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The NBA Playoffs are averaging 3.24 million viewers through 34 games across TNT, ABC, ESPN and NBA TV, up 15% compared to the same period last year. Close games have helped fuel the increase, with eight games going to OT and 14 games being decided by four points or less. TNT is averaging 3.83 million viewers through 19 games, up 21% compared to the same number of games during the ’13 playoffs. Warriors-Clippers Game 5 on Tuesday finished with 4.73 million viewers, marking the best first round NBA Playoff game on cable TV in ’14 to date. ESPN and TNT have won the night among all cable networks on nine of the 11 nights they have aired games. ESPN is averaging 3.34 million viewers through seven telecasts, up 17% from 2.9 million viewers at the same point last postseason. However, games on ABC (four telecasts) have averaged 5.1 million viewers, flat compared to ’13. NBA TV also has seen a big boost thus far, fueled by 939,000 viewers for Grizzlies-Thunder Game 5. That audience marks the net’s best audience on record (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).KEEPING PACE: In Indianapolis, Anthony Schoettle noted the Pacers' recent "on-court collapse hasn't hurt TV viewership," as the team's April 24 first-round playoff game against the Hawks drew a 9.9 local rating on FS Indiana, marking the "second-highest rated Pacers game" on the RSN. That figure only trails a 10.1 local rating for a Pacers-76ers second-round game in '99. Monday's Pacers-Hawks Game 5 drew a 9.2 rating on FS Indiana, which ranks as the fifth-highest-rated Pacers game on the net. During the regular season, the Pacers were one of the league's "highest performers" with a 100% increase over '12-13. The team averaged a 4.2 rating for the '13-14 regular season, which is the fourth-highest average for local broadcasts among all NBA teams. Meanwhile, FS Indiana Senior VP & GM Jack Donovan "doesn't think the late-season swoon will deter advertising demand for next season." Donovan said, "It's a long season and every team goes through slumps. But this is a young, talented team and we're expecting great things for next year." FS Indiana sold out its ad inventory during Pacers games this year, and Donovan "anticipates an advertising rate increase for next year," though he said that it is "too early to say how high" (IBJ.com, 4/30).
LOCAL BEATS: Fox SportSouth drew a 4.5 local rating in Atlanta for the Hawks' Game 5 win over the Pacers on Monday, marking the highest-rated game in the history of the RSN. The game peaked at a 6.7 rating between 10:30-10:45pm ET and passed the team's January 29, 2010 game against the Celtics, which finished with a 4.5 rating (FSN)....TSN drew 885,000 viewers for the Raptors-Nets Game 4 on Sunday, marking the second-best Raptors game audience ever on the net. That figure trails only the team's second-round, Game 7 loss to the 76ers in '01 (Bell Media). Through the first four games of the Raptors-Nets series, TSN has averaged 640,000 viewers (Raptors).
Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger appeared on Fox Business' "Opening Bell With Maria Bartiromo" and discussed the rising cost of sports rights. Iger: "On one hand, I'm concerned about the escalating costs of sports rights, (but) on the other hand, it makes it harder for new entrants to come into the market." He said ESPN has "faced more competition to buy sports rights,” and said escalating rights fees have “actually probably lowered the growth rate of ESPN.” Iger: “But it also makes it very, very hard for new entrants in the marketplace, of which there are a few. For them to even come close to buying the profile of events that ESPN has they'd have to invest billions of dollars and lose probably hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in the process." Iger was asked about the rising sub costs for ESPN: "We actually believe that as ESPN has invested more in the quality of its product and also adding new experiences like mobility to the equation, that the price-to-value relationship for ESPN, both to the distributor and to the consumers, is still very, very high. We don't take it lightly. I know there's been a lot of noise in the marketplace. A lot of that has come as a result of the regional sports networks buying sports rights for extremely high costs and trying to pass those costs onto the consumer. That is a concern to us."
