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ESPN earned a 9.6 final rating and 18.22 million viewers for Sunday’s U.S.-Portugal FIFA World Cup match from 6:00-8:00pm ET, marking the most-viewed soccer telecast in U.S. TV history. The previous record belonged to the '99 women’s World Cup final, which saw the U.S.-China match draw 17.98 million viewers. However, the '99 women’s finale drew an 11.4 rating, still the best for any domestic soccer telecast. U.S.-Portugal also marks ESPN’s best audience on record for a non-football game (college or NFL). The telecast peaked toward the end of the game in the 7:30-8:00pm window with 22.96 million viewers. WatchESPN also drew another 1.37 million viewers, setting a streaming record for the service. Univision drew 6.5 million viewers for the U.S.-Portugal match, setting a record for a game involving the U.S. team on the net. The combined 24.7 million viewers on Univision/ESPN for the game was just below ESPN's broadcast of the '14 Florida State-Auburn BCS National Championship, which drew 25.57 million viewers on a Monday night, and below Game 7 of the '13 Heat-Spurs NBA Finals, which drew a combined 26.59 viewers across ABC and ESPN Deportes. Meanwhile, ESPN drew a 3.4 final rating and 5.74 million viewers for Ghana-Germany on Saturday afternoon, tying the cable net's record audience for a World Cup match not involving the U.S. Ghana-Germany tied with ESPN's audience for the '06 Italy-Germany semifinal (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).MOST-VIEWED SOCCER MATCHES ALL-TIME IN THE U.S.DATEMATCHNETWORKRATINGVIEWERS (000)6/22/14World Cup group stage: U.S.-PortugalESPN9.618,2207/10/99Women's World Cup Final: U.S.-ChinaABC11.417,9757/11/10World Cup Final: Spain-NetherlandsABC8.415,9056/26/10World Cup Round of 16: U.S.-GhanaABC8.515,1937/17/94World Cup Final: Brazil-ItalyABC9.514,5107/4/94World Cup Round of 16: Brazil-U.S.ABC9.313,6947/17/11Women's World Cup Final: Japan-U.S.ESPN7.413,4587/9/06World Cup Final: Italy-FranceABC7.011,961
Will American viewership wane once U.S. team is
knocked out of World Cup?
TRACK RECORD: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Mike Shields wrote if advertisers "want an impartial estimate of how many people streamed the game online, they’re out of luck." That is because neither comScore nor Nielsen -- the "two biggest companies in third party audience research for the Web -- tracked the online audience." While both firms "occasionally provide timely data on online viewership for live events, neither regularly track that sort of thing." That highlights "a reality about the Web: despite how fast online video has grown over the last few years, and all the ad dollars that are pouring into the medium, there’s no third party measure of online video audiences either in real time, or even overnight time" (WSJ.com, 6/23).
NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS: SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote ESPN analyst Landon Donovan's appearances so far "have netted mixed results." Donovan is "a thoughtful interview but very low energy." He knows "his sports cold but needs work in providing specifics for viewers rather than platitudes." But it is "unfair, and quite frankly, impossible to judge Donovan's long-term broadcasting future on this assignment." He is "not getting a lot of time on camera and perhaps most importantly, he's filming his segments at ESPN's LA Live studios essentially in an empty room with one producer and a camera person." Donovan said that he has "watched his ESPN segments and he has a new appreciation for the job of analysts." He added, "I've said to (ESPN analysts) Taylor (Twellman) and Alexi (Lalas) on different occasions that, 'I don't appreciate what you said there.' Now being on the other side of it, you realize how difficult it is. You only have a few seconds to say something and every word matters. That's been a big learning curve." Donovan continued, "I wanted to make sure I could do it in a way that was being true to myself and honest and satisfying to what ESPN wanted. They don't want me going on there and being Mr. Positive all the time about everything when the reality is different." He added he is "a little bit mindful that if I am critical" of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who controversially left Donovan off the club's World Cup roster, a "lot of people are going to perceive that as bitterness." Donovan said that he is "interested in working for ESPN for the knockout round and beyond if ESPN management is interested in keeping him" (SI.com, 6/23).
