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Volume 24 No. 115

Media

The NFL's ratings woes "continued in Week 2, and Wall Street is taking notice, given there are fewer excuses for falling viewership than there were a year ago," according to Bond & Szalai of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. NFL games "remain some of the most-watched content on television," but ratings slid 12% in the NFL's opening weekend. Many people were "blaming Hurricane Irma" for the Week 1 slide, but Week 2 was down 15% year-over-year "without dramatic weather." This comes after an 8% ratings drop last season. Guggenheim Securities analyst Michael Morris said that he had been "optimistic heading into the new season." However, he said, "Early results do not support this optimism." Jefferies analyst John Janedis figures league rights holders will generate about $2.5B in NFL ad revenue this season, but a 10% shortfall "could translate" to a $200M cut in earnings. Morris said, "The NFL is an indicator of overall primetime programming ratings performance" (HOLLYWOODREPORTER.com, 9/20). CNN.com's Frank Pallotta wrote under the header, "NFL Ratings Are Down Again This Season. Is It Time To Panic Yet?" Magna Senior VP Brian Hughes, whose company monitors audience trends, indicated that there is "not enough of a sample size of games" to make a "true assessment of the league's viewership so far." However, the "ratings slump could also be a sign of disruptive media trends on the horizon" (CNN.com, 9/20). SI.com's Richard Deitsch noted nine of the 13 NFL windows through Week 2 have "posted a decrease this season year over year." One "positive note" for the league is that Monday's Lions-Giants game did "trend up" for ESPN. While CBS has "suffered early," the "most positive NFL ratings story so far" is from NFL Network. It is too early in the season "to make larger judgments ... especially given some of the external factors (e.g. Irma)." Deitsch: "But the NFL is likely a little concerned" (SI.com, 9/20).

BREAKING THE HABIT?
ESPN's Bomani Jones said he feels like he watches football "in a lot of ways now out of habit as much as anything else." He said, "This is what we do on Sundays." However, TV ratings are "falling now in a such a way that Wall Street is like, ‘Wait a minute now -- last year we would have cut you some slack on your ratings falling because there was this all-consuming presidential election. The presidential election is over, so what’s going on here?'” Jones said the league is at a “point now with people not being so interested in the NFL has the money a little bit worried.” ESPN's Pablo Torre said the dominance of the NFL "is still unparalleled in terms of American television,” but there is a question of whether observers have "seen peak NFL." Torre: "Have we seen the greatest share the NFL could ever get? Has that already passed us by? I’m inclined to say yes. That may be the case for all sports quite honestly” ("The Right Time with Bomani Jones," ESPN Radio, 9/20). The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said, “One of the fallacies of sports and entertainment over the last 50 years … is that everything always has to grow. Everything doesn't always grow. There’s an ebb and a flow, things are cyclical. Once upon a time in America, the three most popular sports were baseball, boxing and horse racing.” The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw said the NFL has to expect a “little bit of decline, because everybody has a little bit of decline.” However, the league also has to ask if there is a "problems with our product.” Cowlishaw: “The answer to that is clearly yes” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 9/20).

FUN WITH NUMBERS: ESPN's Torre said the way ratings are measured has "always been arcane and complicated, not just because it’s hard to measure ratings but because it’s beneficial for the Nielsen corporation to make things that others can’t access and dissect themselves.” Torre said if there is going to be “this crisis over ratings and we’re going to hire and fire and move markets based on this, shouldn’t we know a little bit more about the numbers and the data that we’re gathering?” ESPN's Jones: "We do have a lot of trust in Nielsen" ("The Right Time," ESPN Radio, 9/20).

