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Turner Sports and CNN are developing a significant TV venture involving digital sports media property Bleacher Report in which a series of Bleacher Report-branded segments will appear daily on CNN and Headline News. The three-to-four minute segments, covering sports news of the day, will begin a regular rotation on both channels on Tuesday. The overall Bleacher Report TV venture, however, will launch Saturday with a live one-hour Super Bowl special from New Orleans on CNN, hosted by Ernie Johnson and the newly-hired Rachel Nichols. The extension of the Bleacher Report brand to TV was something clearly contemplated by Turner execs last summer when acquiring the site for an estimated $175M. Since then, Bleacher Report's TeamStream mobile app has been frequently touted during Turner Sports' game broadcasts, and the site beginning next month will be the source of sports content for CNN.com, replacing SI. "The strategic integration of Bleacher Report with the leading brands in our portfolio will continue to drive growth and revenue opportunities for our audiences, advertisers and businesses," said Turner Sports COO & Exec VP Lenny Daniels. While Johnson and Nichols will host this weekend's Super Bowl special, the pair will not have a regular role with the daily Bleacher Report updates on CNN and Headline News. But the Bleacher Report-branded programming, combined with the Nichols hire, represents a notable overall push by CNN to increase its sports content as it undergoes a makeover led by new President Jeff Zucker.
Former UFC fighter Randy Couture has “signed into a multi-year deal with Spike TV, a property of Viacom, to appear in multiple projects for the cable channel, as well as other possible ventures within the media conglomerate's family of networks,” according to sources cited by Loretta Hunt of SI.com. Couture's “first role will be as a coach" in a Bellator MMA reality series, "which begins shooting in February and airs later this year.” Sources said that the deal with Spike TV and Viacom was “executed in late December, much to the disapproval" of UFC President Dana White. Couture since his retirement from the UFC in April '11 had “most recently served as an on-camera analyst for the UFC's live events on Fox.” However, Couture was “absent from the 'UFC on Fox 6' broadcast on Jan. 26, replaced by one-time teammate" and UFC fighter Chael Sonnen (SI.com, 1/29). YAHOO SPORTS’ Maggie Hendricks wrote Bellator is “smartly banking on Couture’s popularity as a fighter and an actor to help grow their promotion” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/29).
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER: Fox finished with a 2.4 rating and 4.2 million viewers for its sixth UFC telecast on Saturday night, down slightly from a 2.5 rating and 4.4 million viewers for “UFC on Fox 5” in December. The most recent telecast did deliver Fox a win in primetime among all key adult and male demos, with the 3.0 rating among males 18-34 actually up from a 2.8 for the Dec. 10 telecast. Saturday night’s telecast opened with a 1.9 rating for the first fight between Erik Koch and Ricardo Lamas. The Glover Teixeira-Rampage Jackson bout then earned a 2.5 rating before the telecast peaked at a 3.1 rating for the main event featuring Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson. Louisville led all markets with a 5.4 local rating, followed by Tulsa (4.7) and Columbus, Ohio (4.4) (Austin Karp, THE DAILY)."UFC ON FOX" AUDIENCE TO DATEDATE
HEADLINE FIGHTRATINGVIEWERS (000)11/12/11 Junior Dos Santos-Cain Velasquez*3.15,6751/28/12 Rashad Evans-Phil Davis2.64,6615/5/12 Nate Diaz-Jim Miller1.52,4188/4/12 Mauricio "Shogun" Rua-Brandon Vera1.42,43612/8/12 Benson Henderson-Nate Diaz2.54,3921/26/13 Demetrious Johnson-John Dodson2.44,219
NOTE: * = Telecast was only one hour. Subsequent telecasts were at least two hours.
Sports On Earth columnist Joe Posnanski is leaving the site, just five months after the joint venture between MLBAM and the USA Today Sports Media Group formally launched, to join NBC Sports. The former SI writer and K.C. Star columnist was a featured member of the digital sports media site and among its first major hires. The site has since expanded to include writers such as Will Leitch and Leigh Montville as it has focused on commentary and long-form storytelling. Posnanski told Big Lead Sports he is joining NBC to be a "digital voice" but the network has yet to confirm the move (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Joe Lucia wrote Posnanski is "likely the first salvo in the new digital relationship between NBC and Yahoo." But it is unclear how this move "is going to work out for the baseball-oriented Posnanski." He had been "appearing a decent bit on MLB Network since the creation of Sports On Earth, but that relationship may be history with his new role at NBC." Lucia: "I always thought the role Posnanski is leaving would have been him at his best. He's now joining his third employer over the past year, and while he's an extremely talented writer, I'm wondering what exactly the ideal role for him will be anymore." The move brings "more questions than answers" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 1/29).
