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Fox’ Seahawks-49ers and CBS’ Broncos-Patriots combined to draw 53.7 million viewers on Sunday, which is tied with ’11 as the most-watched Conference Championship Sunday in more than 30 years, as heavily hyped matchups and a close NFC title game delivered for both networks. Fox earned a 28.5 fast-national rating and 55.9 million viewers for the Seahawks’ defeat of the 49ers in the NFC Championship on Sunday night. The rating is the best for a non-OT NFC title game since Packers-Panthers drew a 30.1 rating in ’97, while the viewership is the best for a non-OT NFC title game since 49ers-Cowboys drew 56.8 million viewers in ’95. The 55.9 million viewers also is the fifth-best audience for any Conference Championship game on record. CBS finished with a 28.1 rating and 51.3 million viewers for the Broncos-Patriots AFC Championship. Those figures mark the second-best AFC title game rating in 17 years (dating back to a 28.5 for Patriots-Jaguars in ’97) and second-best AFC title game viewership in 32 years (dating back to 51.6 million viewers for Bengals-Chargers in ’82) (THE DAILY).NFC CHAMPIONSHIP AUDIENCE TREND ON FOXYEARRATINGVIEWERS (000)MATCHUP'1428.555,900Seahawks-49ers'1324.242,00049ers-Falcons'1230.657,635Giants-49ers'1128.151,884Packers-Bears'1030.657,933Saints-Vikings'0921.938,387Eagles-Cardinals'0829.053,937Giants-Packers'0725.143,247Bears-Saints'0620.835,233Seahawks-Panthers'0525.842,937Eagles-FalconsAFC CHAMPIONSHIP AUDIENCE TREND ON CBSYEARRATINGVIEWERS (000)MATCHUP'1428.151,300Broncos-Patriots'1325.547,700Ravens-Patriots'1227.448,676Patriots-Ravens'1128.354,850Jets-Steelers'1026.346,917Colts-Jets'0922.040,645Steelers-Ravens'0825.744,840Patriots-Chargers'0726.446,695Colts-Patriots'0623.639,001Steelers-Broncos'0525.844,334Patriots-Steelers
CULTURAL EXPORT: Seahawks-49ers also averaged 2.7 million viewers on CTV, marking the highest audience ever for a non-Super Bowl NFL Playoff game in Canada. The telecast was the most-watched program in Canada for the weekend. The game was up 45% compared to 49ers-Falcons last year on CTV. Broncos-Patriots averaged 2.2 million viewers on CTV, up 12% from Ravens-Patriots in ’13. For conference championship Sunday, CTV saw its doubleheader average up 28% compared to last year (CTV).
SI said the first-person account from Seahawks CB Richard Sherman on TheMMQB.com yesterday fueled the greatest one-day traffic total in the history of SI Digital. The Sherman piece helped generated a total of 4.3 million unique visitors, beating the company's previous high of 3.713 million uniques last April 29, when Jason Collins announced through SI he is gay. Sherman in the piece said of his postgame outburst on live TV Sunday, "it was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am. I don't want to be the villain because I am not a villainous person." SI said its internal research shows the Sherman piece also has generated its highest levels of social referrals of any piece in company history, besting the Collins story and last year's Swimsuit edition cover featuring Kate Upton (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer).
LET'S DO IT AGAIN: USA TODAY's Laken Litman notes Sherman's rant for Andrews was a "moment of genuine expression that she was happy to capture." Andrews said, "You expect these guys to play like maniacs and animals for 60 minutes. And then 90 seconds after he makes a career-defining, game-changing play, I'm going to be mad because he's not giving me a cliche answer, 'That's what Seahawks football is all about and that's what we can to do and we practice for those situations.' No you don't. That was awesome. That was so awesome. And I loved it." Andrews "knew Sherman was referring" to 49ers WR Michael Crabtree, but "wanted to make sure the audience was on the same page." She asked him, "Who was talking about you?" Andrews explained, "I thought I would be criticized if I didn't follow up, or if I said something like, 'So anyway, you're going to the Super Bowl now.' No. This guy just went off. Let's make sure we know who he's talking about." Litman notes Fox producers "cut off the interview because they were concerned the language might get out of hand." Andrews: "We hope he does the same thing at the Super Bowl. We don't want a watered-down version of him." Andrews added that she and Sherman "reached out to each other Monday and all is well" (USA TODAY, 1/21). Andrews: "He lost his mind and it was awesome for once. He never threatened me, he never accosted me or the camera, and I never was frightened." She added she was going to ask Sherman a question about the Super Bowl, but her producer said in her ear that "we're getting out" of the interview and "they cut it" ("The Dan Patrick Show," 1/20).
