The "endless parade of dueling egos is enlightening, engrossing and a little depressing," but some of the "hard-core business-oriented stories are not for everyone" (NEWSDAY, 5/22). In Toronto, Raju Mudhar writes "Those Guys Have All The Fun" is a "media business book addressing the rise of cable television." If there is "one take-away, it's that the 'E' in their network's title could easily stand for 'ego,' both on-air and behind the scenes." The first part of the book "kind of dragged," but it "gets going as the network begins to grow." ESPN.com is "given pretty short shrift," and the book's interview format "doesn't lend itself to paint a clear picture of the many executives and behind-the-scenes staff." Mudhar: "Overall, the book has its tedious moments, but alternately fascinating ones, too, and the authors have a good ear for telling short, amusing anecdotes" (TORONTO STAR, 5/23).
Tennis Channel has partnered with S.F.-based technology firm SnappyTV to conduct an experiment on viewer sharing of video clips from the channel's coverage of the French Open. Viewers watching the tournament can share up to a minute of footage they just saw live with anyone else by going to SnappyTV.com, with clips then sent to personal blogs, user-chosen websites, Twitter or Facebook. The deal is the first high-profile pact within sports for the startup outfit after an initial entry into entertainment programming, including several Fox series, and a prior test with FS North. "The big opportunity we're targeting is the social conversation through video," said SnappyTV CEO Mike Folgner, a former exec with Yahoo and Jumpcut.com. "Our platform is basically you see something great on TV and then you share it right away. So to that end, sports really showcases the core functionality of the service and is a very big target for us." Though the company is based upon an advertising-based model, the French Open effort does not include ads and will be free to users. "We see this as more of a usage experiment," said Tennis Channel Senior VP/Marketing Robyn Miller. "But we're trying to give as complete an experience as possible and are excited about the possibilities here. This will definitely be a key tool in helping drive awareness and tune-in of the Open." Similar video-sharing technologies to SnappyTV have previously run into legal battles with networks. But SnappyTV is seeking to work more deliberately through official licensing partnerships with content owners.