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ESPN could “lose its two most popular female sports personalities,” according to Michael McCarthy of USA TODAY. ESPN President John Skipper confirmed yesterday at the net’s upfront that Michelle Beadle “is leaving.” Skipper said of Beadle, “Michelle did a great job. We love Michelle. We wish her well. We’re sorry she’s leaving. We worked hard to try to keep her but she has some different aspirations.” McCarthy noted sideline reporter Erin Andrews’ “contract is up too” and she is “in negotiations on a new deal.” If Andrews follows Beadle out the door, “that could provide some new opportunities for other ESPNers.” McCarthy: “Sideline reporter Jenn Brown could be the next Andrews. "SportsCenter" anchor Sage Steele also co-hosted Tuesday’s upfront with Mike Greenberg. Putting her in front of a "demanding crowd of Madison Avenue ad buyers shows her stock is rising” (USATODAY.com, 5/15). James Andrew Miller, author of the recent "Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World Of ESPN," wrote on Twitter, "Btw, the last ESPN day for @MichelleDBeadle is May 31st" (TWITTER.com, 5/15).
GOING FORWARD: Skipper said that as rightsholder for the BCS bowl telecasts, “ESPN has an ‘acute’ interest in acquiring rights to a college football playoff -- if and when it ever occurs.” Skipper: “We’re the incumbent. Our preference and intention would be to remain the broadcaster for the college football championship.” He added that ESPN also wants to renew its TV deal with MLB "over the next two years.” Skipper said, “Our single largest program partner right now is baseball” (USATODAY.com, 5/15). DAILY VARIETY's Stuart Levine wrote Skipper "wasn't shy about saying that he doesn't see the NBC Sports Network as much of a threat" (VARIETY.com, 5/15). Skipper said, "We've been doing this for 32 years, and there is a little too much respect paid to their brand name. They don't look like we look. We have more viewers in an average minute on ESPN mobile then they have on all of NBC Sports Network" (SI.com, 5/15).
MORE MOBILE OPTIONS: BLOOMBERG NEWS' Fixmer & Sherman cited sources as saying that ESPN is talking with Apple about “giving subscribers online access to programming through the computer maker’s Apple TV device.” ESPN Exec VP/Sales & Marketing Sean Bratches said that the net “would consider putting its WatchESPN application on Apple TV for users who confirm they are pay-TV customers.” Bratches: “To the extent that in the future there’s an opportunity with Apple to authenticate through the pay-TV food chain as we’re doing with Microsoft, that’s something that we will participate in” (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 5/15). Bratches added that the "growth in mobile is ‘extraordinary.’” He said, “At ESPN we’re very well positioned to take advantage of that. We currently have 70% market share in the mobile business, and we see that as one of our lead growth opportunities.” The WatchESPN app currently has a distribution of 40 million and “the net is seeking to double that next year.” Regarding which MSOs might be next to make a deal, Bratches said, “We have a number of affiliates that are extremely interested in the product, not only from a product standpoint but also in terms of what this can do to benefit the overall industry” (CABLEFAX DAILY, 5/16).
UPFRONT REAX: AD AGE’s Jeanine Poggi asked, “Was that an upfront or a NewFront?” ESPN’s “digital properties played such a big role that the event could have easily fit into the online players’ recent bid to capture TV dollars with pitches they dubbed the NewFront” (ADAGE.com, 5/15). Meanwhile, DEADSPIN.com’s Barry Petchesky wrote of ESPN extending its "30 For 30" documentary series, “There aren’t nearly enough sports docs being made, and if ESPN doesn’t have a robust docs department of their own, they’re lending their cash, their cachet and their platforms to some talented folks to make it happen. … That well-made documentary films can be profitable is good news for us all” (DEADSPIN.com, 5/15).
USA TODAY's Michael Hiestand writes NBC today will announce that Pat O'Brien will host Bravo's "coverage of Olympic tennis from Wimbledon.” He hosted NBC's late-night and cable coverage at the ‘00, ‘02 and ‘04 Games "after working two Olympics for CBS." O’Brien entered rehab in '05 and said that he has been “sober for more than three years.” O’Brien now "hosts a national Fox Sports radio show" in L.A. NBC's “Today” Producer Jim Bell will oversee the net's ‘12 Olympic coverage and worked with O'Brien on past NBC Olympic coverage. O’Brien said that his “tie with Bell" led to the latter's Bravo assignment. NBC will also announce today that Golf Channel announcer Kelly Tilghman “will host MSNBC’s Olympic coverage, which will carry action from about 20 sports” (USATODAY.com, 5/15).
THE DOC KNOWS: On Long Island, Neil Best wrote there is “nothing unique” about the Devils-Rangers NHL Eastern Conference Finals series for NBC's Doc Emrick, who has covered every previous playoff matchup between those teams. There has been “no detectable bias” in the way Emrick, who was the Devils' announcer for 21 years, calls the games. Fans in every sport are “notorious for perceiving bias in the voices of down-the-middle national announcers, but there is relatively little of that when it comes to Emrick” (NEWSDAY, 5/14).
NOTES: In N.Y., Phil Mushnick wrote SportsNet N.Y.'s Bob Ojeda, in his fourth season with the RSN, "is having his best year.” Ojeda is “more animated, opinionated and with a lean toward relevant story telling." Mushnick: "Why not? Off-air, he’s an engaging raconteur” (N.Y. POST, 5/13)….FS North yesterday named Anthony LaPanta play-by-play announcer for the net's Wild telecasts. LaPanta was previously the TV voice for the independent minor league baseball St. Paul Saints for 10 seasons, and served as the Twins' radio play-by-play announcer in ’99 (FS North)….WVSP-FM, the Yorktown, Va., ESPN Radio affiliate, announced Monday that Tony Mercurio's talk show will “air for the final time May 24.” The decision to end the 26-year run of the “always-opinionated, sometimes-controversial” sports radio host’s show “came at the hands of Max Media” (HAMPTONROADS.com, 5/15).