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Despite a slight decline for the Conference Finals, the audience for the NBA Playoffs overall remains up over last year. The NBA Conference Finals across ABC/TNT/ESPN averaged 7.0 million viewers for 12 telecasts, down 2.2% from 7.15 million viewers last year for 11 telecasts. All playoff games across ABC/TNT/ESPN/ESPN2/NBA TV have averaged 4.29 million viewers, up 2.7% from 4.18 million viewers at the same point last season. NBA postseason games have been the top-rated program on all of cable TV on 33 of 39 nights that ESPN or TNT has carried a game. TNT also has won the night 20 times across all cable nets during the playoffs, as well as 24 times among key adult male demos.
HEAT STROKE: ABC and ESPN combined to average a 4.5 rating and 7.23 million viewers for the six games of the Heat-Pacers Eastern Conference Finals, marking ABC/ESPN's second-best Conference Finals audience on record. While the figures this year are down from the seven-game Heat-Pacers series on TNT last season, the audience is up big from a 3.1 rating and 4.90 million viewers for the Spurs’ sweep of the Grizzlies in the '13 Western Conference Finals. In '12, ESPN alone averaged a 6.2 rating and 10.14 million viewers for the seven-game Heat-Celtics series. ESPN, which carried Games 2-6 this year, won the night among all key male demos and people 18-34 all five nights. During Games 3 and 4, ESPN won the night among all cable and broadcast nets.NBA EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS AUDIENCEYEARMATCHUPGAMESNETWORKRATINGVIEWERS (000)'14Heat-Pacers6ABC/ESPN4.57,234'13Heat-Pacers7TNT5.28,398'12Heat-Celtics7ESPN6.210,144'11Heat-Bulls5TNT6.210,413'10Celtics-Magic6ABC/ESPN4.57,116
A MILLION WAYS TO FLY IN THE WEST: TNT finished with a 4.2 rating and 6.76 million viewers for the Spurs’ Western Conference Finals win over the Thunder in six games. Those figures are up big from the Spurs’ sweep of the Grizzlies last year on ABC/ESPN. TNT last season carried Heat-Pacers, which drew a 5.2 rating and 8.40 million viewers. TNT in '12 carried the six-game Thunder-Spurs Western Conference Finals, drawing a 5.0 rating and 7.82 million viewers. Five times during this year’s Spurs-Thunder series, TNT had the top two sports programs of the day on all of TV -- each game telecast and the “Inside The NBA” studio show the followed it. TNT also saw gains across all male demos during this year's series (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS AUDIENCEYEARMATCHUPGAMESNETWORKRATINGVIEWERS (000)'14Spurs-Thunder6TNT4.26,763'13Spurs-Grizzlies4ABC/ESPN3.14,898'12Thunder-Spurs7TNT5.07,823'11Mavericks-Thunder5ESPN4.36,939'10Lakers-Suns6TNT4.87,854
A SOUND OF THUNDER: In Oklahoma City, Mel Bracht noted TNT's coverage of Spurs-Thunder was a "hit nationally," but local ratings were down from the Thunder's last Conference Finals appearance in '12. The ratings this year in Oklahoma City were down 13% from '12, when the Thunder defeated the Spurs in six games. Oklahoma City averaged a 24.5 rating this year, down from a 28.3 average in '12. Coverage of Spurs-Thunder Game 6 earned a 29.3 local rating in San Antonio and a 25.2 in Oklahoma City (NEWSOK.com, 6/2).
BATTIER TO THE BOOTH: THE BIG LEAD's Jason McIntyre cited sources as saying that Heat F Shane Battier has "agreed to a multi-year TV deal with ESPN to be a college basketball analyst next season." It is unclear yet if ESPN will use Battier "as a game analyst, in the studio, or on the set of College Gameday, which is being revamped" (THEBIGLEAD.com, 6/2). In Ft. Lauderdale, Christy Chirinos notes Battier already has "some experience in front of the camera for ESPN." Battier last June was part of the net's coverage of the NBA Draft, "interviewing players shortly after their selections." Heat G James Jones said Battier "knows the game inside and out. I don't think there's anyone that's embraced analytics and the details of the game like Shane. That makes him uniquely positioned to be great at ESPN doing college games" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 6/3).
