SBJ/20100329/This Week's News

After six years of tape delay, ESPYs returning to live

ESPN will air its annual awards show, the ESPYs, live this year for the first time in seven years.

The move comes after a ratings drop that saw the program post its second lowest rating ever last year. Its 1.5 U.S. household rating was down significantly from 2008’s 2.3, and the 1.705 million homes that tuned in marked just the second time in six years that the show attracted fewer than 2 million homes.

For the last six years, the show has aired four days after the live show, while winners have been made public and highlights shown on the network. ESPN officials said that the four-day lag between the event and the telecast proved to be too long.

This year’s show will be held July 14 in the Nokia Theater at L.A. Live. Actor Samuel L. Jackson and singer Justin Timberlake have hosted the past two editions of the show. A source said ESPN is negotiating with a member of the “Saturday Night Live” cast to host this year’s version.

This year, ESPN will use a delay during its telecast, but does not know how long it will be. Typically, ESPN uses a seven-second delay for live events such as this.

“Our taste meter will be the same as it was during the edited telecast,” said Maura Mandt, an executive producer with ESPN. “There hasn’t been that many times that we took out scenes because we didn’t want it to happen.”

“Nothing will significantly change with the show,” Mandt said. “In today’s world, immediacy is so much more important. We’re not in a 24-hour news cycle anymore. We’re in a 20-minute news cycle.”

The ESPYs launched in 1993 as a live event that was held in New York for the first seven years. It eventually moved to Las Vegas, then Los Angeles.

The show moved to a tape-delay in 2004 in hopes that it would get more viewers and allow for more backstage moments to be telecast.

This year’s edition plans to use social networks during the telecast. ESPN plans to have athletes and presenters tweet and post Facebook updates during the show.

Mandt said a live fan vote will be used for one category, though organizers have not figured out which category yet.

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