There is a "strong chance" the Broncos will play their season opener Sept. 9 on NBC's "Sunday Night Football," according to Mike Klis of the DENVER POST. The game will mark the regular-season debut of QB Peyton Manning with the team, and the possible opponents for the game include the Steelers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High or the Patriots on the road. The NFL "might not want another Denver home opponent, the New Orleans Saints, showcased in Week 1" because of their bounty scandal. Broncos President Joe Ellis said, "Our fans should get ready for more night games. Home and road." An NFL team can have "a maximum of six prime-time TV games a season." The Broncos likely "were going to be a prime-time NFL draw this season" before signing Manning due to QB Tim Tebow's presence (DENVER POST, 3/27). However, in N.Y., Bob Raissman reported both NBC and ESPN "are concerned about Manning having a physical setback and not being able to play" at the beginning of the season, leaving them "stuck with a game they feel will be unable to generate the kind of TV ratings a Manning-led Broncos team would produce." Raissman: "It’s likely Denver’s prime-time appearances will be scheduled later in the season" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/25).
GOING LOCAL: In Denver, Dusty Saunders noted audiences should look for Manning to be a regular on KUSA-NBC, "fronting a weekly, 30-minute show during the season." That is something he "never did in Indianapolis while starring for the Colts." In addition, details are "being worked out with Manning and Broncos management" with KTVD-TV, KUSA's sister station. A Broncos QB show "has become a Denver TV tradition -- particularly on KUSA" (DENVER POST, 3/26).
MLBAM has struck a wide-ranging pact with California-based in-flight entertainment company Row 44 Inc. in which MLBAM will provide all the back-end streaming technology and digital rights management for Row 44's battery of live and on-demand in-flight video. MLBAM last year struck a content deal with Row 44, becoming the first sports league to offer live in-flight streaming of its games. The new deal builds on that by expanding MLBAM's white label streaming technology business, now supporting more than 200,000 events per year, while also giving baseball an undisclosed equity stake in Row 44. Several airlines globally, including Southwest, offer Row 44 video, and the company in January struck a content deal with the NFL to offer NFL Network and NFL RedZone content on flights. MLB.TV, meanwhile, will today formally become available through the Xbox 360 gaming console, part of a previously announced deal between MLBAM and Microsoft to make the streamed games available both live and on-demand through the device. The new deal, however, also takes advantage of the voice and gesture controls of the Microsoft Kinect, with users for example being able to move to different games by saying "switch." The new availability of MLB.TV, along with new content from Comcast's Xfinity TV and HBO, is seen as one of the biggest upgrades to date for the Xbox Live platform. MLBAM holds a similar deal with Sony for the PlayStation 3 console.
WWE Studios wants to "reach beyond its core audience," and to attract non-wrestling fans, the company is "moving more heavily into co-production, other partnerships and acquisitions," according to John Anderson of the N.Y. TIMES. Working with partners and a budget of $15-$25M, it is producing six to eight projects in '12 "for later release." Besides alliances with Open Road on "The Grey," and Anchor Bay, WWE Studios has announced a three-picture deal with Fox, which "will continue the 'Marine' action franchise, a WWE fan favorite starring John Cena." A two-picture deal "with Lionsgate will include a reboot of the 'Leprechaun' horror franchise." Then there are "acquisitions like 'The Day,' a postapocalyptic thriller that WWE, working with Anchor Bay, bought at the Toronto International Film Festival and will showcase at the coming Sarasota Film Festival." Another partner is Pathé UK. With 13 PPVs annually, six television broadcasts a week, a line of Mattel action figures and "various other properties, WWE has the kind of marketing clout that should be able to give its film projects -- previously dominated by mediocre vehicles for fading wrestlers -- the juice they need to be commercial." WWE President Michael Luisi, who is "charged with negotiating the future of WWE's movies," said of WWE Studios, "To some degree we’re under a microscope because people are scratching their heads a little bit and saying, 'What exactly are they up to here?'" Anderson wrote what WWE "brings to its partnerships is the entertainment business’s oft-sought but seldom realized vertical integration." William Morris Endeavor Head of Global Finance Graham Taylor, who "consults frequently" with WWE, said, "I would argue that the only real brands in the movie business are Pixar and WWE" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/25).
The LPGA and Golf Channel today announced a three-year extension for the network to air the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the season’s first major, which begins Thursday. As part of the deal, Golf Channel will air six hours of daily, live coverage Thursday and Friday from 12:00-3:00pm ET and 6:30-9:30pm. Weekend coverage will air live from 4:30-8:30pm. Kelly Tilghman will serve as the net’s host, joined by play-by-play announcer Terry Gannon and analyst Judy Rankin (THE DAILY).
PULLING THE PLUG: In Chicago, Robert Channick reports Tribune Co. TV stations in "16 markets across the country, including WGN in Chicago, are threatening to cut off programming to millions of DirecTV subscribers after negotiations over retransmission fees broke down Monday.” The contract is “set to expire March 31” and Tribune is “seeking compensation from the satellite TV provider to carry its programming, something it does not receive.” Without resolution, the plug “will be pulled Saturday at midnight.” Cubs and White Sox broadcasts on WGN America are at stake. Baseball fans would also lose access “to the Mets via WPIX-TV in New York, and the Phillies on WPHL-TV in Philadelphia” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/27).
TUNING IN: In Oklahoma City, Mel Bracht noted Sunday’s Heat-Thunder game “set the team regular-season ratings record" in the market with a combined 14.9 rating on ESPN and FS Oklahoma. The record had been 14.5 rating for TNT's Thunder-Lakers game Feb. 23. FS Oklahoma last week also “set a network record for a regular-season Thunder telecast" with a 9.8 local rating for Clippers-Thunder Wednesday night. The net's Thunder games this season are averaging a 6.2 rating, up 138% (NEWSOK.com, 3/26).