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Volume 26 No. 85

Media

TNT's most-viewed game of the season thus far was one featuring James and the Lakers on Oct. 18
Photo: nbae/getty images
TNT's most-viewed game of the season thus far was one featuring James and the Lakers on Oct. 18
Photo: nbae/getty images
TNT's most-viewed game of the season thus far was one featuring James and the Lakers on Oct. 18
Photo: nbae/getty images

NBA viewership is down 26% on TNT and 6% on ESPN one month into the season. Much of the sharp decline can be attributed to LeBron James’ move to the Western Conference, which has hit viewership for the early-window primetime NBA telecasts particularly hard so far. TNT is averaging 1.79 million viewers after 12 game telecasts, the net’s slowest start to a season in at least a decade. TNT was hit right out of the gate on opening night, as the 76ers-Celtics and Thunder-Warriors doubleheader averaged 2.82 million viewers. That was down 42% from last year, when the doubleheader featured Celtics-Cavaliers (highlighted by Kyrie Irving's return to Cleveland) and Rockets-Warriors. TNT’s top game this season to date easily was its first featuring James and the Lakers, as the matchup with the Trail Blazers on Oct. 18 averaged 3.31 million viewers.

CALIFORNIA KING: For TNT’s early windows this season to date, the net is averaging 1.61 million viewers compared to 2.75 million viewers at the same point last season (zero James games this year vs. two in ’17). But the late windows, which feature more prominent Western Conference teams, are seeing a less-pronounced drop, with two Lakers games to date. Meanwhile, ESPN is down 6% overall after 18 telecasts, averaging 1.69 million viewers compared to 1.79 million. But the net is up compared to the same time frame two years ago (1.61 million viewers for 14 games). James and the Lakers also have the top ESPN game this season, with 2.7 million viewers for the Nov. 8 matchup against the Celtics. Similar to TNT, ESPN’s early window is seeing a drop (-16%), as there were three Cavaliers/James games at this point last year compared to zero Lakers/James games in the early window so far this season. Both TNT and ESPN will look to close the gap as the season progresses, with stronger matchups in the back half, as well as the ability to flex in some better games.

CITY EDITIONS: While national viewership has started slower than last season, several local markets are seeing impressive gains to date. The addition of James in the offseason has helped Spectrum SportsNet to a 39% gain. The Nuggets have also impressed in the standings early on, and ratings in Denver on Altitude are up 160%. Rookie Mavericks G Luka Doncic has drawn the interest of viewers in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market, with game ratings up 86% despite sitting near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Coming off an impressive playoff run, Jazz game ratings in Salt Lake City are up 59% on AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain. The Rockets also continue to draw despite a slow start, with ratings on AT&T SportsNet Southwest up 80% in Houston to date.

Amazon's bid for all 22 Fox-branded RSNs that Disney is selling comes as teams and leagues have been "waiting for digital giants like Apple, Facebook and Google to make a push into acquiring live sports rights," with any significant deal with Amazon "potentially shifting live sports rights into a digital sphere," according to Ben Strauss of the WASHINGTON POST. Should Amazon acquire the RSNs, several industry experts speculated that "local game broadcasts could eventually be used to boost the value of a Prime membership." Media consulting company TV Rev co-Founder Alan Wolk suggested that with a "slate of new media products soon to be offered by rival companies -- Netflix-like options from Warner, Apple and Disney -- live sports could be a differentiator for Amazon." Strauss notes putting games "behind a paywall and requiring viewers to have a Prime membership, though, might not sit well with professional sports teams that want to reach as many fans as possible." Octagon Senior VP Dan Cohen suggested that Amazon "could introduce a model where a baseball team, for example, might put some of its games behind a Prime paywall, while other broadcasts would be available to stream free" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/21). THE BIG LEAD's Ryan Glasspiegel wrote there has been plenty of speculation about the "threat of new Internet players joining the fray for premium live sports rights." They have "nibbled around the edges," but thus far the "new-money firms like Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Yahoo have not really dove into exclusive rights for A-List properties." A serious bid by Amazon for the RSNs "signals that they are going to be big players in the next round of live rights" (THEBIGLEAD.com, 11/20).