RAW EMOTION: SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote, "How long to stay with a subject during a live interview is always a judgment call for sports producers, and Fox’s lead NFL production team is terrific." But in this case, they "were too cautious." Viewers are "inundated weekly with vanilla interviews and BS coach-speak." Sherman’s postgame reaction, "straight out of the WWE playbook, was dangerous, interesting television." Fox "should have stuck with it" (SI.com, 1/20).
PUTTING LIFE BACK INTO MEDIA DAY: In Seattle, Larry Stone notes every form of media "was buzzing Sunday night and throughout the day Monday with analysis of those 30 seconds or so of must-see TV, and the podium interview that followed." If Sherman’s goal was "to become the center of attention heading into the Super Bowl, he succeeded." Stone: "I can’t wait to see the crowd around him during next week’s media sessions; they might have to move his table to Madison Square Garden" (SEATTLE TIMES, 1/21). In California, T.J. Simers asks, "Who is going to be more in demand on Super Bowl Media Day than Sherman?" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 1/21).
Mandalay Sports Media has bought N.Y.-based production house Roadside Entertainment "in a move that positions Mandalay on both coasts," according to John Ourand in this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Mandalay Sports Media Founder & co-Chair Mike Tollin, the "well-known Hollywood producer and director," launched the company with Warriors and Dodgers co-Owner Peter Guber "nearly two years ago to invest in and develop programming for TV, broadband and mobile platforms." As part of the deal, Roadside partners Ron Yassen and John Hirsch will each take on the title of Mandalay Sports Media Exec VP/Production. Within sports media, Roadside is "best known for producing the ESPYs for ESPN and several documentaries for NFL Network" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 1/20 issue). VARIETY's Brian Steinberg noted Roadside also creates "branded entertainment and commercial projects for advertisers including Reebok, Microsoft, EA Sports, The Honest Company and Unilever." Yassen in addition to his work at Roadside "was part of the launch team at Classic Sports Network (now 'ESPN Classic') and has produced and directed more than 30 documentaries for ESPN, as well as series 'SportsCentury' and 'Outside The Lines.'" Hirsch is an Emmy Award-winning producer and director who "went on to focus on directing teases and promotional elements for the Super Bowl and World Cup" (VARIETY.com, 1/20).
ESPN's Brent Musburger "has been offered the job of lead college football announcer" with the SEC Network, but it is "unclear whether Musburger will take that offer," according to Richard Deitsch of SI.com. Sources said that Musburger is "unhappy with how the process is shaking out." It "seems clear" that Musburger is "being pulled from the lead announcer spot for ABC's Saturday Night Football." "College GameDay" host Chris Fowler "is the leading candidate" to call the ABC Saturday night games, "as well as next year's national championship game," alongside Kirk Herbstreit. Fowler and Herbstreit also would "call one of the semifinal games." However, Fowler's contract with the net "expires after the World Cup in July." Deitsch noted there are "a couple of catches" to Fowler being given the new CFB role. First, some in ESPN management "do not want Fowler to host both GameDay and call a college football game the same night." Herbstreit "performs the double as an analyst," but Fowler's responsibilities on "GameDay" are "much more demanding than Herbstreit's." The "GameDay" program also is "a profitable and marketing behemoth" and there are "some who believe changing the talent setup poses significant risks." ESPN's Rece Davis, who currently calls the net's Thursday night CFB games, also is "a candidate for the Musburger spot." Davis' contract "is coming up as well, so he has leverage." If Fowler takes on solely the ABC announcing role, Davis "is a lock" to take over "GameDay." Deitsch cited sources as saying that an idea involving the Mike Tirico becoming ESPN's lead Saturday night CFB announcer, "as well as continuing" the net's "MNF" telecasts, "ultimately was rejected" (SI.com, 1/20).