NEW DEALS: Bartiromo noted the company’s new affiliate deals and asked what was "left in terms of putting that piece of business to bed." Iger: "We have a few more to go, the biggest one being with DirecTV, which we're just starting to engage with on that. We've had no problems extending our deals (because we have) good relationships, the most recent one being with the Dish Network, for instance. It was a comprehensive deal, it was very complicated and it took a long time, but it was without the public stress or strife that some companies have experienced in negotiating long-term deals and we’re confident we'll be able to come to an arrangement with DirecTV and that will get us pretty far in terms of the total distribution profile … for ESPN" ("Opening Bell With Maria Bartiromo," Fox Business, 4/30).
Fox Sports and the Franklin Templeton Shootout have reached a multiyear, multiplatform rights agreement that brings the event to Fox and FS1. The move makes the December exhibition the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event televised by the net. It also will be where Joe Buck and Greg Norman make their broadcasting debut together. FS1 will televise the Thursday and Friday rounds, while Fox will broadcast the final round on Saturday. The shift to Fox results from a schedule change for the event (Fox). In Florida, David Moulton writes the move to Fox at first "may not seem like a plus for the average viewer because they've never watched golf" on the net. However, the "upside is that to Fox, this tournament now becomes a big deal." The tourney shifting from Friday-Sunday to Thursday-Saturday looks like it was made "to accommodate Joe Buck's NFL broadcast schedule." However, it could "make the most sense" as the only "significant sports competition on television that Saturday" is CBS' Army-Navy football game (Ft. Myers NEWS-PRESS, 5/1).
ARMS RACE: GOLF DIGEST's Ron Sirak wrote getting the Shootout is “an important step for Fox as it begins to develop its golf coverage.” The net’s “issue as it attempts to gain a foothold in the sport is that there simply aren't going to be that many available golf properties for a while.” The PGA Tour is signed with NBC, CBS and Golf Channel through ‘21, while CBS has the PGA Championship through ‘19 and ESPN has the British Open through '17. The LPGA signed a 10-year deal with Golf Channel in ‘09. But Fox already is showing a "willingness to innovate, moving the finish of the shootout from Sunday to Saturday.” Still in question is whether the event “will be the debut tournament for Fox Sports or whether it will try to stage another event sooner." Fox Sports President & COO Eric Shanks said, "They will get as much time in rehearsal as we can not ... broadcast before and after the shootout. Will [we] have all the bells and whistles ready by December? No. But we will be ready next June” (GOLFDIGEST.com, 4/30). Fox Sports Coordinating Producer Mark Loomis said that “most of his team will be together for the first time in June at the U.S. Open, providing nightly recaps” on FS1, but “no schedule has been set.” Rehearsals will begin "sometime after the Open” (GOLFWEEK.com, 4/30).
Golf Channel had its most-watched April ever, averaging 130,000 total-day viewers, which was up 2% compared to the same period in '13. The net's figure was boosted by coverage from Augusta during The Masters, which marked the net's most-watched week of the year to date. The record came despite the fact Tiger Woods did not play and the net not having broadcast rights to actual play at The Masters. Golf Channel also averaged 195,000 viewers in primetime in April, up 13% from last year. The net was buoyed the premiere of "Arnie," with the documentary drawing 471,000 viewers for the first installment on April 13. It was the most-watched original film in network history, beating out the 241,000 viewers for “War By The Shore” in ’12, which looked at the ’91 Ryder Cup. The second night of “Arnie” on Monday drew 341,000 viewers, while the final installment on Tuesday drew 320,000 viewers. Golf Channel also had strong numbers for the April 3-6 LPGA Kraft Nabisco Championship. Golf Channel drew 670,000 viewers for the final round, marking the best final round for the event since it moved from ESPN/CBS in ’11. The audience also marks the most-watched round of women’s golf since the final round of the Solheim Cup last year drew 780,000 viewers. The LPGA Lotte Championship also helped the net's primetime numbers, as the event aired from Hawai. The final round drew 485,000 viewers, marking the most-watched round for a non-major since the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic in April '12 (566,000 viewers) (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor). The Greater Gwinnet Championship on April 18-20 "set the 2014 high" for a Champions Tour event audience on Golf Channel. Miguel Angel Jimenez won the event in his Champions Tour debut only one week "after contending at the Masters" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 5/1).
