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Volume 24 No. 132


TBS drew a 5.9 overnight rating for the Mets' NLCS-clinching win over the Cubs last night in primetime, up 90% from a 3.1 overnight for the net's coverage of ALCS Royals-Orioles Game 4 in '14, which also aired on a Wednesday night. TBS in '13 earned a 4.4 overnight for Game 4 of the Cardinals-Dodgers NLCS on a Tuesday night. Mets-Cubs drew an 18.9 local rating in Chicago and an 18.8 in the N.Y. market. Last night's game peaked at a 6.5 rating between 11:30-11:45pm ET. Mets-Cubs over four games averaged a 5.8 overnight, making it the highest-rated NLCS on any network since Fox drew a 6.4 for the six-game Giants-Phillies series in '10. Meanwhile, FS1 drew a 2.0 overnight for the Blue Jays' Game 5 ALCS win over the Royals yesterday afternoon. FS1 in '14 earned a 3.5 overnight for the Giants' NLCS-clinching Game 5 win over the Cardinals, airing on a Thursday night (Josh Carpenter, Staff Writer). 

YO, WHAT'S UP? In N.Y., Bob Raissman notes once the Mets "jumped out to a big lead early" in last night's game, the "only mystery left" had to do with LF Yoenis Cespedes, who left the game in the second inning with an injury. But despite having "two dugout reporters" in Sam Ryan and Matt Winer, TBS "didn’t exactly shed much light on the situation." Raissman: "How did he get the injury? Did TBS have any video evidence?" There were no replays "revealing how the injury occurred," and the two reporters "did not provide any further info until the fourth inning," when Ryan interviewed Mets manager Terry Collins. He said that Cespedes "couldn't lift" his shoulder, and he "repeated the 'sore left shoulder' line." TBS did air video of Cespedes "sitting in the dugout, clearly in pain, rubbing his shoulder." Raissman: "At least TBS cameras found Cespedes in the dugout in the ninth inning as he prepared to celebrate" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/22).

A FINE BALANCE: In Chicago, Teddy Greenstein writes under the header, "TBS Coverage Not Perfect, But Most Fan Complaints Ring Hollow." Greenstein: "Many Cubs fans won't agree, but I thought the TBS broadcast of Game 4 was excellent." There were "nice little touches" and "important points, like the spot-on criticism of [Cubs CF] Dexter Fowler for not running hard on his fifth-inning popup that dropped in right field." Ryan "getting info" from Collins on Cespedes was "also good." However, there were a couple of things that were "not good." Game analyst Cal Ripken Jr. "is not offensive or annoying, but he's low energy." The most frequent complaint "has been about the K Zone," but it was "extremely accurate in Game 4." When the graphic "didn't match the called ball or strike, didn't anyone consider that the umpire might have been at fault?" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 10/22).

DROP THE MIC: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred in a Q&A with the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER talked about why the home plate area is not mic'd up and said, "Umpires wear microphones, particularly in postseason games. And occasionally we do put content from those microphones out. Culturally it has been an issue that we have had to work into slowly. But I think going forward you will see more microphone access on the field for the simple reason that fans want that kind of access." He added of whether it is the players or umps providing resistance on the matter, "Both. There's a lot of back-and-forth that goes on there. You may want to hear it, but they may not want to have it (aired). It's something that we are trying to work our way through" (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 10/30 issue).

ESPN layoffs continue today and tomorrow, as the sports network trims around 300 of its employees. Cuts are affecting every part of ESPN’s business, with the production and technology groups getting hit the hardest, sources said. One longtime employee described the atmosphere in Bristol as the worst he has ever seen -- two-thirds of the company’s layoffs come from ESPN’s main HQ. Names of the layoffs have been slow to trickle out. Jim Miller, the co-author of the '11 book detailing the rise of ESPN, remarked on Twitter that 30-50-year-old men were most affected. He tweeted: “Not a good week to be a middle aged white guy. #espnlayoffs.” Many of the names included people who have been with the company for decades. Among the more recognizable execs were the highly respected Matt Murphy, who ESPN hired '93. Murphy, who was Senior VP/Digital Video Distribution, appeared regularly on industry panels and was quoted frequently in various news outlets. Another well-liked affiliate exec, John Porio, also was given his notice yesterday. Porio, who was VP/National Accounts, Affiliate Sales & Marketing, had been with ESPN since '97 and was a big part of the net's enormous growth. The production department saw heavy losses of people who have spent most of their careers in Bristol, including Senior Coordinating Producer Dave Miller -- a universally respected producer who has been an ESPN employee since its first year. Another well liked production exec, coordinating producer Gus Ramsey, said he was laid off after 21 years in a personal blog post. Baseball writer Peter Gammons said via Twitter that Ramsey was “one of the best people with whom I ever worked.” ESPN Radio 710 L.A. Program Dir Mike Thompson told a sports media blog that he was laid off “after a wonderful 12 years with the Walt Disney Company.”

