SBD/December 21, 2011/Media

Golf Channel's McCarley Discusses First Year Of "Morning Drive," Looks Ahead To '12

Golf Channel’s talk show “Morning Drive” is approaching the end its first year on the air, wrapping up a debut that has been well-received throughout the golf community. The show built an audience through the first quarter of the year and has held it since, peaking during majors weeks and other big moments or events, such as when Phil Mickelson started practicing with a belly putter one morning at the Deutsche Bank Championship. The network is also on track for its most-viewed year ever, fueled by viewership gains for events on the PGA Tour (+23%), LPGA tour (+30%), European PGA Tour (+23%) and the Champions Tour (most-watched year yet). Golf Channel President Mike McCarley took some time to discuss highlights from the first year of “Morning Drive” and a few of the network’s plans heading into ’12.

Q: Has “Morning Drive” achieved its editorial goals during year one of the show?
McCarley: For those in golf, the show became a "must stop" for any tour, including getting winners on for the "Champions Tuesday" segments. At the beginning of the year, I would tell you we were asking people to be on the show. The biggest compliment to the show, or the biggest mark of success, was that about half way through the year, everyone in golf was asking to be on the show. So it completely changed the conversation. ... If you look at the guest list, everyone has been on, and most several times. It sets the agenda of what’s important in the sport for the day or for the week or for a certain tournament. It really helps provide a longer forum on which people can tell stories and have conversations. And I think it’s been very well received. Every event I’ve gone to, the one question I’ve gotten more than any other is about "Morning Drive." People have really reacted positively.

Q: Viewership for the show was up 68% compared to programming in the same time slot last year. How can the show continue to grow the audience in ’12?
McCarley: One of the things we tried to focus on this year was deciding the right times to expand the show. If it’s a time when there’s some breaking news or around the four majors or some of the other big weeks in golf. When can we expand the show? When can we go to seven days a week? When can two to three live hours turn into three or four live hours? I think you’ll be seeing more and more of that in ’12.

McCarley says one of favorite moments was
Arnold Palmer's first appearance on set
Q: What are some of the most memorable moments or guest appearances from the first year of the show?
McCarley: There are definitely a few. A personal favorite of mine and some of the people on the show was when Arnold Palmer came in. Having him come in and be on set and walk around the halls and park in the space that’s always reserved for him was pretty special. Another fun moment was when (co-host Gary Williams) had his head-to-head competition with Tiger Woods (on EA Sports’ "Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12"). Also when Gary caddied for Rory McIlroy and earned the nickname "Pin High Gary" and when we broke the news that Phil Mickelson had started using a belly putter. When you’ve got the stars of the game who are willing participants in the content of the show and are really part of the family you’re trying to create, that’s when you know the show is really starting to work.

Q: Looking at Golf Channel on the whole, how are ’12 ad sales shaping up for the network?
McCarley: 2012 is pacing very well. We’re closing the books on what will be the most-watched year in Golf Channel history, and that has been fueled by many things. One of those things was the coming together of NBCUniversal and Comcast. Being able to promote all of our shows on the broader platform that NBCUniversal provides us has given a lift in almost every daypart. That also gets back to the addition of "Morning Drive," more and improved news and instructional shows. Also the most-watched first and fourth quarters in network history. We made a significant investment in fourth quarter programming, including going out and buying rights to events in Australia and Asia. We were pretty blown away from the response we got from our viewers about primetime golf, and we’re looking to do more and more of that in the future. There were no tricks, it was simply time zones and the curvature of the earth to get that primetime golf on and it worked really, really well.

Q: Outside of anything Tiger Woods-related, what’s the golf story you’ll be following in ’12?
McCarley: The continued emergence of the young stars, on both the men’s and women’s side. If you look at the first-time winners this year, I think you’ve got a great story to tell and very bright future for golf. I think if you have some of the established stars continuing to win and the younger stars who will challenge them, it sets up very nicely for golf for years to come.

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