NBCSN finished with 4.137 million viewers for the Kings’ OT win over the Blackhawks in Game 7 of the NHL Western Conference Finals on Sunday night, marking the most-viewed non-Stanley Cup Final playoff game on record for the NHL. Kings-Blackhawks Game 7 also marked NBCSN’s best NHL game ever and best non-Olympic audience ever. The previous high for a non-Stanley Cup Final telecast was ESPN’s Panthers-Penguins Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 in ’96, which drew 4.094 million viewers. NBCSN’s previous high for an NHL broadcast was Blackhawks-Bruins Stanley Cup Final Game 3 last year, which drew 4.001 million viewers. Game 7 on Sunday night also passed NBCSN’s 4.10 million viewers for the U.S.-Russia hockey match during the Sochi Games. For all Conference Finals telecasts this season (including the six-game Rangers-Canadiens Eastern Conference Finals), NBC/NBCSN averaged 2.05 million viewers, down 23% from 2.65 million viewers last season, which saw the Bruins sweep the Penguins and the Blackhawks beat the Kings in five games. Despite the drop for the Conference Finals, NBC Sports Group is averaging 1.19 million viewers for 86 playoff games across NBC/NBCSN/CNBC to date, up 11% from 1.07 million viewers for the first three rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year. This year's 1.19 million viewers is the best average since Fox/ESPN/ESPN2 were averaging 1.24 million viewers in '97 (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).
EAST MEETS WEST: The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Mike Barnes noted teams from N.Y. and L.A. -- the "top two TV markets" in the U.S. -- have not met in a championship since the '81 World Series between the Dodgers and Yankees. Kings RW Justin Williams: "We want to put L.A. on the map, and put it significantly on the map with regards to hockey." Rangers-Kings Stanley Cup Final Game 1 is tomorrow at Staples Center (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 6/1).
THIS IS OURSELVES: AD AGE's Michael McCarthy reported NBC's upcoming Stanley Cup promo spots will "continue to use the Freddie Mercury/David Bowie vocals" from the a-capella version of the '81 classic rock song, "Under Pressure." NBC has already employed the song in spots "to drive tune-in" for the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. NBC Sports "started working on new 'Pressure' spots" as soon as the Rangers defeated the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. The net's in-house marketing department is "creating the campaign," the idea for which was a "collaboration" between NBC Sports Group Senior VP/Marketing Bill Bergofin, Dir of On-Air Promo Ray Worsdale, On-Air Promo Producer Ryan Watson and Editor Mike Gazzara. Rather than "focusing on bone-jarring checks or painted, screaming fans, NBC chose to focus on the intense pressure felt by players as they strive for the most hallowed trophy in sports" (ADAGE.com, 5/31). Meanwhile, in N.Y., Bob Raissman referred to NBC play-by-play announcer Doc Emrick as a "virtuoso performer." Emrick's "priorities are simple," as he "reports what’s unfolding in front of him, voicing calls so dramatic that they are mesmerizing" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/1).
Tribune Co. President & CEO Peter Liguori is "in the process of converting” WGN America from a “superstation into a basic cable channel, which is mainly a technical transition, except that it will require dumping Cubs, Bulls, Blackhawks and White Sox game broadcasts,” according to Lynne Marek of CRAIN’S CHICAGO BUSINESS. Liguori: “If the Cubs continue on this path to virtual irrelevancy, it's really not going to matter. When you look at the Bulls, the White Sox, the Cubs and the Blackhawks, outside of the greater Chicago, they really do lose their attraction.” Liguori said that advertising income from sports programming "contributes just $250,000 to income.” Marek noted that is less than 1% of Tribune’s $234.3M in “operating profit last year.” Meanwhile, WGN-CW and WGN-AM “continue to negotiate with the Cubs on a new contract.” WGN-CW “reached a new broadcast rights agreement for at least another five seasons" with the Blackhawks last month. Liguori said that sports ad revenue is “penny ante compared to what WGN America might take in” from airing original content like “Salem,” which began airing in April. Liguori: “We will be way, way, way far ahead as a basic cable network without sports than staying in our current state” (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 5/30).