DIFFICULT SITUATION: In a memo sent to employees yesterday morning, ESPN President John Skipper said the affected employees would get “a minimum of 60 days notice, a severance package reflective of their years of service and outplacement benefits to help them find future employment.” Skipper: “I realize this process will be difficult -- for everyone -- but we believe the steps we are taking will ultimately create important competitive advantages for our business over the long term.”

ESPN’s approximately 300-person layoff yesterday had veterans of the network "talking privately about whether the enterprise they’d helped to grow into a worldwide brand has lost its way," according to a front-page piece by Steve Collins of the BRISTOL PRESS. The net announced that it "would eliminate a number of jobs as part of some wide-ranging organizational changes." With the cuts, ESPN’s workforce in Bristol "will shrink to about 4,000 people, still more than the 3,800 promised when it got state aid in 2011 to help construct its new digital center" (BRISTOL PRESS, 10/22). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes ESPN "has about 8,000 employees" globally. The net, which "still attracts sizable sports audiences, has been coping with rising production costs and steep rights fees" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/22). ESPN VP/Corporate Communications Mike Soltys said that the net "isn’t providing numbers by office but did say about 200 of the total job cuts will be at ESPN’s corporate office in Connecticut." Soltys: "That leaves us 100 in other places including New York, Los Angeles, Charlotte, Austin and different places around the world" (AP, 10/21).

WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA? In L.A., Battaglio & James write although still a "highly profitable unit of Disney, ESPN has been under pressure to control costs because it no longer can depend on steady growth from its most reliable revenue stream: fees from cable and satellite subscribers." Fees for all of Disney's TV channels accounted for $10.6B in revenue during FY '14, and ad revenue "is also under pressure." ESPN "is also feeling the squeeze on the cost side as sports rights fees continue to escalate." Even with the cuts, ESPN said that there "are no plans to cancel programs or drop any on-air talent" (L.A. TIMES, 10/21). The HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's Marisa Guthrie cited sources as saying that the reorganization "will re-allocate resources to data automation and technology" (, 10/21). In Hartford, Dan Haar notes an isolated layoff "is one thing, but this round of cost-cutting highlights the gradual transition toward a legacy-industry economy that ESPN inhabits -- further from the purely innovative, new economy in which it was founded" in '79. ESPN President John Skipper's letter confirming the layoffs "shows strong signs of the legacy issues." Along with language about "integrating technology and constant innovation, he zoomed in on the need to customize and personalize sales and marketing, and to change the network's distribution efforts -- indicating that the old model based on TV subscriptions and mass advertising are not sustaining the business" (HARTFORD COURANT, 10/22). VARIETY's Cynthia Littleton wrote ESPN "is one of the most valuable TV properties in the world but it is not immune to the turbulence in the domestic cable business." The cuts "may well be replaced in the coming months by hires with entirely different skill sets" (, 10/21).

21st Century Fox CEO James Murdoch and Exec co-Chair Lachlan Murdoch in a wide-ranging interview addressed the state of Fox Sports and their willingness to spend on live sports rights, according to a cover story by Matthew Belloni of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Excerpts of their "first sit-down interview together" since taking over for their father Rupert on July 1 are below.

Q: Fox always has moved aggressively in sports. Fox Sports 1, by a lot of measures, has been a successful launch, but the ratings aren't huge.
James: They're higher than ESPN's this summer.