ROOTING FOR THE HOME TEAM: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes there are "still things we don't get about ESPN's World Cup voices." Raissman: "Are the voices USA fans? Master motivators? Soccer broadcasters?" Lalas prior to Sunday's game talked about the "definition on what an American is." That was "misplaced" unless it was "designed to motivate viewers, make them cheer longer and louder." ESPN and its on-air talent are "emotionally invested in Team USA." Late in the second half on Sunday with the U.S. "clinging to a one-goal lead," game announcer Ian Darke said, "I'm getting the sense that there are people in homes and in bars who can barely watch this now." Twellman, a former member of the U.S. national team, replied, "Also the guy next to you. I'm dying here." Raissman writes, "Let's just say Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth would not have a similar exchange late in a tightly contested Super Bowl" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/24).
SI today introduced a "reconstructed website for both desktop and mobile platforms, the latest and perhaps most dramatic step in a digitally focused transformation of the sports media brand," according to Eric Fisher of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The tile-based system, "nearly a year in development, expands on design concepts that debuted last year with the launch of Peter King’s TheMMQB.com, and continued with other new SI products such as SI Edge and Planet Futbol." The new format "allows for substantial flexibility based on news events and editorial direction, and will freely incorporate text, photos, video and audio through a completely rebuilt content management system." The redesign "brings two other substantial changes in the SI operation." Both the mobile and desktop sites will "operate under the core Sports Illustrated brand name as it de-emphasizes the SI.com brand and seeks to present itself as a single content operation that operates across all platforms." The company also has "partnered with California-based TopLine Game Labs to create a daily fantasy game for baseball and football that will make its debut June 30." The SI digital relaunch also will "incorporate the forthcoming 120 Sports digital operation, of which SI is a core partner." Tiles within the new site will "feature video from the short-form digital network," which also includes MLBAM, the NHL and Silver Chalice. Launch sponsors "will be Canon, Black Rock and New Balance" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/23 issue). ADWEEK's Emma Bazilian noted ads on SI.com will "range from traditional units to more advanced ones that can be modified -- with the aim of combatting 'ad blindness' -- to include various multimedia components." SI.com VP & GM Jim DeLorenzo said, "In the last decade, the three big knocks the brand always got was that there weren’t video highlights, we had a subpar mobile experience, and we weren’t involved enough in fantasy. Literally, within a 30-day period, we’re going to check off all those boxes" (ADWEEK.com, 6/22).
DEAR MR. FANTASY: AD AGE's Michael Sebastian noted SI's new fantasy app, called Fan Nation, will "allow users to take part in the fastest growing segment of fantasy sports, daily play, where participants select a new team each time they play and then square off against a friend or random competitor." The "first game offered through the app is 'Baseball Throwdown'" and involves MLB players. SI "plans to offer similar games with players from the NFL, NHL and NBA." SI execs are "hoping to bring on sponsors for the app, but it also offers the magazine a potentially new revenue stream." The app "lets users bet money that they will win their match, although Sports Illustrated labels the bet an 'entry fee,' and pays winners their money back plus their opponent's bet minus a 'contest management fee.'" A successful $5 wager, for instance, "reaps $9 for the winner" (ADAGE.com, 6/23).
DAWN OF A NEW DAY: Time Inc. Sports Group Editor Paul Fichtenbaum has posted a letter on Si.com explaining the redesign, stating the "goal all along was to create a progressive platform that would allow us to showcase the best of Sports Illustrated -- breaking news, opinion and analysis from reporters with access, longform journalism, video storytelling, riveting photography -- that you expect from us in a more visual and intuitive way no matter what device you’re using." Fichtenbaum: "It’s all meant to serve the audience and help you explore and enjoy the deep layers of content we produce, whether that’s hard news, feature writing, health and fitness or the ever-increasing intersection of sports and pop culture. ... Not unlike a sports franchise, we’re constantly upgrading, innovating and trying to give our fans the best product possible. And you can expect many more improvements in the coming months" (SI.com, 6/24).
CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 6/24).
ESPN has “cancelled ‘NASCAR Now,’” which launched in ’07 and was the first program the net “devoted strictly to NASCAR,” according to Lee Spencer of MOTORSPORT.com. The daily show has “been on hiatus” since the FIFA World Cup started. ESPN Associate Dir of Communications Andy Hall said the net “just decided to make a change in the programming schedule.” ESPN “will not be an official broadcast partner” of NASCAR beyond ‘14, as Fox and NBC take over the entire schedule. But Hall said the move was “totally unrelated to our telecast of NASCAR races.” Meanwhile, Spencer noted former "NASCAR Now" host Nicole Briscoe and other staffers will have “other opportunities within the company” (MOTORSPORT.com, 6/23).
