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The NBA’s five games on Christmas Day saw a mixed bag in the overnight ratings. ESPN saw its best Christmas tripleheader average (2.3 overnight) for the second straight year, led by a 2.4 for Rockets-Spurs in the first primetime slot (8:00pm ET). Rockets-Spurs marks ESPN’s best overnight on record for a Christmas primetime game and helped deliver the net its best Christmas primetime doubleheader average ever. The game also was up 41% from Rockets-Bulls in the same time slot last season -- a game that lacked Bulls G Derrick Rose. This year’s Bulls-Nets game in the 12:00pm slot, which also lacked Rose and featured a struggling Nets team, earned a 2.3 overnight. That figure is down 15% from Celtics-Nets last year. Meanwhile, ABC earned a 3.7 overnight for the Thunder’s blowout of the Knicks in the 3:00pm window, down 37% from Knicks-Lakers last year, when Knicks F Carmelo Anthony and Lakers G Kobe Bryant both played. Bryant did not play in yesterday’s Heat-Lakers game in the 5:30pm window on ABC, with that game drawing a 4.9 overnight. That figure is down 18% from a 6.0 rating for Thunder-Heat in the same window in ’12, which marked the fourth-best NBA regular-season overnight on record (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).NBA CHRISTMAS DAY OVERNIGHT RATINGSWINDOW (ET)
'13 MATCHUPNETWORKOVERNIGHT12:00pm Bulls-NetsESPN2.33:00pm Thunder-KnicksABC3.75:30pm Heat-LakersABC4.98:00pm Rockets-SpursESPN2.410:30pm Clippers-WarriorsESPN2.3WINDOW (ET) '12 MATCHUPNETWORKOVERNIGHT12:00pm Celtics-NetsESPN2.73:00pm Knicks-LakersABC5.95:30pm Thunder-HeatABC6.08:00pm Rockets-BullsESPN1.710:30pm Nuggets-ClippersESPN2.0WINDOW (ET) '11 MATCHUPNETWORKOVERNIGHT12:00pm Knicks-CelticsTNT4.13:00pm Heat-MavericksABC5.65:30pm Bulls-LakersABC6.58:00pm Magic-ThunderESPN1.910:30pm Clippers-WarriorsESPN2.3WINDOW (ET) '10 MATCHUPNETWORKOVERNIGHT12:00pm Bulls-KnicksESPN2.73:00pm Celtics-MagicABC5.35:30pm Heat-LakersABC7.38:00pm Nuggets-ThunderESPN1.410:30pm Trail Blazers-WarriorsESPN1.3
YOU DROPPED THE BOMB ON ME: In Ft. Lauderdale, Ira Winderman noted the Heat "took their video bombing to the network level" yesterday when G Dwyane Wade was interviewed by ESPN's Heather Cox after the game agianst the Lakers. Cox "got a bit flustered" as F LeBron James interrupted the interview. She said, "I just don't even know how to keep a straight face there. Shall we continue to pretend like he's not doing that? I didn't even see him." Cox later said to Wade, "You're used to this. I'm not as used to this" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 12/25).
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING? In Toronto, Doug Smith writes there are a "lot of things the NBA does well but Christmas Day is not one of them," and fans can "chalk up the major shortcomings on the day to pure greed." There are not only "too many games ... but the whole 'event' smacks of something so hugely over-done it takes away from any special feeling it hoped to generate." Smith: "In my perfect world there are two games, a crossover of the previous year's conference finalists perhaps, and everything else stays the same." Meanwhile, he writes the T-shirt jerseys that all 10 teams wore yesterday "not only made the game look like it was some open run at some rec centre somewhere, the fact a handful of players complained about the impact they had on a shooting motion should give cause for the league to banish them forever" (THESTAR.com, 12/26). In California, Jeff Miller wrote despite the NBA having played games on Christmas since '47, the practice "still feels unnecessary, obtrusive and even a little sad." Miller: "Can't we have just one day that is free of sports? ... Christmas Day was meant to be about loved ones, taking time with the family, not taking the Clippers and the points" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 12/25).
