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Volume 24 No. 156

Media

ESPN drew a 7.4 overnight rating for the Lions' 35-27 win over the Saints last night, tying the net's lowest-rated "MNF" telecast of the season to date. Ravens-Browns in Week 12 also drew a 7.4. Last night's rating is down 3% from a 7.6 overnight for last year's Week 15 "MNF" matchup between the Saints and Bears. Lions-Saints peaked with an 8.8 rating between 9:45-10:00pm ET. The game drew a 36.2 local rating in New Orleans (11.2 on ESPN, 15.0 on WDSU-NBC) and a 24.8 in Detroit (8.6 on ESPN, 16.2 on WXYZ-ABC). The game garnered 314,000 viewers on the WatchESPN app (Josh Carpenter, Assistant Editor). 

FLEX FOR NOTHING: In L.A., Sam Farmer notes Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. has been suspended for this Sunday night's game against the Vikings and will "lose a paycheck worth $52,529" for his actions Sunday against the Panthers. But the NFL and NBC "lose more, as one of the reasons they moved that game to prime time in the first place was to showcase one of the best -- and evidently most combustible -- players in the game" (L.A. TIMES, 12/22). FS1's Mike Garafolo noted Giants-Vikings was flexed onto NBC and said, "Remember last year on a Sunday night, he made that one-handed catch." The NFL "would love to have him on the field, so the hard part was definitely suspending him and taking him out of that game” (“Fox Sports Live,” FS1, 12/21). In DC, Deron Snyder writes the NFL is "right" in making Beckham sit out. Snyder: "I understand: Offense sells tickets and draws ratings. But you have to draw the line somewhere" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 12/22). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir writes Beckham’s three quarters of "dysfunction provided a feast for Fox" on Sunday. The net "showed replays of as many physical eruptions as its cameras could locate." So concerned was Fox that it "not miss a fracas that it kept a small shot of Beckham on-screen during a game break" when the network went to its L.A. studio for an update (N.Y. TIMES, 12/22).

BEAR DOWN: In Chicago, Lewis Lazare noted the Bears' "unenthused television fan base clearly saw no reason to tune in in large numbers" for Sunday afternoon's game against the Vikings, as the broadcast notched a 20.1 local rating on WFLD-Fox. This season, the Bears "haven't really flirted with television ratings anywhere near the 30s, which used to be fairly regular territory for the team." The organization's "rabid fan base, including television viewers, seem to be rapidly reaching the same conclusion -- this is a team mired in mediocrity or worse" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 12/21).

Disney Chair & CEO Bob Iger yesterday said the company, despite recent stock downgrades from analysts, "will continue to derive growth from ESPN," but it will "just not be at the rate we have seen before.” Iger appeared on Bloomberg TV and said of ESPN's long-term rights fees, "We haven’t second-guessed that at all. Our cable fees are going up per subscriber, but as I’ve said, ... we have lost some subscribers." Iger: "We made a decision to license ... the NFL and Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the College Football Championships to name a few, for one main reason. That is to serve the ESPN fan well and really to essentially perpetuate a competitive advantage that ESPN has and to continue to support the strength of its brand and the consumer proposition that it makes." Iger said of the current TV model, "It is a business that is relatively mature, the multichannel television business, so you’re not going to see growth in households that’s anything close to what the business experience over the last decade or two decades. There’s some pricing leverage, there’s still some price increases that can and will be taken, certainly by the best channels in my opinion. By the way, we believe we will continue to see some growth in that business, but it won’t grow at the rate that we saw in the past." Iger: "If you’re in a market that is being disrupted, you obviously want the best products that are out there in a disrupted market, and we believe we have that at the company, including obviously ESPN. If you’re in a market that is changing, you’d rather have a very strong hand, so I’ve said what’s better than ESPN in that regard?"

OVER THE TOP: Bloomberg TV’s David Westin asked, "How important is direct-to-consumer for ESPN’s future?” Iger said, “We believe in the multichannel model, and we believe that it’s not only not going away, but the predictions about its demise were, we think, overstated. That said, we talked about growth being limited in many respects, or more limited than before. We think at some point, if that business model were to fall apart, there are opportunities to go direct-to-consumer.” Iger: "Long-term, ESPN will be just fine, but we refuse to have our head in the sand or be Pollyannaish about what we’re seeing in the marketplace and others may be seeing things differently. We believe there’s disruption going on and there’s more disruption ahead and we’re spending a fair amount of time making sure we’re well positioned in that market. Obviously ESPN is we believe something of great value even in this disrupted world.” 