GOING DIGITAL: ADWEEK's Emma Bazilian wrote the art of longform sportswriting has "found new life on the Web." This "renaissance includes relative newcomers like Bill Simmons’ Grantland, sports blog network SB Nation and Deadspin and established players like USA Today (a backer of Sports on Earth) and Sports Illustrated." "The Best American Sports Writing" book series editor Glenn Stout said, "A number of sports entities are seeing that the future of sports journalism lays in longform, as people become more accustomed to reading on phones and tablets." Stout is "increasingly pulling articles from digital-only outlets." He said of longform online sportswriting, "There might not be a whole lot of money in it yet. But you can not only find a place to show your work -- you can find an audience for it" (ADWEEK.com, 1/29).
Just days after Time Warner Cable agreed to a 25-year, nearly $8B deal with the Dodgers for a new RSN, the company is "jacking up rates for nearly all its other TV services," according to David Lazarus of the L.A. TIMES. It is "tempting to conclude that Time Warner is padding its pockets in light of its hugely expensive deal to create SportsNet LA." TWC "cut a similar deal" with the Lakers for TWC SportsNet, which costs other cable and satellite companies "about $4 a month." The added cost typically is "passed along to customers of those companies." Analysts expect that the added cost to cable and satellite viewers for the Dodgers channel will "be in the vicinity of $5 a month." But TWC is by "no means alone in reaching deeper in customers' pockets" (L.A. TIMES, 1/30). Cox Communications said the "trend" of pro sports teams creating their own RSNs is a "major problem." The company in a statement said, "At any point in time, less than 5 percent of our customers are watching the games appearing on regional sports networks. The trend of teams extracting themselves from an existing RSN and starting their own channels, and the requirement that distributors continue to pay fees that impact most customers, has become a major problem." Cox was not "commenting on any specific net" (CABLEFAX DAILY, 1/30).
WHY SO LONG? In L.A., Steve Dilbeck asked of TWC's 25-year deal with the Dodgers, "Why would either party want a deal so long?" There "seems genuine risk for both." The way things are "changing in the broadcast and cable industry, who knows how it will hold up 20 years from now or even 10 years?" In 15 years, it may "look like a bargain" for TWC, or "a gigantic rip off." The Dodgers "could be marveling at their tremendous foresight or wondering what they were thinking." Dilbeck: "Is there an opt-out at some point in the contract for either, or a point where terms can be renegotiated? No safety net? Just more that is unknown" (LATIMES.com, 1/29).
Ravens LB Ray Lewis during yesterday's NFL Media Day deflected questions about an SI report that he used deer antler extract to expedite his return from a triceps injury this season, but that did not sit well with columnist Kevin Blackistone. Noting Lewis reportedly has a deal to join ESPN after he retires following Super Bowl XLVII, Blackistone said, “There’s smoke coming out of my head right now. It's because this network has offered him a deal to come on here and be a ‘journalist,’ and here he is not answering questions standing at a podium. I don’t think that’s the kind of person that should be working for this network if in fact it’s involved in journalism” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 1/29). AWFUL ANNOUNCING's Joe Lucia wrote, "I'm not really sure what Blackistone wants from Lewis days before the Super Bowl, aside from maybe some sort of exclusive interview. But for him to start preaching about journalistic integrity in regards to someone who isn't even being hired to be a journalist is a stretch" (AWFULANNOUNCING.com, 1/29).