HUGHES NOT GOING ANYWHERE: In Chicago, Paul Sullivan notes "wherever the Cubs land," radio play-by-play announcer Pat Hughes is "certain to return" in '15 for the final year of his contract. But negotiations on an extension will "have to wait until the new station is announced." Hughes has been a WGN employee "since leaving the Brewers' booth" in '96. WGN-AM, which aired its first live baseball broadcast in '24, has been the "exclusive radio home of the Cubs" since '58 (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/3).
Top Rank, Sands China Ltd. and SECA on Saturday announced that they would "produce a one-hour weekly television series called 'Fist Power -- Fight to Win' that will debut in July and air throughout China on regional channels in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou," according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. The show will "include fights from the massive Top Rank library." Each episode will have "prefight and postfight commentary, including a selection narrated by Top Rank chairman Bob Arum; behind-the-scenes lifestyle footage; fighter profiles; and weekly updates on two-time Chinese Olympic gold medalist and pro flyweight Zou Shiming's climb to a world title shot." "Fist Power" also will air "two boxing events televised live from mainland China" (ESPN.com, 5/31).
Mobile consumption of sports content has doubled in the past three years, according to a new study conducted by Sporting News Media with the aid of European-based Kantar Sport and SportBusiness Group. The fourth version of its annual study of the U.S. sports media landscape, Sporting News Media's "Know the Fan" study found 42% of surveyed fans consume sports content on mobile devices, twice the '11 level and up sharply from the '13 figure of 35%. Similarly, consumption of sports content through social networking platforms has more than doubled in the same three-year timeframe. Despite the continued emergence of these new platforms, overall consumption of sports decreased for the first time in the history of the study, ebbing slightly to an average 7.7 hours per person per week. The figure is down from 8.3 hours last year but still up significantly from the '11 figure of 6.2 hours. "We don't feel this is a sign of falling engagement," said Sporting News Media CEO Juan Delgado. "Rather, we believe the accelerating growth we continue to see in the mobile space is additive, and as the platform continues to mature and more content becomes available, we'll see additional usage overall." The survey was conducted in February and polled more than 1,000 American adults. American City Business Journals, the parent company of SportsBusiness Journal and THE DAILY, is a minority partner in Sporting News Media.
Personal, intuitive and thorough are a few ways to describe theScore for iPad. The app successfully marries the written word with mobile consumption while also providing realtime scores and stats for over 20 sports -- and does all of this with very little video. While it contains scores, stats and news from most sports, theScore focuses on a custom user experience, offering the option to follow select leagues, teams and players. Upon launch, the app swiftly guides users to select their favorites. Favorites are then combined to create My Score, a custom feed of scores and related news. Navigation is well suited for the iPad, with a triple layer “column” design that moves from left to right. A vertical stack of icons living on the far left of the screen controls what appears in the second column, and tapping on a content item in the second column opens a third layer of information. For example, tapping on NHL opens a mixed second column feed of live game scores, recent news and past results. Tapping on a live game score reveals third column information including previews, stats, plays and summaries. Tapping on main navigation items opens a sliding sub-menu for some selections, including My Score, which offers a news feed, scores and favorites. Top news, hot games, featured content and content by league are also available. Developed in-house, theScore is an ad-supported free download available on iOS, Android and Blackberry devices. This review was conducted on an iPad 2 version 7.1.1.