SHOTS FIRED? Iger said of BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield, who yesterday questioned Iger's claim that an ESPN OTT net could launch immediately if the company wanted, "The analyst that came out with that report has been wrong about us on a number of occasions, and so one would have to question, if he’s been wrong so often before how valid were his comments this time around? He’s entitled to his opinions and the other thing I would say, I don’t know where the accountability is. When he’s wrong, I don’t know who he’s accountable for" ("Bloomberg West," Bloomberg TV, 12/21).

CRYSTAL BALLERS: In N.Y., Andrew Ross Sorkin notes Greenfield on Friday "became the only analyst to have a 'sell' rating" on Disney. Most analysts "wave off concerns about ESPN, arguing that this won’t be a problem for some time and that live sports will remain the most desirable programming for viewers who still want a bundle of channels." Rosenblatt Securities Senior Research Analyst Martin Pyykkonen said, "The turmoil and disruption will most be felt by the distributors and some of the weaker programming content companies. For Disney, we think it’s a reasonable bet that they will be a necessary part of almost any skinnier programming package going forward." Sorkin notes it is also possible that shifts in TV-viewing habits will "change more slowly than some of the most dire predictions." Disney "may have seen all of this coming," as it has "spent the past decade diversifying its business by adding big franchises like Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar while expanding its theme park business." So while the entire TV industry "may be challenged, perhaps Disney will be able to weather the storm better than many others" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/22). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Ben Fritz writes despite a record-breaking opening for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," some Wall Street analysts "remain concerned about cord-cutting pressures" on ESPN and are "taking the current hoopla as an opportunity to sell." Jefferies analyst John Janedis yesterday said that the success of the film "doesn’t change his core thesis that slowing media-industry growth and rising sports-rights costs at ESPN will limit further upward earnings revisions." ESPN is Disney’s "biggest single business and Wall Street has been sensitive to any signs that its growth rate is slowing as fewer customers pay for cable-television bundles" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/22).

CBS led all college football broadcasters for the seventh straight season with its package of SEC games, but the net saw its lowest viewership since ’08. CBS’ SEC games averaged 5.6 million viewers, down 12% from 6.38 million last season. The drop for CBS comes despite a gain for the primetime Alabama-LSU matchup and the return of the Iron Bowl to CBS after airing on ESPN last year. CBS this season had to get a waiver to add the Alabama-Auburn matchup, as it was the net’s sixth Alabama game telecast. The net’s Navy-Army game -- not counted in the SEC figures -- drew 7.13 million viewers, up 14% from last year and marking the matchup’s best audience since ’93. Meanwhile, ABC carried its most games ever this season (41), as the net no longer airs select NASCAR races on Saturdays. The net averaged 4.92 million viewers across all of its windows, down 3.5% from 5.1 million viewers last season. However, this season was up from 4.78 million viewers in ’13. Looking solely at ABC’s “Saturday Night Football,” that window averaged 5.34 million viewers, up 5% from 5.11 million viewers last season, and up from 4.78 million viewers in ’13.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL REGULAR-SEASON VIEWERSHIP TREND
NETWORK
'15 (000)
'14 (000)
'13 (000)
'12 (000)
'11 (000)
CBS*
5,597
6,380
7,353
6,141
6,857
ABC
4,921
5,101
4,777
4,975
5,522
NBC
3,070
3,226
3,340
4,381
2,617
Fox
3,040
2,573
3,116
2,839
n/a
ESPN
2,721
2,660
2,644
2,576
2,674
ESPN2
846
892
1,108
1,028
1,179
FS1**
608
670
529
611
1,016

CHART NOTES: * = SEC Package only. ** = Compared to FX in '12 and '11.

UPS & DOWNS: Fox averaged 3.04 million viewers for its coverage of Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten football this season, up 18% from last season’s 2.57 million viewers, but below the 3.12 million viewers in ’13. FS1 drew 608,000 average viewers, down 9% from 670,000 in ’14, but up from 529,000 in ’13. The drop for FS1 came despite the net’s most-viewed game on record. Michigan-Utah drew 2.89 million viewers on the opening Thursday of the season.