MOVING THE NEEDLE: In Columbus, Rob Oller writes under the header, "Golf Needs Tiger Woods If It's To Remain Must-See TV." Woods is out at least until the British Open in July after undergoing back surgery, and while golf purists "might pooh-pooh his importance ... the masses only show up when Woods hits the screen." That was clear as The Masters' weekend rounds had the "smallest TV audience" since '93. Woods had played in the event every year since '95. Oller: "Even those who turn thumb's down on Woods, as a player and/or person, must admit the game is more interesting with him in the field. And because interest equals ratings, better ratings mean more moolah in the pockets of pros." Golfer Pat Perez said, "The tour needs him. We need him forever. We need him more than anything. But one day he's going to be gone. Then what?" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 5/1).
The Univ. of Miami football team "nearly signed a deal with Showtime to be the subject of a Hard Knocks-type show," but the deal "ultimately didn't happen," according to sources cited by Jason McIntyre of THE BIG LEAD. The show would have chronicled UM "during August leading up to the season opener against Louisville, and then throughout the season, totaling around 13 episodes." A source said that ESPN NFL analyst and UM alum Ray Lewis "was going to be a producer." UM Senior Associate AD/Communications Chris Freet said, "We've explored it for over two years and now's just not the right time to get it done." McIntyre reported the window "doesn't appear to be completely closed on the project," as there is a "slim chance it could come together" this month. UM would be an appealing choice for such a show for "obvious reasons -- life off the field in Coral Gables and the school's constant battle against sanctions" (THEBIGLEAD.com, 4/30). In Miami, Barry Jackson notes UM rejected the offer last month in part because it was not comfortable, "at least for the season, with granting Showtime incredible access to detail whatever it wished about the Hurricanes football program" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 5/1).
ESPN's Bill Simmons still "watches sports with the delight of a kid -- albeit a kid who's a multimedia mogul," according to a profile by Rob Tannenbaum of ROLLING STONE. Simmons is in his second season on "NBA Countdown," where he "plays a slightly exaggerated version of himself: a comedic troublemaker." Simmons describes his role as the "wild card who doesn't give a shit" and added, "I'm part historian, part know-it-all, and part shit-stirrer. I don't hold back -- that's the key." Meanwhile, Simmons, who has 2.6 million Twitter followers, uses the platform "almost exclusively to promote and link to Grantland material." He "doesn't reply to people who think he's a douche, or want to punch his face." He also "writes fewer sports columns than he used to, partly because TV and movies occupy more of his time." Periodically, Simmons and his employer "get annoyed at one another." ESPN President John Skipper once said working with Simmons was "about 99.8 percent great." Simmons countered: "Working with ESPN is 99.1 percent great." Grantland's success, "like Simmons', has resulted from good fortune as well as talent." Simmons: "When we were launching, we didn't realize technology advances would help us so much. ... The iPad has been a godsend -- it's probably the greatest thing that's happened to Grantland. ... We hit at the right time." comScore data shows that Grantland in a recent month "had 4.7 million unique visitors, which represents just a sliver of ESPN's 62 million unique visitors and pales compared to Yahoo Sports' 57.9 million." But the site's balance sheet "isn't the point." A source said that ESPN "likely pays him more than" $5M a year. The company does so "not because of Grantland, but because Simmons is a guy with big ideas, a one-man vertical-integration engine" (ROLLINGSTONE.com, 4/29).
OTHER SIMMONS SNIPPETS: Tannenbaum in a post for DEADSPIN noted he "had a bunch of quotes that didn't fit" into the Simmons profile in Rolling Stone. Simmons, on Magic Johnson's stint with "NBA Countdown," said, "I don't know if I would've come back for a second season of Countdown if I knew Magic wasn't coming back. I was really on the fence -- I made a pro-con list and everything. I genuinely liked him, and I think he liked me. I thought it was funny that I was blamed for him leaving the show. ... The reality is, the people who run ESPN don't like the perception that I have a lot of sway." Tannenbaum noted the NBA's current TV deals with ESPN and TNT run through the '15-16 season, and Fox Sports and NBC are "expected to bid aggressively for subsequent rights." Simmons: "My contract expires next year. If ESPN doesn't have the broadcast rights to the NBA, it will make me re-evaluate what I should do next. I want to work for whoever has the NBA" (DEADSPIN.com, 4/29).