TNT's NBA telecasts and the net's "Inside the NBA" studio show have "proven a sweet spot" for Turner, according to Sean Highkin of USA TODAY. TNT's NBA games have "averaged the highest viewership among cable NBA telecasts for 11 consecutive seasons." "Inside the NBA" during the playoffs "regularly draws higher ratings among key male demographics" than NBC's "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." The show's talent "has plenty of fun and everyone is careful to not tamper with the chemistry." None of the panelists outside of host Ernie Johnson "attend production meetings, a decision everyone acknowledges is vital to the organic dialogue of the show." Johnson said, "We don’t want them there because as long as the producer and I know what we’ve got, that’s all we need." Analyst Shaquille O'Neal said, "Our concept is, if we’re going to keep you up this late, we might as well entertain you. We can talk about basketball, but nobody’s going to stay up and see us just talk about who’s going to win or lose." Analyst Charles Barkley takes on the role of "the show's lightning rod." Johnson said of Barkley, "When Charles got here, he changed our show dramatically." He added of Barkley's impact on other networks, "Everybody felt like, ‘We have to bring someone in to be our Charles Barkley.’ But it doesn’t work that way. Charles had that equity built in, of all those years as a player being the most quotable guy in the league. He almost had that diplomatic immunity." Barkley: "The hardcore basketball fans are going to watch no matter what. But we want other people to watch our show" (USA TODAY, 12/24).
It has been “a banner year” for sports on Showtime, as a “newfound commitment to boxing” has seen the net’s ratings increase, according to Chris Mannix of SI.com. The net’s boxing telecasts have increased by 24% from last year and by 64% since ‘11. The rise has “positioned Showtime, perhaps for the first time, as a virtual co-leader, along with HBO, in the boxing broadcast industry.” Mannix conducted a Q&A with Showtime Sports Exec VP & GM Stephen Espinoza. Below are excerpts from the conversation.
Q: Taking Floyd [Mayweather Jr.] away from HBO was a major coup for Showtime. Looking back, how were you able to do it?
A: It was the result of a couple of things. One, the CBS platform was a big attraction for Floyd. Being able to be exposed not just on the CBS television network, but bringing in CBS Outdoor, CBS Interactive, CNET, TV Guide, TV.com and the whole range of assets, including the CBS Sports radio network, an outlet he didn't have access to. That was, from a business standpoint, the fundamental attraction.
Q: Are you outspending HBO?
A: The perception (that Showtime is spending more on boxing than HBO) is accurate. If you look at the number of events, the number of fights, the stature of the events that each network has done, I have to conclude that the budgets are very similar, or that ours is even larger.
Q: Why was investing so much in boxing the best course for Showtime Sports?
A: I've never been one to subscribe to the "boxing is dying" fallacy. I think boxing is stronger now than it has been in maybe the last 20 years. You have more networks televising more hours, both in English and Spanish, than we have seen in recent past. We have a depth of talent that exceeds what we have had in the last 20 years, particularly in the mid-range weights. Demographically, boxing still draws an attractive audience. It's one of the few sports that as a premium network we can participate as a leader in the sport.
Q: The viewership numbers are an obvious measure of success. But are there other metrics you look at internally?
A: The first criteria for measuring whether we are doing things right is looking at the quality of our fights. If we are not doing great fights, it doesn't matter what we are doing for ratings because what is the point of getting a bunch of people to tune in for something that wasn't entertaining. Once we have established great fights, then it is a combination of a couple of things. It's ratings. We don't look at absolute numbers since HBO has a significant advantage in the number of subscribers. We look at the trends. We look at viewership growth. We finished 2013 with the highest average viewership for championship boxing since Showtime started being Nielsen rated, in 2004. We are on the right trajectory, audience wise (SI.com, 12/23).