Back9Network yesterday announced its first TV carriage agreement, a multiyear deal with DirecTV to distribute the golf lifestyle network. Back9Network will launch on Sept. 29, with nearly 1,100 hours of original programming in its first year, including 10 original primetime series. The Back9Network TV and digital studios will be based in downtown Hartford in August and will be fully operational for the launch (Back9Network). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's John Ourand noted DirecTV will launch the net "on its digital basic tier, which has nearly 20 million subscribers." Back9Network will be "alongside channels like AMC, A&E, FX and Discovery Health." Back9Network CFO Charles Cox "handled negotiations for the network," while DirecTV Chief Content Officer Dan York "handled negotiations for the satellite distributor." Back9Network President Carlos Silva noted the channel "has no live rights and does not plan to compete for them as they come up." Silva said, "We're not in the live sports business" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 6/23 issue).
STYLIN' & PROFILIN': GOLF DIGEST's Peter Finch noted Back9Network programming until now had "appeared only online and in Swing by Swing, a golf GPS smartphone app it acquired earlier this year." Silva said of the new channel, "There will be four hours of live studio shows a day. There will be shows in around the golf lifestyle: food, fashion, autos, travel destinations. ... The three shows that we’ve talked about for the launch are 'The Ahmad Rashad Show,' a show called 'Ball Hog,' which is about a company that actually dives into the ponds or lakes at golf courses and reclaims golf balls as a business, and another show called 'Golf Treasures,' which is a couple of guys who have an auction house that is in the business of acquiring historical golf artifacts." He added, "The great thing about DirecTV is they have national coverage, so the advertisers that come will have [a] national footprint. That gives us the opportunity to go look at the other satellite operators, the telcos like AT&T and Fios, as well as the regional cable operators, to go do the second- and third- and fourth-year deals" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 6/23). In Hartford, Dan Haar reports Back9Network has raised about $30M, including "a controversial state package" of $5M. Although Back9Network Founder & CEO Jamie Bosworth and others at the net had said that they "could make it work with an online audience only, a national TV contract was widely seen as the sole route to success" (HARTFORD COURANT, 6/24).
The NBA is working with Google to create a series of Google+ Hangouts during Thursday's NBA Draft. The Hangouts will involve numerous top prospects, including Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Dante Exum, and Aaron Gordon. Fans will be instructed at NBA.com/DraftCrash on how to set up a Hangout and post links and hashtags to them on various social media platforms. The NBA will then select various video chats at random for players to enter and answer questions within minutes of being selected. Various NBA teams have experimented in recent months with Google+ Hangouts, but this is the first time the league itself has utilized the platform. NBA Senior VP/Digital Media Melissa Rosenthal Brenner said, "We've never had a situation where fans can directly interact like this with a player immediately after they've been drafted. We think this is a really compelling way to connect with their journey to the NBA." Other social media activations for the Draft include a return of the Twitter Mirror photo station for a third consecutive year, an active use of Snapchat for behind-the-scenes images and heavy use of Twitter and Facebook, including repurposing of video clips from the Google+ Hangouts. Game 5 of the NBA Finals was the league's most active day on every major social media platform in terms of engagement, including 6.4 million tweets.
SI.com's Richard Deitsch conducted a Q&A with ESPN VP/Production Marcia Keegan to discuss the net's "First Take" morning show, which Keegan oversees. Keegan said she is proud of the show because it "appeals to an audience that some of the other shows I have responsibility for don't. We're a big tent at ESPN. I am very proud of OTL and their journalistic efforts. It is journalism at its best and this (First Take) to me is a different way of reaching different fans." She added, "We never manufacture disagreement. What we do is find topics where there is disagreement." There are times when debaters Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless "have agreed on things." Keegan: "But mostly it is a debate show. So if there is a topic they are in vehement agreement about, it might be one we choose to go with that day." More excerpts are below:
Q: What is the actual goal from the show?
Keegan: We want to offer something different and talk about things people are talking about. We try to do it in a way our SportsCenters can't and don't have the freedom to, and may not want to.