FOUR SCORE: ESPN in '15 saw its best CFB audience since ’10 this season and fourth straight season of audience increases. The net averaged 2.72 million viewers for 74 games. That figure is up 2% from last season. The net also saw an average of 1.96 million viewers for its “College GameDay” coverage, the most since the show expanded to three hours in ’13. The show averaged 2.03 million viewers in ’12 and 2.07 million viewers in ’11. ESPN2’s games this season averaged 846,000 viewers, down 5% from 892,000 last season.

SOUTH BENT: Notre Dame games on NBC averaged 3.07 million viewers this season, marking the net’s lowest average since ’11. One Notre Dame game was moved to NBCSN for the first time this season -- the Boston College-Notre Dame matchup on Nov. 21 drew 1.99 million viewers.

TOP GAMES: The Alabama-Florida SEC Championship was again CFB’s most-viewed regular-season game, drawing 12.76 million viewers on CBS. Alabama-LSU from Nov. 7 ranked second with 11.06 million viewers. Alabama was in four of the 10 most-viewed games on broadcast TV, and on two of the top 10 on cable. Michigan State-Iowa set a record for Fox with 9.82 million viewers, ranking No. 5 overall this season. Ohio State-Virginia Tech on Labor Day was cable’s most-viewed CFB telecast with 10.59 million viewers.

MOST-VIEWED BROADCAST TV CFB GAMES FOR '15 SEASON
GAME
DATE
NET
TIME (ET)
VIEWERS (000)
SEC Championship:
Alabama-Florida
12/5
CBS
4:00-8:00pm
12,760
LSU-Alabama
11/7
CBS
8:00-11:46pm
11,063
Michigan State-Ohio State
11/21
ABC
3:33-6:55pm
11,052
Ohio State-Michigan
11/28
ABC
12:01-3:33pm
10,830
Big Ten Championship:
Michigan State-Iowa
12/5
Fox
8:19-11:56pm
9,818
Alabama-Auburn
11/28
CBS
3:30-7:19pm
9,299
Alabama-Wisconsin
9/5
ABC
8:07-11:46pm
7,967
Oregon-Michigan State
9/12
ABC
8:06-11:54pm
7,898
Notre Dame-Clemson
10/3
ABC
8:07-11:53pm
7,647
Florida State-Clemson
11/7
ABC
3:33-7:04pm
7,563
MOST-VIEWED CABLE TV CFB GAMES FOR '15 SEASON
GAME
DATE
NET
TIME (ET)
VIEWERS (000)
Ohio State-Virginia Tech
9/7
ESPN
7:54-11:16pm
10,585
Ole Miss-Alabama
9/19
ESPN
9:18pm-1:27am
7,605
Michigan State-Michigan
10/17
ESPN
3:28-7:24pm
7,398
Florida-LSU
10/17
ESPN
7:24-10:46pm
6,777
Baylor-TCU
11/27
ESPN
8:14pm-12:15am
5,108
Arkansas-Alabama
10/10
ESPN
7:00-10:37pm
4,835
Penn State-Michigan State
11/28
ESPN
3:30-7:03pm
4,503
Florida State-Florida
11/28
ESPN
7:32-11:14pm
4,280
Oklahoma-Tennessee
9/12
ESPN
5:57-9:19pm
4,129
Texas-Baylor
12/5
ESPN
12:01-3:34pm
3,943


ESPN yesterday released its “Sunday Night Baseball” schedule, which will begin with the April 3 Mets-Royals Opening Night World Series rematch. The Red Sox will have four appearances to document DH David Ortiz’ final season, three of which will be against the Yankees. On June 12, there will be a special doubleheader featuring Cardinals-Pirates and Dodgers-Giants. Meanwhile, the Astros and D-backs will be making their first appearances since '13 and '08, respectively. ESPN's schedule has been mapped out in part through the first Sunday after the All-Star Game (July 17), with remaining matchups to be selected two to three weeks in advance (ESPN). In Dallas, Gerry Fraley noted the Rangers "did not make it" onto the first 17 weeks of the "SNB" schedule. The Cubs and Blue Jays were the only two other playoff clubs from last season that "were ignored." ESPN will offer its "usual idolatry" of Yankees-Red Sox. The Dodgers and Giants are the "only other clubs slated for three appearances in these 11 games" (DALLASNEWS.com, 12/21).