RIGHT ON TARGET: Reading sports news is surprisingly enjoyable in the iPad layout, and font size can be adjusted to viewer preference. Written content is largely from theScore staff, with supporting articles from other news sources like the AP. Relevant video -- embedded via YouTube -- lies within some full text articles, and tweets from sports writers are also intertwined with text. Replying, retweeting or favoriting tweets is seamless. Many articles contain link-outs to more information, and these open new windows that are easily viewed and minimized without distracting from the experience. Even video can be watched on other sites without leaving the app. Using the My Score favorites feature, users can follow not only leagues, teams and players, but also individual games. This “cherry-picking” functionality is nice for fans that only want scores sometimes. As for the app’s scores and stats, these refresh within seconds of live action with a simple pull down of the main feed. Auto-refresh timing can also be set, with the shortest time lag being 1 minute. The app offers an extensive list of customizable alerts, and these are pushed out in a timely fashion. Each alert also contains a link into the related content item. All of the app’s content is searchable and sharable via Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and e-mail.
OFF THE MARK: There is room for more video in the app. Embedded clips (via YouTube) can be found within some news articles, but for the most part, the app is about words. The addition of a game recap video might be a nice way to integrate streaming content without changing the focus of the app. In-app advertising is sparse and behind the times. A few in-feed self-promotions and some banner ads below content are rotated, but as seen in other apps like ESPN SportsCenter, there is a way to serve sponsor information quietly and effectively.
BOTTOM LINE: theScore delivers a well thought out app focusing on scores, stats and written content. It is clear that time has been spent on the details, and this makes for an excellent user experience. There is room for more video and the advertising model can be improved, but these are minor criticisms for what is truly a compelling tool for curating a highly individualized sports information experience.
Amie Sheridan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.
See Sheridan's previous App Review submissions for THE DAILY:
- Topps BUNT For iPhone Reinvents Baseball Cards For The Digital Age
- MLB At Bat ’14 For iPhone Brings Clean Live Streams, Play-By-Play
- Air Jordan's J23 Great For Brand Die Hards, But Lacks Consistency
- USGA's Rules of Golf Proves Straightforward, But Functionality Needs Work
- Nike+ Running For iPhone Goes Far Beyond Basic GPS Tracking
AD AGE's Michael McCarthy noted Fox Sports and NBC Sports "are already eyeing" the Thursday Night Football package for the '15 NFL season. Those eight games could "help establish their respective sports cable networks ... with advertisers and viewers." NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy said that the league "won't start talking to interested bidders" until after this season. He added, "We have to see how it goes this season." CBS Sports said that "it too will cross that bridge next year." Meanwhile, CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus said the network already is attracting "great interest from advertisers" for Thursday Night Football (ADAGE.com, 6/2).
ROBERT'S RULES: ESPN Ombudsman Robert Lipsyte in his most recent column wrote the net's reporting in recent weeks on Donald Sterling and Michael Sam "made many in the audience uncomfortable, if not downright angry, while stimulating necessary discussions about homophobia and racism." But this is a chance to "measure ESPN journalism in an ongoing story against the so-called mainstream media." Lipsyte: "I’m giving out mostly high marks for jobs well done" (ESPN.com, 5/30).
SUMMER LOVE: Comcast SportsNet Northwest and the Trail Blazers yesterday announced that all of the team's NBA Summer League games will air live on the net. The coverage, which includes broadcasters Mike Barrett, Mike Rice and Dwight Jaynes, will expand from recent years, with postgame analysis, highlights and fan interactions following each game (Blazers).
GET WELL SOON: In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck reported Orioles radio play-by-play announcer Fred Manfra, who "underwent hip replacement surgery in April, will be out several more weeks after undergoing a second procedure May 19 to correct a displaced surgical pin in his femur." The Orioles and WBAL-AM "have been plugging" MASN host Jim Hunter and former Orioles P Dave Johnson "into Manfra’s role for the past six weeks." That will continue, but former Orioles P Ben McDonald "also will move into the radio rotation next week" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 6/2).