Q: How has "Embrace Debate" positively and negatively affected the ESPN brand?
Keegan: I think it has positively affected it in almost every way you can think of.
Keegan: It has been great for ratings. If you told me five years ago when I first had responsibility for this that we could regularly do a 0.4 (350,000-450,000 or so viewers) at 10:00 a.m. on ESPN2, I'd say what are you smoking? It is ... great for ratings. I will not share with you the financials but it is good for financials. And I think it is good for the brand.
Q: How much of the show's content will revolve around Johnny Manziel heading forward?
Keegan: If he remains a hot topic, it will remain a topic.
Q: In hindsight, how do you feel about the show's coverage of Tim Tebow?
Keegan: At the time Tim Tebow was in the news every day and we talked about him a lot. Other shows followed suit at ESPN so it wasn't as if everyone was saying that is a terrible idea. He was a hot topic (SI.com, 6/22).
A sleek experience packed with useful information for fans of the World Cup and soccer in general, FIFA for iPhone is a suitable mobile companion for consuming match scores, live play-by-play and news among other things. After using the app to follow the Group Stage of the tournament, I found that despite a lengthy menu of impressive features, it fumbles on one major element: video. With the '14 FIFA World Cup underway, the app’s main focus is the tournament. Users are served live and recent game scores upon launch, and selecting preferred alerts and favorite teams is an intuitive process. Match schedules are listed by day, group and round. The live game experience is contained in a section called Global Stadium. Here users can view the live Matchcast that shows total minutes played, score, location and a play-by-play feed with match images. Also inside the Global Stadium are team line-ups, a fan vote tool called Man of the Match, photo galleries and games. Elsewhere in the app, there is a ton of World Cup information including news, team profiles, standings, tournament award overviews and host country information. A World Match Centre provides stats and standings from 19 global soccer leagues including the Bundesliga, EPL, Serie A and MLS. A FIFA ranking section shows men’s and women’s world rankings broken out by continent. Users can also explore FIFA programs such as Football for Hope, 11 for Health and Women’s Football. News articles include a commenting engine that can be accessed via a user’s Facebook account or by registering with an e-mail address, and most content can be shared via Facebook, Twitter or e-mail. Available languages are English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and German. FIFA for iPhone was developed in house. It is an ad-supported free download available on iOS and Android. This review was conducted on an iPhone 5 version 7.1.1 with AT&T service.
FLASH SCORES: The app flows nicely, and for the most part, it is easy to navigate. The Global Stadium is the main draw for users, housing live scores and play-by-play. Scrolling through individual plays reveals a slider bar that contains markers for key moments like goals and penalties, and interactive tweets from sources like @FIFAWorldCup are intertwined with content. User engagement features like Man of the Match (a real trophy awarded by majority of fan votes) and 360 stadium photos are fun for fans looking to poke around. The Destination section is very colorful and informative offering information on stadiums and cities in Brazil, and the app offers nine games including the FIFA World Cup Predictor Challenge and FIFA World Cup Fantasy. Some games can be played within the app by registering, and others like the Online Sticker Album lead users outside of the app environment. Advertising is limited to title sponsorships. This is clean and unobtrusive for users.
ROOM TO IMPROVE: The lack of game video is the most notable area for improvement. There is video scattered elsewhere in the app, but there is no clear path to it. If the goal is to keep fans inside the app, highlights and game recaps should be offered -- ideally within live play-by-play. The small iPhone screen makes scrolling through play-by-play a bit cumbersome at times, and there were some technical issues with the FIFA World Cup Predictor Challenge during the review period.
BOTTOM LINE: With the exception of video, most of the important elements of the '14 FIFA World Cup experience -- play-by-play, schedules, player information and news -- are nicely integrated into FIFA for iPhone. Branded tweets and images within the Global Stadium live feed offer an engaging environment for fans. While the lack of video will send users over to other sources for highlights and recaps, the app is a nice mobile companion for fans of the World Cup.
Amie Sheridan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.
See Sheridan's previous App Review submissions for THE DAILY:
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- Topps BUNT For iPhone Reinvents Baseball Cards For The Digital Age
- MLB At Bat ’14 For iPhone Brings Clean Live Streams, Play-By-Play