The Boston sports media, once considered "one of the country's best and most influential press corps, is stumbling toward irrelevance," according to Alan Siegel of BOSTON MAGAZINE. The national media "not only seems to break more big Boston sports stories than the local press, but also often features more sophisticated analysis, especially when it comes to using advanced statistics." The city is "clogged with stale reporters, crotchety columnists, and shameless blowhards." Although the Boston Globe's staff has "shrunk overall in recent years," Sports Editor Joe Sullivan has "increased the number of reporters on the marquee Patriots and Red Sox beats from two to three each." Sullivan said the extra staff is important "to serve the Web and print at the same time." As forward-thinking as that "sounds, the newspaper's core approach to sports coverage -- which still relies on boilerplate game recaps, columns, and weekly 'notebooks' offering bullet-point takes on the happenings from the various sports leagues -- hasn't changed much over the years." The paper's sports section today "remains synonymous with" columnists Bob Ryan and Dan Shaughnessy. "The Best American Sports Writing" series editor Glenn Stout said, "A place like the Globe hasn't had a turnover of voices in 20 or 30 years." Since columnist Michael Holley left the paper for "a radio gig at WEEI eight years ago, it's hard to think of a single distinctive voice the paper has developed and held on to." Meanwhile, the Globe has "continued to employ a number of longtime veterans," like Nick Cafardo, who seem to have "hung around forever."
THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME: It is a "similar story" at the Boston Herald where "old mainstays like Gerry Callahan and Steve Buckley continue to occupy top billing." WEEI has "stuck with many of the same hosts they've had since the '90s," like Callahan, John Dennis, Glenn Ordway and Mike Adams. It is "not that all old-timers are bad -- it's more that it's bad there are so many old-timers." It is "not as though the local sports press exists in a total time warp." TV, radio and the Internet "all have a big presence in the media landscape." It is just that "too many of our sportswriters ... have become adept at using these 21st-century tools to serve up what is little more than the same old slop." After Shaughnessy's more than 30 years at the Globe, everybody "knows the columnist's shtick: Be contrarian, be over the top, and, if at all possible, be part of the story." And "why should he change?" It continues "to work." But over time, the city's sports "punditocracy has expanded to include not just the truly wise, like Ryan, but any sportswriter willing to blow hot air." Comcast SportsNet New England and WBZ-FM co-host Mike Felger said, "If you're a halfway decent beat writer in this town, you'll get on Comcast, or NESN, or Sports Hub, or 'EEI." Siegel writes the "primary goal for reporters seems to no longer be merely producing great and interesting work." These days, they are "all trying to be loud and provocative so they can become fixtures on TV and radio." There is "good money, after all, in broadcast" (BOSTON MAGAZINE, 2/ '13 issue).
AD WEEK’s Anthony Crupi profiles ESPN President John Skipper and notes he “in no way dismisses the threat posed by yet another 24/7 cable sports outlet” as News Corp. has “a track record of disrupting the status quo (consider the Fox broadcast network and Fox News Channel).” But Skipper "doesn’t seem to believe that a successful run by Fox Sports 1 will automatically take food off his plate.” He said that he “anticipates an August launch” for Fox Sports 1. But Skipper “doesn’t seem overly concerned.” Skipper: "Can we be disrupted? Sure. But it’s not easy to be disrupted if you don’t allow somebody to flank you. ... We’ve been doing this for 33 years and so you literally can’t ask for a bigger head start” (ADWEEK, 1/28 issue).
BOOTH BITES: Tennis Channel announced James Blake will serve as a guest analyst during the net’s Davis Cup coverage of the U.S.-Brazil match on Friday. This marks the first time Blake will appear on TV in an analyst role, debuting alongside booth announcer Brett Haber (Tennis Channel). Blake said that although he is “giving broadcast a try,” retirement from playing is “still a ways off" (STAMFORD ADVOCATE, 1/30).
WELCOME BACK: ESPN Radio 101.1 St. Louis’ “The Fast Lane” co-host Chris Duncan returned to full-time duty on Monday after dealing with surgeries, treatments and physical and occupational therapy for a brain tumor, which was diagnosed last year. He had been absent from his role since Oct. 8 (THE DAILY).
REEKING OF AWESOMENESS: In Boston, Shanahan & Goldstein report Gold Medal-winning U.S. gymnast Aly Raisman “now has her own TV show -- ‘Flippin’ Awesome’ -- on the YouTube channel AwesomenessTV.” Raisman on the show “breaks down viral sports videos, and awards them medals of their own” (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/30).