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NBC yesterday unveiled its Olympic coverage plans and "put the best face on losing the face" of the Sochi Games with the withdrawal of U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn, but there is "no getting around it: Her ski boots will be hard to fill," according to Brady & Whiteside of USA TODAY. Vonn's "quest for gold looked like ratings gold." Her recovery from a torn ACL, with "video of boyfriend Tiger Woods cheering her on, was avidly followed on the 'Today' show for weeks." NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel said, "Lindsey gives us great promotional value, and she's an amazing athlete and an amazing story." However, he added there are other "amazing athletes that are going to be in Sochi." 21 Marketing Founder & CEO Rob Prazmark said of Vonn, "She was clearly a poster child for U.S. athletes going to Sochi." He added that Vonn's absence "will hurt NBC's ratings only slightly." Prazmark: "They'll lose something, but it's not catastrophic" (USA TODAY, 1/8). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Matthew Futterman writes Vonn's withdrawal "provided yet another challenge for NBCUniversal to overcome to maintain its string of record-breaking telecasts of the Games." Vonn has been "a star of NBC's promotional campaigns" ahead of Sochi, and NBC now is "trying to figure out how to build a U.S. audience for its 1,500 hours of coverage without a marquee U.S. star ... and no American among the medal favorites in the men's or ladies' figure-skating competition." NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus said, "We'll change a little bit of our promotion and we will look for the next story." Meanwhile, a Procter & Gamble spokesperson, whose company has featured Vonn in its promotions leading up the Games, said that there are "no changes planned for its ad push" because of Vonn's decision (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/8).
LACKING IN STAR POWER: BLOOMBERG NEWS' Kyle Stock wrote the Winter Olympics are "already a tricky game" for TV execs, as the average U.S. viewer "doesn’t follow the luge circuit ... or even World Cup skiing." The '10 Vancouver Games "drew 190 million viewers -- far short of the 219 million garnered by" the '12 London Games. Name recognition is "key to drawing viewers to snow and ice," and if that "star power coincides with a story -- say, a gritty comeback from a gruesome injury -- all the better." Without Vonn, "expect TV producers to crank up the story lines of the few remaining high-profile winter stars." Snowboarder Shaun White likely will be featured "all the time," and skier Bode Miller, who is "known for being prickly with media, will have even more cameras in his wake." Stock: "Be prepared to hear a lot more about Ashley Wagner, the best chance for a U.S. medal in women’s figure skating" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 1/7). In DC, Barry Svrluga notes White is "arguably the public face of the U.S. team, but precious few others could make a case for that mantle now that Vonn ... has joined a list of marketable American winter athletes either injured, retired or not in top form." Beyond White is "a litany of athletes either currently struggling or lacking in candle power." Eighteen-year-old skier Mikaela Shiffrin is "in a similar position to Vonn" in '06 as "a young athlete full of potential, one already with enormous appeal to sponsors, but not yet a fully formed star" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/8). ESPN's Pablo Torre asked, "Who do we really know outside of Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White? Not much." Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said not having Vonn is a "problem for all the casual fans out there." ESPN's Tony Reali asked, "Wouldn't you think the Olympics create stars? Did you know Apolo Anton Ohno before the Games?" Cowlishaw: "It's nice to have a few going in" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/7). CBS' Doug Gottlieb: "I can't tell you another Winter Olympian that we have" ("Lead Off," CBS Sports Network 1/7).
