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The opening games of the NHL regular season led to record ratings for both NBC and a slew of regional sports nets. NBC’s season-opening regional coverage on Saturday from 3:25-6:09pm ET, which featured Blackhawks-Kings and Penguins-Flyers, drew a 1.6 rating and 2.8 million viewers, marking the league’s most-viewed non-Winter Classic game in 14 years. That dates back to Fox' broadcast of Wayne Gretzky's final game in April ’99, which averaged 3.1 million viewers. Saturday's telecast peaked at 3.8 million viewers in the final minutes of Penguins-Flyers. Meanwhile, NBC’s Flyers-Sabres telecast on Sunday drew a 20.1 local rating in Buffalo, marking the best rating ever for a Sabres regular-season game in the market. That figure tops the previous high of a 13.0 rating for the same matchup on April 8, 2011.
MARKET WATCH: Comcast SportsNet Chicago earned a 5.4 local rating for the Blackhawks’ home opener against the Blues on Tuesday night, marking the net’s best rating ever for a Blackhawks regular-season game. That topped the previous high (4.4 rating), set on March 5, 2010, for a game against the Canucks. Meanwhile, MSG Network earned its best ratings in the N.Y. market for both the Rangers and Islanders in around 15 years. MSG earned a 2.9 local rating for Rangers-Bruins on Saturday, marking the net’s best Rangers rating since Rangers-Whalers on April 20, 1995. Saturday’s game also ranks as the fourth-best Rangers regular-season game since MSG began receiving ratings during the ’89-90 season. MSG+ earned a 1.0 local rating for Islanders-Devils on Saturday, marking the second-best Islanders regular-season game since the net began recording ratings for the team in the ’91-92 season. Only the Rangers-Islanders game on March 25, 2002, scored higher (2.0 rating). FS North also set a new high for the Wild. Saturday’s season opener against the Avalanche, marking the team debut of LW Zach Parise and D Ryan Suter, earned a 7.7 local rating in Minneapolis-St. Paul, beating the previous record of a 4.6 set for Wild-Jets on December 13, 2011. The Wild’s second game on Sunday against the Stars also now ranks second with a 5.4 local rating. The Blues, Capitals and Bruins also had record-setting local ratings announced earlier in the week.
CANADIAN BAKIN’: Sportsnet Ontario averaged 1.1 million viewers for regional coverage of Sabres-Maple Leafs on Monday night, marking the best audience ever for a regional telecast on any of Sportsnet’s channels. Sportsnet Pacific averaged 623,000 viewers for Oilers-Canucks on Sunday night, marking the RSN’s fifth-best Canucks telecast all-time. The CBC also announced record-setting ratings for “Hockey Night in Canada” earlier in the week.
Few cable companies have been "as vocal about the rising costs of sports programming as Time Warner Cable," but at the same time, the latest example of TWC's "split personality is its tentative agreement with the Dodgers" for a TV contract worth an estimated $7-8B, according to Joe Flint of the L.A. TIMES. Sources said that Fox Sports "wanted to keep the Dodgers but its offer topped out at around $6 billion." For TWC, the "accord comes less than two years after it outbid another Fox channel" with a 20-year, $3.6B deal for rights to the Lakers. The "bulk of those costs ultimately get passed on to consumers." While TWC has "taken some franchises away from Fox Sports in Los Angeles, in San Diego the strategy backfired." Fox held "onto the rights to the Padres despite a big bid" from TWC. Flint: "The end result: Fox raised the price of its sports channel there to cover the costs of its new deal, and Time Warner Cable refuses to carry the network." SportsCorp President Marc Ganis said, "They do seem to be talking out of both sides of their mouth. Time Warner Cable has at one moment railed against excessive rights fees being paid and in the next moment pays an exorbitant rights fee and demands a massive subscription fee" (LATIMES.com, 1/23). The INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY's Reinhardt Krause noted TWC could be "playing with fire" by partnering with the Dodgers amid "escalating monthly bills for pay-TV service." Nomura Equity Research analyst Michael Nathanson said, "Clearly, the L.A. sports market is experiencing significant price inflation and it is still (too early to tell) whether these levels of investments will prove to be justified many years down the road or if we have reached the top of the sports rights bubble." By bidding for "sports rights vs. pure content companies like ESPN, cable TV companies run the risk of pushing costs even higher." Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett said, "The incessant cost inflation in regional sports threatens to kill the goose that laid the golden pay-TV egg" (INVESTORS.com, 1/23).
News Int'l has reached a three-year deal to show EPL "highlights on mobile and internet versions" of its London Sun, London Times and Sunday Times newspapers, according to Mark Sweney of the GUARDIAN. A source said that the deal is "worth more than" US$31.6M. News Int'l titles now will be able to "present up to eight 30-second clips of key moments during live matches via mobile devices -- except for games played on Saturday at 3pm, which will be allowed to be shown from 5:15pm that day." Clips of "up to 60-seconds from each game will also be available from Monday mornings for a week after matchday via the papers' respective digital platforms." Meanwhile, EPL radio rights "are yet to be auctioned" (GUARDIAN, 1/23). REUTERS' Keith Weir notes the rights previously were "divided between" Yahoo for online and ESPN for mobile devices. Yahoo "sold clips on to a number of British newspapers who are now set to lose that access." BSkyB also said that it had agreed to "a new three-year deal" with the EPL to "show extended highlights of games not screened live." The agreement will allow Sky to "continue to show its Football First highlights programme on a Saturday night" (REUTERS, 1/24).