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Volume 24 No. 112


NBA television viewership was down across the board during the ’16-17 regular season, with the average audience across TNT, ABC, ESPN and NBA TV (1.19 million viewers) down 6% during the first season of the league’s nine-year, $24B rights extension with ESPN and Turner Sports. Each network saw declines in audience this season, one season after each network saw gains. There were several factors contributing to the decline, including 19 more games across TNT, ABC and ESPN compared to ’15-16. The early part of the NBA season, much like the NFL, had to compete with coverage leading up to the presidential election, followed by increased figures for cable news following the election. While down from last season, viewership levels for the NBA were relatively flat compared to two season ago. Fans this season also watched 820 million hours of NBA games, up from 805.8 million last year and up from 726.4 million two seasons ago. The average minutes watched this season also was up 2% from ’15-16. The NBA also set all-time records on social media this season.

ABC (000)
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ESPN (000)
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EXTRA! EXTRA! TNT had 11 more games this season as part of its portion of the new NBA deal, and those extra games, primarily via the creation of a new window on Monday nights, led to TNT’s lowest regular-season average since ’07-08. The net averaged 1.54 million viewers this season, down 8% from last season. Removing those extra 11 games would have put TNT at relatively the same level as last season in terms of viewership. However, the Monday night windows proved beneficial to Turner, as the company saw a 13% increase in viewership compared to the mix of entertainment programming it had in that primetime window last season. TNT also saw audience gains for many of its tentpole events. The All-Star Game had its best audience since ’13, while NBA All-Star Saturday also saw a slight gain. TNT also saw gains for opening night and MLK Day. Meanwhile, NBA TV, operated by Turner Sports, averaged 312,000 total viewers for its regular-season games, down 10% compared to last year’s record-setting season, but up 7% over ‘14-15. The net’s “Fan Night” games on Tuesdays averaged 448,000 viewers, up 8% compared to last year.

MISSING IN ACTION: ABC averaged 3.26 million viewers for its NBA games this season, also marking the net’s lowest figure since ’07-08 (3.18 million). Several of the ABC games were notable this season with big-name players sitting out those nationally-televised contests. The drop for ABC came despite the net drawing its fifth-best regular-season audience on record with Warriors-Cavaliers on Christmas Day. However, the Christmas Day games also had rare competition from an NFL game. Meanwhile, ESPN averaged 1.57 million viewers for its games this season, down 5% from last season. But that figure is up from 1.5 million viewers two seasons ago. ESPN’s early portion of the schedule went up against the Cubs' run to the World Series title.

Phil Simms has agreed to be part of CBS Sports’ “The NFL Today” pregame show this season. Simms, who was replaced by Tony Romo as CBS’ top NFL game analyst, will take over the studio role vacated by Tony Gonzalez last month. “I was under contract, so I knew I was going to be at CBS,” Simms said yesterday. “If I’m not going to be on the No. 1 game, this is a pretty good place to land. ... When this opportunity came up, I didn't have to think long.” CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus said the move makes sense for CBS Sports, given Simms’ performance on Showtime’s NFL studio show, “Inside the NFL.” “Phil is very opinionated and doesn’t mind mixing it up in a respectful way,” McManus said. “He is going to elevate our entire show.” Simms said he enjoys doing “Inside the NFL” and is looking forward to the opportunity of talking about the whole league, instead of just about two teams. While he would have liked to remain CBS’ top game analyst, he said he’s looking forward to the move into the studio. “Sean and I have talked about this for years,” Simms said. “I’m really happy about it” (John Ourand, Staff Writer). McManus said, "When the news hit that Tony Gonzalez would not be back on the show, this seemed logical. We had a number of discussions about it, and I was excited about it, and he was excited" (AP, 4/19). In N.Y., Bob Raissman noted McManus sees Simms "as a voice who will shake up" the pregame show. McManus: "He's going to add a new spark to the show. I think Phil is going to rejuvenate the show." Simms indicated that the "load he carried doing Sunday and Thursday games ... did not affect his preparation or performance" in the booth the last couple years. Simms: "I never went into one game feeling I was not 100% prepared, ready" (, 4/19).