WHO FILLS THE VOID? 3 Wire Sports' Alan Abrahamson noted Vonn is "as big as it can possibly get in the world of Olympic sports," but her absence will "give an opportunity for somebody else to step up" ("Nightly News," NBC, 1/7). In N.Y., Bill Pennington writes Vonn's departure "will turn the focus of American television coverage to other American racers, two of whom are gold medal favorites in their events." Skier Ted Ligety is "foremost in that group," as he won three events at the '13 world championships. Shiffrin also is "the reigning world champion" in the women's slalom. Vonn’s absence also will be "an opportunity" for skier Julia Mancuso, who won two Silver Medals in Vancouver and was "a surprise gold medalist in the giant slalom" at the '06 Turin Games (N.Y. TIMES, 1/8). The AP's Howard Fendrich looks at "five women to know in Sochi" following Vonn's departure, including Shiffrin, speedskater Heather Richardson, snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis, hockey player Julie Chu and South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-Na (AP, 1/7). The N.Y. TIMES lists some of "the next-best attractions" in Sochi after Vonn, including White, Ligety, Kim, Russian hockey player Alex Ovechkin and Canadian curler Brad Jacobs. But the Times writes, "Admit it: You were dying to watch that 17-day made-for-TV 'Lindsey & Tiger' special otherwise known as the Sochi Winter Olympics. Just think of NBC’s full-sepia treatment as Lindsey Vonn zoomed past the finish line and into the arms of her ear-muffed boyfriend, Tiger Woods" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/8).
FIGHTING OFF THE INJURY BUG: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Futterman reports with Vonn joining Evan Lysacek, the Gold Medal-winning figure skater from Vancouver, as being "out officially" for Sochi, Team USA "awaits word on whether Sarah Hendrickson, the defending world ski jump champion, and Seth Wescott, the defending gold medalist in snowboard cross, will be able to compete." Both suffered ACL tears last year and "have pursued aggressive rehabilitation programs to try to prepare for the Games" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/8).
NBCUniversal execs yesterday said that the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Games on Feb. 7 "will not be live-streamed," according to Brian Steinberg of VARIETY. NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus said, "We want to put context to it, with the full pageantry it deserves." Lazarus added that execs "believed an unvarnished live stream of the colorful ceremonies would not make sense without description." Steinberg noted NBCU had "raised eyebrows with its decision to transmit every competition" from the Sochi Games live via digital means. Keeping the Opening Ceremony solely on NBC is "likely to ensure a higher rating." Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and Bob Costas are "slated to host the event," along with New Yorker editor David Remnick, who "has been hired as a special correspondent of sorts for the NBCU Olympics broadcasts." Lazarus said that NBCU "has yet to make a decision" about whether or not to live-stream the Closing Ceremony. He said that the company is "'leaning' toward making that event available digitally" (VARIETY.com, 1/7).
READY FOR ANYTHING: USA TODAY's Kelly Whiteside notes controversial issues around the Sochi Games "haven't hurt interest or advertising." The "vocal, international engagement of the gay rights community has increased the spotlight, not stolen it." The issues, in fact, have "created a greater awareness of these Games." NBC execs said that they "wouldn't shy away from addressing issues such as last month's two suicide bombings" in Volgograd. Lazarus said, "It remains to be seen how it plays out. We don't know what's going to happen in Sochi. We will cover anything that takes place during the Games" (USA TODAY, 1/8).
POSITIVE NANCY: NBC yesterday named Silver Medal-winning figure skater Nancy Kerrigan as an analyst for its multi-platform coverage including NBC and NBCSN. Kerrigan also will appear on NBCU shows and properties including "Today," "Access Hollywood" and E! (NBC). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Marisa Guthrie noted Kerrigan "participated in an NBC documentary from veteran sports correspondent Mary Carillo, in which Kerrigan will speak for the first time" about the attack on her prior to the '94 Lillehammer Games "that captivated the country 20 years ago and arguably kick-started the reality television genre." The doc "does not yet have an air date," but it "will air in primetime during NBC's coverage" of the Sochi Games. Kerrigan said that she "agreed to cooperate with the documentary because she felt comfortable with Carillo and Carillo's longtime producer, Margaret Grossi" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/7).