Despite strong numbers for Warriors games, an early season audience increase for NBA games on ESPN and TNT "hasn't materialized," due in part to strong competition from telecasts such as the NFL, a GOP debate and the World Series, according to Ben Cohen of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. TNT's year-over-year audience was down 8.2% through last week, while ESPN was down 5.6%. Both nets also have seen "early-season losses" among adults 18-49, with TNT down 12.7% and ESPN down 4.5%. ESPN and TNT have had a "steady decline" for NBA viewership since the '11-12 lockout-shortened season. ESPN Senior VP/Global Research & Analytics Artie Bulgrin said that some of the net’s decline is "due to scheduling," as the net's four opening-week NBA telecasts "went up against two World Series games and a Republican debate." With those games "factored out," viewership is flat. Turner Senior VP & Chief Research Officer Howard Shimmel said, "We’re really pleased with our performance. We think based on the way that we program from opening night to All-Star weekend to the playoffs that the best point of comparison is the full season.” He said that TNT’s average audience, though down compared to this time last year, is the "same average it recorded" for the '14-15 season. Shimmel added that several of TNT’s Thursday night games drew a low audience "because they aired opposite NFL games on CBS." Meanwhile, Bulgrin said that he "does not believe cord-cutting is related" to the NBA viewership decline. He said cord-cutters are "just not sports fans." Cohen notes the league this season also "began allowing fans to buy the rights to watch any single NBA game (excluding national telecasts) for $6.99." The NBA "declined to give specific figures on subscriptions to League Pass, but said the numbers are up." The NBA added that it is "encouraged by the number of one-game buys" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/22).

ROOM ON THE BANDWAGON: BROADCASTING & CABLE's John Consoli reports the Warriors' 26-1 start is "bringing in a windfall of ad revenue" to CSN Bay Area. The RSN also "sells separate ad packages" for online game streams. NBC Sports Regional Networks Chief Revenue Officer Ray Warren, who oversees Comcast SportsNet RSNs, said that "not only are viewers watching the streaming telecasts but the average person is watching for more than 40 minutes each, not just tuning in and out as many sports streaming viewers do." Consoli notes Home Team Sports sells ads for Warriors telecasts, and the agency has "brought in national advertisers this season like Taco Bell and Jack Daniels." The CSN Bay Area sales staff also has brought in new local/regional advertisers "like First National Bank, Ring Central, Bank of the West, Togo’s, First 5 of California and Wingstop." In addition, "spot advertisers that were converted to full-season sponsors across the telecasts and related Warriors programming include Jeep, Dodge, BMW, Ford and Provident Credit Union." Warriors telecasts are "not only drawing men, but lots of women." Warren said, "We are the most-watched network in the market overall and in every male and female demo in primetime every time we televise a Warriors game. ... This year people hopped on board sooner." Warren added that the "effort to bring in more advertisers who want to reach female viewers on the Warriors telecasts has worked." He said that advertisers like Subaru, Sleep Train, Mancini's Sleepworld and the First 5 California children's health/education initiative "have come on board" (BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 12/22).

Patriots President Jonathan Kraft said of possibly streaming games in the future, "We have another six years to run on our TV deals and during that time we are absolutely going to experiment with trying to figure out the right way to distribute the product in conjunction with traditional broadcast television to make sure that all of our fans are being well served. The Thursday Night package, which is what you're hearing about, purposely was bid out on a short-term basis so that we can continue to use that as a foundation of the beta testing that's going to go on. The games are still going to be on TV." He added, "That's what you're going to see and so hopefully when we get to the next round of TV deals we'll be smarter to be able to structure things in a way that fans want to consume our games" (CSNNE.com, 12/20).

STATION IDENTIFICATION: The GUARDIAN reports F1 is to move to Channel 4 in the U.K. "for the next three years after the BBC announced it is to 'reluctantly' bring its contract to a premature end as part of its drive for savings." The net will "broadcast 10 live races, including practice and qualifying sessions" from '16-18 (GUARDIAN, 12/22). The GUARDIAN's Mark Sweney notes the "cash-strapped" BBC pulled out of its deal "three years early." Channel 4 has "pledged not to air advertising during live races" (GUARDIAN, 12/22).

SEASON OF CHANGE: In Las Vegas, Bill Bradley reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal is "making some major changes next month." Adam Hill has "moved to become a full-time writer" covering UFC and all MMA for the website the paper has created. Matt Youmans "will become a full-time sports betting writer." Mark Anderson "will become our main basketball writer." Todd Dewey "will take over the UNLV football beat." Ron Kantowski "will take over" coverage of motorsports and will "still write two columns a week." As the NHL "gets closer to granting Las Vegas a franchise, Steve Carp will lead" on league coverage and "creation of the expansion team" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 12/21).