: On Long Island, Neil Best noted there was "rampant speculation inside and outside the media business about potential new roles for Simms." Simms said that going to "another CBS game booth never came up." He added that his "comfort level" with "The NFL Today" host James Brown and analysts Boomer Esiason and Bill Cowher "will ease the transition." Simms said that there was "never a chance he would bolt for another network." McManus said, "He was going to be a long-term part of the plan at CBS for the NFL. If he had wanted to talk to somebody else, I would have said no" (, 4/19).

: In New Jersey, Tara Sullivan writes moving Simms to the studio "was always the move that made the most sense." With a "strong football voice and a great TV personality, Simms thankfully remains a part of our football conversation" (Bergen RECORD, 4/20). SNY’s Jonas Schwartz said Simms’ “personality, which is fun but he will go at people, is a really good match for a studio show.” SNY’s Marc Malusis said Simms will “acclimate himself very, very well” to the studio (“Daily News Live,” SNY, 4/19). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said the ‘studio is nice, but I thought maybe he would do some of those Thursday Night games” (“PTI,” ESPN, 4/19).

ESPN Exec VP/Programming & Scheduling Burke Magnus has “high expectations” for the ’17 “MNF” schedule, set to be announced tonight with the rest of the NFL slate. In recent seasons, the “MNF” schedule has been widely viewed as the NFL’s weakest national package. But Magnus said yesterday at the ’17 CAA World Congress of Sports he is optimistic for a series of strong matchups. “We’ve had very candid conversations with the NFL, particularly in the last six months, about our expectations from a quality perspective,” said Magnus, who added he has not yet seen the schedule. Magnus: “We have high expectations because we’ve been as engaged with the league as we ever have been in terms of what the results are going to be. We’ve done everything we can possibly do to communicate with the league and guide them in terms of our preferences, and now we’ll see.” Magnus went on to predict that NFL ratings will be up next season for all of the league’s broadcast partners, and praised NFL Senior VP/Broadcasting & Media Operations Howard Katz for “taking a very limited set of inventory and dispersing it across all of his broadcast partnerships" (Eric Fisher, Staff Writer). PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio writes the effort to improve the schedule "underscores the challenges ESPN currently faces." In past years, before tens of thousands of people who were "paying the monthly subscription fee for the multiple versions of the four-letter network without ever watching any of them cut the cord on cable, the quality of the NFL contests wasn’t an issue." Now, the net "needs better matchups in order to lure customers back to the product, regardless of how they pay for it." Florio: "Here’s the problem: The NFL schedule is a zero-sum game." With 256 finite matchups, the league will have to "rob" CBS, Fox and NBC to give ESPN some better games, and those nets "won’t like that" (, 4/20).

"Hard Knocks" Director Matt Dissinger yesterday said that the Buccaneers were chosen "ahead of seven other eligible teams" because they are "considered an ascending franchise with young stars" such as QB Jameis Winston, according to Rick Stroud of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. Dissinger: "This is clearly a team on the rise, a team I would imagine would pique national interest. ... This is an opportunity to get Jameis, Mike Evans, Gerald McCoy -- this gets some of those names out to a national audience. And it's very appealing to us. A young, charismatic roster. I think it's a good match." Stroud notes at least 10 players and/or coaches will "wear microphones, and the crews will have access to every room in the facility and will shoot footage away from One Buc Place." For a franchise that has failed to make the playoffs for the last nine years, "Hard Knocks" represents a "windfall of marketing and rare national exposure." Bucs GM Jason Licht and coach Dirk Koetter said that they did "not believe 'Hard Knocks' would be a distraction." The show premieres Aug. 8 (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/20). In Tampa, Tom Jones writes viewers should "get an unprecedented look at the organization's most high-profile figures," such as Koetter, Winston and McCoy, "revealing how they interact with the each other, how they talk when they don't think the public is listening and how they go about their daily lives." What is "amazing about the show is that even after 11 seasons, you still never know what you're going to get." The stories on the show have "become so intimate that no NFL team wants to do the show." Koetter yesterday said what "all coaches think." Koetter: "I like watching the show. I wish I wasn't on it" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/20).