PROVIDING CLARITY: Comcast Chief Technology Officer Tony Werner said that the company "will record portions" of the Sochi Games in the new Ultra HD (4K) format. Werner yesterday at a panel on Ultra HD content said, "We feel comfortable that we have the infrastructure to deliver 4K to the home, but we are more concerned with having enough content in the vault. ... We'll be showing what high frame rates and higher resolutions can do for sports to stimulate people's imagination and also, hopefully, the rest of the content ecosystem" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 1/7).
ESPN averaged a 9.4 rating and 16.6 million viewers for the five BCS bowl game telecasts this season, up 7% and 10%, respectively, from an 8.8 rating and 15.1 million viewers last year. The five-game average also was up 12% and 18%, respectively, from ’12. Monday night’s Florida State-Auburn Vizio National Championship game finished with a 14.4 rating and 25.6 million viewers, marking the third-largest audience in cable TV history, behind only the BCS title games from ’11 (Auburn-Oregon) and ’13 (Alabama-Notre Dame). This year’s audience is down 5% and 3%, respectively, from a 15.1 rating and 26.4 million viewers from Dame last year. Including audience figures from the BCS "Megacast" on ESPN2 and ESPNews, the BCS title game delivered a 14.8 rating and 26.1 million viewers (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).VIEWERSHIP TREND FOR FIVE BCS GAME TELECASTSYEARNETWORK(S)RATINGVIEWERS (000)'14ESPN9.416,589'13ESPN8.815,131'12ESPN8.414,018'11ESPN9.616,729'10Fox/ABC10.919,278'09Fox/ABC10.317,595'08Fox/ABC9.415,554'07Fox/ABC11.118,123BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP AUDIENCE TRENDYEARDAY
MATCHUPNETWORKRATINGVIEWERS (000)'14Mon. Florida State-AuburnESPN14.425,572'13Mon. Alabama-Notre DameESPN15.126,380'12Mon. Alabama-LSUESPN14.024,214'11Mon. Auburn-OregonESPN15.327,316'10Thurs. Alabama-TexasABC17.230,776'09Thurs. Florida-OklahomaFox15.826,767'08Mon. LSU-Ohio StateFox14.423,069'07Mon. Florida-Ohio StateFox17.428,795'06Wed. Texas-USC (Rose Bowl)ABC21.735,630'05Tues. USC-Oklahoma (Orange Bowl)ABC13.721,419'04Sun. LSU-Oklahoma (Sugar Bowl)ABC14.823,937'03Fri. Ohio State-Miami (Fiesta Bowl)ABC17.229,104'02Thurs. Miami-Nebraska (Rose Bowl)ABC13.821,559'01Wed. Oklahoma-Florida State (Orange Bowl)ABC17.827,240'00Tues. Florida State-Virginia Tech (Sugar Bowl)ABC17.526,962'99Mon. Tennessee-Florida State (Fiesta Bowl)ABC17.226,112
AN UNLIKELY STAR? ESPN's Michael Wilbon noted Alabama coach Nick Saban was "great" during his guest analyst appearances around the BCS title game and said, "A star is born." Wilbon acknowledged Saban likely "will never even get to a TV career because he doesn't need it," but asked, "How great is he to listen to? Wonderful to listen to." Wilbon: "Saban, who is so irritating sometimes as a coach, is so great as a broadcaster. He brings up things that no one could think of other than a great coach" ("PTI," ESPN, 1/7).HE'S STILL GOT IT: In California, Steve Fryer writes ESPN's Brent Musburger has had "a couple of awkward moments on BCS title game telecasts, like the excessive gushing" over Katherine Webb last year. But Musburger "did a smooth job Monday night, making a very difficult job look easy." The 74-year-old Musburger "sounds as good as he did 30 years ago" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 1/8).