GROWTH CHART: In Las Vegas, Steve Carp wrote "whether it was HBO, Showtime, ESPN or the NBC Sports Network, Las Vegas provided numerous opportunities to highlight the sport’s reigning stars and introduce the next generation of greats to fans.” HBO VP/Sports Operations & PPV Mark Taffet said, “The good news is the sport is growing. Fans aren’t necessarily looking for something new; they’re looking for a time-tested tradition of a great style who gives the fans a great show.” Espinoza said, “This year, we caught onto something almost magical. When the fighters see the great matchups, they get motivated, and they want to get involved.” HBO -- which has distribution in 28 million U.S. homes -- and Showtime (22 million homes) “reported spikes in boxing viewership.” HBO “had the five highest rated non-PPV shows in 2013, all averaging 1.3 million viewers or better during peak viewership.” The increased viewing numbers also are “trending toward younger fans.” Perhaps many MMA fans also have “included boxing in their viewing habits because there were so many good, competitive fights, and, in the end, all they’re looking for is an action-packed scrap” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 12/24).
FS1 has been on the air "only since August, making its debut amid considerable hype that included chatter about taking on cable giant ESPN," but the ratings, "improving but still minuscule, confirm it will be a long slog," according to Bob Cohn of the PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW. "Fox Sports Live" co-host Jay Onrait said, "We see this as a long-term thing. It is a business, and we need the ratings to improve, no question about it. We're lucky to be with a company that allows this to happen." Cohn notes UFC programming, along with college football and basketball, "have been the early staples" for FS1. Onrait said, "I see us slowly but surely adding more properties." Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures co-Founder & CEO Chris Bevilacqua said, "The core of the network is going to be built around live sports." FS1 GM & COO David Nathanson "appreciates the value of live programming but also touts the network's original content." Foremost in that category is the studio show "Fox Sports Live," which is "big on graphics and discussion panels of mostly ex-jocks who try to be loud and edgy and certain of their predictions." Nathanson: "Our goal is to take what works and do it with our own Fox attitude and bent. One of the advantages of being a new network is you can pivot quickly." With distribution in around 90 million U.S. homes and an array of live sports, "those inside the network and some outsiders are proclaiming early success." Bevliacqua: "I must say it's been one of the better launches I've seen in a sports network in the last decade" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/26).
BUILDING A FOUNDATION: AD AGE's Jeanine Poggi examines several new networks that debuted during '13 and writes while FS1 "may not yet be a true challenger" to ESPN, it is "starting to build the foundation." The net is averaging "just 297,000 viewers in prime-time, a far cry" from ESPN's average audience during Q3 of more than 2 million. However, FS1's figure is an "improvement over last year, when Speed was averaging about 151,000 viewers." The net had its "biggest month in November, averaging 457,000 viewers in prime-time." Fox' broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII in February presents an "opportunity to heavily promote FS1 on broadcast air, through events and with additional coverage on the cable channel." Poggi: "Advertisers seem willing to give the network time to grow, and in the interim, are pleased with the high-quality inventory they are getting when FS1's ratings fall short" (ADAGE.com, 12/26).
WFAN-AM's Mike Francesa, since parting ways with longtime partner Chris Russo in August '08, has "largely has maintained the time slot's ratings dominance," according to Neil Best of NEWSDAY. The station's fall ratings "ranked first in afternoon drive time and second in the morning" in the N.Y. market. Francesa's afternoon broadcast finished first for "the fifth time in the past six quarters (not counting summers)." He said that he was "particularly happy with the numbers in light of the Yankees' absence in October and the Giants' early-season flameout." ESPN Radio N.Y.'s Michael Kay "finished seventh in the fall," which is "the highest ranking for a show in the station's history." Francesa said of Kay, "If that's the dent, good luck to him. Maybe I'll be able to find him in about another 50 years at this rate." WFAN's Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton "finished tied for second" during the 6:00-10:00am ET morning drive time, marking the duo's "highest rank in three years" (NEWSDAY, 12/24).