Q: For the World Cup?
James: And some other events. And baseball (playoffs have) been great.

Q: Are you committed to spending the astronomical fees it takes to put the kinds of sports on that make a difference?
Lachlan: We're best when we build businesses, when we're the underdog and when we're competing against an entrenched player that's much bigger -- and you can see that in Fox Sports -- so, absolutely. We're absolutely committed to continuing to grow it, and that's going to be our main continued investment.
James: That doesn't mean that any price is the right price, and we have been very comfortable walking away from opportunities. I think with Fox Sports 1, we're really happy with the packages we have. There's baseball, NASCAR, UFC, golf. It's a very, very strong lineup. You combine the Fox Sports brand with the broadcast (network) sports, the NFL, World Series baseball, the FS1 platform, with everything I just mentioned, and then some regional nets under the Fox Sports brand with the Yankees and the Mets, or St. Louis with the Cardinals, etc. These are things that really drive an enormous amount of viewership.

Q: ESPN has been under scrutiny from Disney and is facing layoffs, and some say the costs the network has incurred and the high subscriber fees actually could come back to bite Disney as we move to an OTT world.
James: You have to make a distinction between an incumbent (network) that is fully distributed and has been without serious competition for decades and a startup that's a year and a half old. We're very happy to just take (market) share.
Lachlan: When we launched Fox News (in 1996), James and I were much younger, but I do remember the conversations around it. A lot of people internally in the company said, "Why would you launch a news service when there's CNN?" It's the same thing with ESPN (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 10/30 issue). 

The Universal Sports TV channel is shutting down next month after nearly a decade in operation. NBC execs told the channel’s approximately 75 employees during an early morning meeting in L.A. today. The channel, which is majority owned by InterMedia Partners, notified distributors that its signal would be taken down Nov. 16. NBC, which holds a minority stake in the channel, will pick up the channel’s portfolio of Olympic sports rights. The decision to shutter Universal altogether was described as “shocking” by one source. It is unclear how it will use those rights on its existing channels, like NBCSN. NBC Sports Group emailed a statement saying, “We are thrilled to be finalizing an agreement with Universal Sports that will provide NBCUniversal and NBC Sports with an impressive collection of media rights to some of the world’s most prestigious sporting events. We will have more information regarding our plans when the transaction closes in November.” The uncertainty surrounding Universal’s future, which has lasted throughout most of ‘15, has frustrated some Olympic sports NGBs as they tried to do deals covering ‘16 not knowing the channel’s future. Universal has been an enthusiastic broadcast partner for many of them for years, but the station’s lack of production prowess and meager distribution as an independent entity were longstanding challenges. NBC Sports has the distribution power of Comcast and Olympic rights through ‘32. U.S. Speedskating Exec Dir Ted Morris said NBC “obviously has an interest in promoting Olympic sports and Olympic athletes, and now all that being under one umbrella, to me sounds like a good idea.” Universal aired part of the Speedskating World Cup and the Apolo Ohno Invitational last season.

The fledgling Olympic Channel may be coming to linear TV quicker than expected, as IOC President Thomas Bach said channel execs are in talks about possible traditional distribution in addition to its long-planned OTT offering. "We will start with a digital channel, and this will be free for everybody who wants to follow,” Bach said on Universal Sports Network's “Beyond the Medals -- the Business of Sport” episode yesterday. “Then we will see. In fact, we are already talking with some of the rights holders on how we can expand, maybe, this worldwide digital channel to a linear platform on a national or a regional way.” Bach believes an Olympic Channel, part of a reforms package approved by the IOC last December, can provide a permanent home for Olympic sports and keep fans engaged and sponsors activating in between competitions. But until yesterday almost all indications had been that linear TV was a low priority, with execs seeing a digital site as a far more cost-effective, targeted means of reaching fans. IOC Dir of TV & Marketing Services Timo Lumme in June said linear options would be explored “down the line” if possibilities emerged. In recent weeks, the channel has added several key execs and begun talks with international sports federations to develop content. Also recently, the IOC downplayed its original timeline of launching the Olympic Channel in April, four months before the Rio Games start. An IOC spokesperson last week said, "The Olympic Channel will be launched whenever it is ready in 2016.”