GRANTLAND.com's Bill Simmons yesterday posted an article on the website detailing the process by which a controversial story written by Caleb Hannan about inventor Essay Anne Vanderbilt was published and wrote, "I am apologizing on our behalf." Hannan in the initial report investigated a "magical" putter invented by Vanderbilt, or Dr. V, "for seven solid months." Hannan's story uncovered that Vanderbilt was not entirely truthful about her credentials when creating the putter. Hannan also uncovered that Vanderbilt was transgender. Vanderbilt "committed suicide sometime in October, at least four or five weeks after Caleb's last interaction with her." Simmons wrote Hannan "never, at any time, threatened to out her on Grantland." Simmons: "He was reporting a story and verifying discrepancy issues with her background. That’s it. Just finding out facts and asking questions." Hannan's "biggest mistake" was "outing Dr. V to one of her investors while she was still alive." Simmons: "I don’t think he understood the moral consequences of that decision, and frankly, neither did anyone working for Grantland." Simmons noted Grantland at the time of Vanderbilt's suicide "had no plans to run the piece." Earlier this month, before Grantland execs "officially decided to post Caleb’s piece, we tried to stick as many trained eyeballs on it as possible." Between 13-15 people "read the piece in all, including every senior editor but one, our two lead copy desk editors, our publisher and even ESPN.com’s editor-in-chief." All of them were "blown away by the piece," and everyone "thought we should run it." Simmons: "Ultimately, it was my call. So if you want to rip anyone involved in this process, please, direct your anger and your invective at me. Don’t blame Caleb or anyone that works for me. It’s my site and anything this significant is my call. Blame me. I didn’t ask the biggest and most important question before we ran it." He added, "To my infinite regret, we never asked anyone knowledgeable enough about transgender issues to help us either (a) improve the piece, or (b) realize that we shouldn’t run it. That’s our mistake -- and really, my mistake, since it’s my site. So I want to apologize. I failed" (GRANTLAND.com, 1/20).
GOING TOO FAR? SLATE's Josh Levin wrote while every reporter "strives to uncover the truth," reporters also are "supposed to call on our reserves of emotional intelligence to comprehend the people we’re writing about." Hannan’s story, and his "defenders, show the dangers of privileging fact-finding and the quest for a great story over compassion and humanity." Levin: "I believe that 'Dr. V’s Magical Putter' was a story worth telling, but this was not the right way to tell it" (SLATE.com, 1/19). SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote, "Though I do not know the writer personally, I believe he initially approached the piece without ill intent, and the same writer has produced thoughtful takes in the past including on homophobia in MLS." Deitsch: "I also know enough editors and writers at Grantland to know they care about people and the subjects they feature on their site. This is not the clown division at ESPN." Had Grantland "had the piece to do again, I'd like to believe they would have reframed (or excised) the latter half of the piece -- the suicide should have been handled far more sensitively -- and offered a separate piece from the reporter or editors explaining motivation, the reporting process and why they ran the story" (SI.com, 1/19).
REPUTATION AT STAKE: THE NEW REPUBLIC's Marc Tracy wrote this is the "kind of story that could breed cynicism about Grantland." A story about a "weird-looking putter, whether it is effective or not, and its fraudulent inventor has all the makings of a classic Grantland story: long, magazine-y, sophisticated, interested in a subculture, extrapolating from an odd detail about a bizarre corner of the world of sports to tell a broader human story." But several outlets, including Jezebel.com, now is "calling them a 'sports blog' that helped abet Vanderbilt’s suicide." One article is "not going to destroy Grantland’s reputation," as during its first three years, the website has become a "valuable outlet for analytically sophisticated yet accessible writing about major sports as well as for exactly this kind of sports story." Still, it should "serve as a wake-up call." Something or someone in the editorial process "should have caught the gigantic problems" (NEWREPUBLIC.com, 1/19).
For Stats LLC, which installed its SportVu player-tracking technology in all NBA arenas this season, "the real money is in TV," which is why the company is "salivating over the opportunity to sell the new data to networks," according to Danny Ecker of CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS. Stats CEO Gary Walrath said, "The technology has the potential to alter every other business we're in." ESPN, Fox, CBS and Comcast "often pay seven figures annually to license data" from Stats that the networks "don't have the bandwidth to track themselves." To make "big bucks with SportVU will require inserting these 'next generation' statistics into mainstream fans' conversations, keeping Stats' league and team clients happy with the way it sells the data, and fending off the competition." Walrath said, "The challenge is, how do you make something that's going to drive additional traffic to a site like Yahoo Sports so that they can monetize it." He estimates that about 70% of the company's $60M in annual revenue "comes from licensing standard statistics and providing analysis for more than 200 leagues worldwide." But revenue from SportVU and a related product is the company's "fastest-growing business, doubling each of the past two years and on pace to do so again" in '14.
SEPARATING WHEAT FROM CHAFF: Ecker noted the broadcast nets are "watching carefully" as the NBA, journalists and fans "figure out what's most valuable to understanding the game." Those nets "may end up buying the data from Stats for their broadcasts or live online game-casts -- but only if there's an appetite for such information and it's easy for fans to digest." Even if the nets and brands "want to buy the data, Stats must tread carefully to avoid offending league and team partners." Walrath said that the NFL "wasn't enamored" when Stats licensed data to non-league sponsor New York Life Insurance Co. in '10 to build the "New York Life Protection Index," which measured offensive line play around the league. Walrath: "We know we have to look out for (league partner) interests as well, but how we get that right without self-censoring is the key." Ecker noted another sign that SportVU data "could bolster the company's bottom line: Its owners may soon put the company up for sale." A source said that private-equity firms have "kicked the tires on what could be" a $200M purchase. Walrath confirmed Stats, which is a joint venture of News Corp. and the AP, is "exploring possibilities" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 1/18).