The Verizon IndyCar Series averaged 1.14 million viewers for 17 races across ABC, NBCSN and CNBC in ’17, marking the open-wheel racing circuit’s lowest average since ’14. The average was down 11% from 1.28 million viewers last season for 15 races (which was IndyCar's best season since '11), and down from 1.16 million viewers for 16 races two years ago. While IndyCar was down in '17, it did see a 34% gain from '14-16. Much of the year-over-year drop this season can be attributed to the series’ marquee race -- the Indianapolis 500 on ABC -- seeing a 9% drop from ’16, which was the 100th running of the race. ABC’s package of five races averaged 2.31 million viewers, down 8% from ’16. NBCSN again carried the bulk of the IndyCar TV package, averaging 497,000 viewers, which was up 4% from last season. When including average minute audience streaming numbers from NBC Sports Digital, IndyCar races averaged a total audience delivery number of 507,000 viewers, up 3% from '16 and just short of the record 510,000 in '15. NBCSN aired last Sunday night’s season finale from Sonoma Raceway, averaging 528,000 viewers. That figure is down from 536,000 last year and marks the least-viewed IndyCar finale since ’14, when NBCSN drew 280,000 viewers for a late Saturday night race from Auto Club Speedway on Labor Day weekend. 

INDYCAR TV VIEWERSHIP TREND
SEASON
NETWORKS
RACES
VIEWERS (000)
'17
ABC/NBCSN/CNBC
17
1,137
'16
ABC/NBCSN/CNBC
15
1,278
'15
ABC/NBCSN
16
1,162
'14
ABC/NBCSN
17
1,025
'13
ABC/NBCSN
19
953

NBC and Blackhawks TV analyst Ed Olczyk is “scheduled for six months of chemo” following last month’s diagnosis of colon cancer. Blackhawks play-by-play announcer Pat Foley gave an update on his partner during the team’s preseason game against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday and said Olczyk began his chemo treatments “last week.” Foley: “This guy is in a battle. He had to go through a five-hour surgery, and it took him six weeks to recover from that. … These are very hard times for him” (“Blackhawks-Blue Jackets,” CSN Chicago, 9/19). In Chicago, James Neveau noted Olczyk has been a "fixture in the Blackhawks’ booth for a decade." Former Blackhawks D Steve Konroyd will "fill in" for Olczyk as the Blackhawks color analyst while he is "undergoing treatment" (NBCCHICAGO.com, 9/20).

FREEZING COLD TAKE
: On Long Island, Neil Best notes ESPN's Trey Wingo will replace Mike Greenberg when he leaves "Mike & Mike" in January, and one thing you "will not hear from Wingo; contrived controversy." Wingo said, "We aren't going to shy away from anything, but I'm not a hot-taker." He added, "That's not what I do. I prefer reasonably nuanced discussion based on information, for lack of a better term." Best notes Wingo will host "NFL Live" on ESPN through the end of the current season, then "leave the show to focus on his morning job." He will "continue to host" the NFL Draft and "NFL Primetime" (NEWSDAY, 9/21).

VETERAN MOVE: In N.Y., Hannah Withiam notes YES Network on Friday announced that Sarah Kustok would become the Nets' full-time color commentator, "making her the only woman handling the analyst duties on her own for an NBA team this season." Kustok has spent the "past five years as the Nets' sideline reporter." Three seasons ago a "scheduling conflict pushed her into the analyst role alongside longtime play-by-play man Ian Eagle for a game against the 76ers." The fill-in gigs "slowly picked up from there and opened Kustok's eyes to a thrilling possibility." Eagle said, "She is smart, passionate, prepared, likable, everything that you look for in a successful analyst" (N.Y. POST, 9/21).

FEMALE INTUITION: ESPN’s Beth Mowins was the first woman to call an NFL game in 30 years earlier this season, and she said of her experience working “MNF,” “It’s a different voice for most fans to hear that aren’t watching a lot of women’s sports or are not watching a lot of college basketball, it does take a little bit I think to get used to that.” Mowins: “I try to encourage people, give us a quarter, give us a half and don’t pay attention to pitch and tone and things like that. What’s the content? What’s the quality?" Mowins said of the impact she is making on the younger generations of women, “I have embraced that a little bit more because I walk that fine line between, ‘Well, I’m a play-by-play announcer.’ Well, if you see me as a female play-by-play announcer that’s fine, but I’m not going to broadcast that” (“We Need To Talk,” CBSSN, 9/19).