ESPN has no concrete plans to roll out another "Megacast," but one of the execs responsible for putting it together for Monday's Vizio BCS National Championship game suggested that the plan to cover an event with multiple feeds on multiple channels will be used again. "This definitely felt like the first of many. Now that we know we can do it from a technical perspective, it's just going to come down to honing and refining and learning from some of the things we did Monday to make the offerings in the future even better," said ESPN VP/Programming & Acquisitions Ilan Ben-Hanan. "This is not an everyday thing that you roll out. When you have a really big event with a lot of intense interest, that's where something like this makes a lot of sense." Ben-Hanan, who oversees ESPN's college football programming, said he already has heard from other ESPN execs involved with other sports who said they want to roll out the "Megacast" around their programming. The "Megacast" plan was praised during and after the game, particularly the "Film Room" feed that featured current college coaches analyzing the game in real-time on ESPNews. "Some of the other executions were not meant to be as broad," he said. "We did some really fun stuff on ESPN3 like the Spider Cam telecast. ... That wasn't intended to be a huge driver, but it was a really cool thing. Maybe you watch one drive from that camera."
TIME NEEDED TO EVALUATE WHAT WORKED: ESPN execs plan to let some time pass before deciding which concepts worked and which ones need re-tooling. But Ben-Hanan said that the "Megacast" was produced exactly as it was intended. "Some of the fun of these executions was the idea that you were eavesdropping on what should have been natural and organic conversations," he said. "This wasn't a normal TV program, with a host setting things up and throwing things to an analyst. It wasn't designed that way." One potential tweak may deal with the number of on-air talent involved in each feed, Ben-Hanan suggested. "You could make an argument that sometimes in some of these instances, we had so many voices that if someone wanted to make a point, by the time they got a chance to get a word in edgewise, the next play had happened. College football, with its up-tempo offenses and where things are headed in the sport, only makes that aspect of it -- specific to this sport -- even tougher." Ben-Hanan said that he spent much of the game walking around ESPN's production compound "in a daze," trying to keep track of which truck was handling which specific feed. "Probably like any other innovation, once you've done it a few times, it probably gets easier," he said. "It was bigger than anything I've ever been a part of."
IMG College officials said the company's first football season as multimedia partners with West Virginia Univ.'s athletics program "surpassed expectations," according to Jared Hunt of the CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL. In addition to "meeting the challenge of building out a statewide radio affiliate network and an expanded slate of gameday programming in less than four weeks ... they were able to surpass financial goals." IMG College Regional VP/East Region Rex Hough projected that the company, based on numbers through mid-December, would "beat its sales goal" for the '13 football season by 22-25%. Hough: "At a startup property, that is off the charts." IMG College's contract with WVU "guarantees IMG will pay WVU" at least $86.5M through '25. The deal "had been idled for more than seven months" after one of IMG College's competitors, West Virginia Radio Corp., "lodged complaints" about the bidding process. This meant IMG officials "had to wait until July to begin the partnership." Hough said that IMG is "focused on bringing in more national companies" as WVU sponsors. The company "was already able to bring" UPS on board. IMG's contract with WVU also "calls for the university to invest" $2.5M in capital improvements at sports facilities that also can "be used for marketing opportunities." WVU is "in the process of negotiating exactly what those improvements will be, and announcements are expected in the coming months" (CHARLESTON DAILY MAIL, 1/7).
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Marvin Isgur yesterday granted the Rockets permission to "continue negotiating on behalf of Comcast SportsNet Houston and set Feb. 4 to hear arguments on the Astros’ motion to dismiss an involuntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition filed against the network," according to David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Isgur also "provided a clearly worded signal indicating that if the Astros-Rockets-Comcast partnership enters bankruptcy, he favors eliminating a controversial clause that requires all three partners to agree on significant decisions." Isgur said, “The brilliant idea of giving everybody veto power … probably not working out too well." Yesterday's hearing "featured a report by Rockets CEO Tad Brown on his efforts to attract possible investors and additional carriage partners for the network." Brown said that the Rockets have "had talks" with Fox Sports, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, AT&T, AEG and private equity companies, including KKR, Providence Equity Partners and Guggenheim Partners. Brown: “We have some significant momentum" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/8).