SI will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its annual swimsuit issue this year and it "has become the magazine's best-selling issue, accounting for some 7% of total annual revenue," according to CNBC's Ross Westgate. Westgate: "The continued success, though, comes as the industry has been trying to (fight) off headwinds facing other forms of print media. The global magazine market is still expected to reach $83 billion by 2017." Panmure Gordon media analyst Alex Degroote said the success of the swimsuit issue is "probably a one-off" because the "trend in mature Western markets is gently downward, but absolutely there can be growth in emerging markets or in other markets where maybe magazines to date haven't really sold so well." He added, "Digital is taking up a lot of the slack," but the "question is whether or not digital is charged for." At the moment, publishers' revenues "are declining," but the hope is most publishers "are able to use pay walls" ("Worldwide Exchange," CNBC, 1/20).
Personalization is the unique selling point in Bleacher Report’s Team Stream app, an ad-supported, free download developed in-house by Bleacher Report. Users select the sports and teams they want to follow, and a customized feed presents relevant information within the app's home screen. News is the most prominent offering, followed by scores. Social media touch points are offered throughout the app, and the depth potential for user engagement is limitless. Team Stream is based around three straightforward functions: Edit, Team Stream and Scores. Using the Edit function, users can select national breaking news, league news, player news and news by sport. The app's home screen is then populated with these user-selected, orderable news feeds, which include original features from Bleacher Report writers, aggregated articles from other media outlets, video and social media posts. The Team Stream function offers a time-stamped, reverse chronological listing of news notifications according to user preferences. Tapping an item in this feed leads to a story-specific position in the full Team Stream news feed. The Scores section can be customized to show scores and schedules for selected teams, top games, leagues and sports. But for detailed game information such as previews, live stats or recaps, users are redirected out of the app and linked to other sources. I conducted this week's review on an iPhone 5 version 7.0.4, with AT&T service.
WOW-FACTORS: Social media integration within Team Stream is excellent. Team-based news is intertwined with local media talent and professional athlete tweets. Replying and re-tweeting is simple, and everything is sharable via a set of icons in the app's lower navigation. The ability to curate player-specific news is a custom offering within Team Stream. Yahoo Fantasy Import takes this feature to the next level by bringing a user's fantasy team into the app, so there is no need to go elsewhere for news. A sign-in to Yahoo is required. Geo-location services bring local teams to the top of the list of notifications for user convenience. In addition, when viewing the Scores feed, users have the choice of viewing just their team news or their team news in addition to top national stories. The app's Swagger feed -- a gossipy stream of news and video -- does a nice job of dragging users into story after story, encouraging further distribution of content.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT: The Send to Friends feature, which might be better titled as "Start a Group," brings high quality user interaction into the app. Any piece of news, text or video is sharable via e-mail, SMS, Twitter or Facebook with this feature. The shared content then lives within a group chat that can be accessed from the home screen feed. Why is this not a wow-factor? It didn't work. While the app told me that I had shared successfully, the content did not actually get to my friends. According to Bleacher Report, there are roughly 40,000 people actively using this tool, so it is working for some -- just not me. Aside from a basic score block, tapping on past, live or future game listings sends users to different places for information depending on sport. Tapping an NBA game leads to the NBA's Game Hub; NHL games link to ESPN NHL; College Basketball sends users to the NCAA's GameCast tool. It all works, but is just inconsistent in its sourcing. Meanwhile, there is a generous amount of video in this app, but no video advertising. Aside from small display units below content, ads are basically nonexistent. There is a lot of room for growth here, such as the practice of inserting ads before a video begins.
BOTTOM LINE: A highly engaging way to consume sports news, Team Stream solidly serves the fan seeking customization, breaking news notifications and social chatter. While basic game information is available, this app is not for the fan that wants to follow live action on the second screen. Outside of the Send to Friends tool, social sharing functions go off without a hitch. All in all, Bleacher Report puts forth an on-trend, usable application with a powerful and addictive information punch.
Amie Sheridan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.
See Sheridan's previous App Review submissions for THE DAILY:
- Golf Channel For iPhone Offers Basic, Text-Heavy Content
- The Year's Best From The Four Major Pro Leagues
- Yahoo Sports For iPhone Goes All-In On Scores And Stats, With No Video
- Big Ten Network's BTN2Go Brings Lots Of Video, But Also Lots Of Ads
- ESPN SportsCenter For iPhone Offers Deep Content, Needs Fine Tuning