PEAKING QUICKLY: Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom said before the season he “wasn’t sure" if CBS' Tony Romo would be "any good" at broadcasting. Albom: "After two games, I’ll modify that: he may be a Top 3 analyst already." Albom said Romo is "not as polished" as Cris Collinsworth on NBC or "as comfortable" as Troy Aikman on Fox. But Albom asked, "When was the last time a color analyst really opened your eyes to a football game in the NFL?" Albom: "Romo approaches each play as if he’s walking to the line and surveying it as quarterback. He picks apart the defense and indicates where the play is likely to go all before the snap is made" (“The Sports Reporters Podcast,” 9/18).

ICE, ICE BABY
: Former Sabres coach Dan Bylsma, former NHLers Ken Daneyko and Stu Grimson, and former Sportsnet anchor Jackie Redmond have joined NHL Network's roster of on-air talent. Bylsma, Daneyko and Grimson will contribute as studio analysts, and Redmond will serve as a studio host and reporter (NHL Network).

In Raleigh, Luke DeCock wrote ESPN's decision to place the ACC Network in Bristol instead of Charlotte raises "legitimate questions" about whether the network "will end up being SEC [Network] Lite instead of a comparable operation." Those questions "will now persist even if the two networks end up getting equal treatment in terms of resources and production values, solely because of ESPN’s decision to base the network somewhere other than the heart of ACC country." The move "certainly has the distinct aura of penny-pinching, although in this era of digital television, it may not matter at all" (NEWSOBSERVER.com, 9/20).

TIMING PLAY: In Detroit, Tony Paul reported game times for an ESPN college basketball doubleheader at Little Caesars Arena on Dec. 16 "have been moved up, meaning there's no more conflict" with the Bears-Lions game taking place the same time at Ford Field. The Michigan-Detroit Mercy game "now will be played" at noon ET (instead of 1:30pm) and Michigan State-Oakland now will be at 2:30pm (instead of 4:00pm). MSU-Oakland had "been originally scheduled to be played practically opposite" the Lions game, which kicks off at 4:30pm the same day (DETROIT NEWS, 9/19).

TWELVE-STEP PROGRAM: Univ. of Oregon AD Rob Mullens said the Pac-12 Networks have "improved our league from a distribution standpoint" and has had a "very positive impact on Olympic sports and the exposure they receive." But Mullens said he gets "a lot of calls" about late kickoff times for football games to accommodate the network. Mullens: "That’s probably the one thing that really frustrates our fan base. ... I understand that because of the travel distance [for other schools] it’s a concern” (REGISTERGUARD.com, 9/20).

BASKETBALLINSIDERS.com's Ben Dowsett reported Comcast will upgrade all of its "NBA League Pass" channels to HD beginning this season (TWITTER.com, 9/19). In N.Y., Fran Kilinski notes until this year, the service "only offered one of their channels in HD." However, other TV providers like Cablevision, DirecTV and Dish have "all had the bandwidth to offer their viewers multiple HD League Pass channels." It is "unclear" why Comcast "took so long to give their subscribers a full HD experience" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/21).

WORD FINDER: In DC, Matt Bonesteel noted Fox News had eight on-air discussions about ESPN and "SC6" co-host Jemele Hill between Sept. 12, the day after Hill’s tweets calling President Trump a "white supremacist," and the Sunday-morning talk shows on Sept. 17. And that number "probably is low." The word "ESPN" was mentioned on Fox News "zero times in the comparable Tuesday-Sunday stretch from the week before." Bonesteel: "A now-vigilant Fox News gives ESPN a much more potent foil than Fox Sports 1" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/20).

PRIME PITCH: In London, Charles Sale noted there is "widespread speculation" that Amazon will bid on a set of three-year packages for EPL rights beginning in the '19-20 season. Amazon is regarded as the "most likely" of the digital media firms to bid for EPL content ahead of Facebook, Google, Twitter and Netflix (London DAILY MAIL, 9/19).