STREAMING WARS: ZACKS INVESTMENT RESEARCH's Benjamin Rain noted Amazon has already "spent heavily on original content and made live sports a priority." As Apple and others "jump into live streaming the companies will have to compete against each other for subscribers more than ever before." Amazon’s ability to "offer streaming movies, TV, and live sports, not to mention its shipping deals, could help it come out on top of the battle for streaming supremacy" (ZACKS.com, 11/20). FAST COMPANY's Jared Newman wrote Amazon's bid is "noteworthy as the company tries to build à la carte TV through Amazon Channels." That service "allows Prime members to add premium channels such as HBO and Starz through a single app and billing system, and Amazon says it’s seen 'millions' of these add-on subscriptions so far." Bringing in "live sports could give Amazon a big advantage over rivals like Roku and Apple, which are reportedly working on similar à la carte plans." It could also "accelerate the collapse of traditional pay-TV bundles, which are becoming more dependent on sports to keep subscribers around" (FASTCOMPANY.com, 11/20).

MONTHLY REVENUE PER SUB FOR FOX-OWNED RSNs (ACCORDING TO KAGAN)
RSN
REVENUE PER SUBSCRIBER
RSN
REVENUE PER SUBSCRIBER
YES Network
$6.37
FS Indiana
$2.67
FS Detroit
$5.84
FS Tennessee
$2.54
FS Arizona
$4.84
FS Sun
$2.32
FS Ohio
$4.07
SportsTime Ohio
$2.20
FS Midwest
$3.93
FS Prime Ticket
$2.14
FS Wisconsin
$3.35
FS Florida
$1.88
FS Southwest
$3.14
FS Southeast
$1.86
FS West
$3.12
FS K.C.
$1.77
FS North
$2.95
FS South
$1.63
FS Oklahoma
$2.80
FS New Orleans
$1.49
FS San Diego
$2.79
FS Carolinas
$0.85
Download the
Fox RSN Sub Fees

LINGERING EFFECTS: CNBC.com's Alex Sherman wrote the threat of Amazon buying sports rights "should scare traditional media companies that are banking on owning must-see live content to stay alive in an on-demand world." In Disney's case, Amazon's interest is a "double-edged sword." On the "plus side, a competitive bidding situation could push up the sale price, which could top" $20B. Amazon's interest "could drive the price for Fox up, helping Disney get the maximum value from the assets it has to divest." On the other hand, despite "all the chatter around Disney+, Disney is still very much a traditional media company, and its largest media asset by revenue is ESPN." Owning sports rights is "critical to ESPN's long-term success." Selling sports rights to a "giant like Amazon" could spur other tech giants "like Apple, Google and Facebook to bid on sports rights to stay competitive" (CNBC.com, 11/20).

WHO ELSE IS INTERESTED? FORBES' David Bloom noted other bidders for the RSNs "include the private-equity companies Apollo Global Management, KKR and The Blackstone Group, as well as the nation's biggest broadcast station chain, Sinclair Broadcast Group, and Tegna, the former Gannett broadcast and digital media divisions" (FORBES.com, 11/20).

Wilder-Fury will cost $74.99, regardless of whether the customer has a Showtime subscription
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Wilder-Fury will cost $74.99, regardless of whether the customer has a Showtime subscription
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Wilder-Fury will cost $74.99, regardless of whether the customer has a Showtime subscription
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Showtime is "breaking new ground by offering pay-per-view access" to the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury heavyweight fight on Dec. 1 "directly through the Showtime app," according to Dade Hayes of DEADLINE.com. The Showtime app has "never before offered boxing matches directly." Boxing is a "lucrative category" for the net, with Wilder-Fury "going for $74.99 per stream regardless of whether the customer has a Showtime subscription." Viewers paying for the fight who have "never been Showtime subscribers will receive a 30-day free trial offer." Showtime "plans to continue" rolling out PPV capabilities on "additional streaming devices in time for its next major event," Manny Pacquiao-Adrien Broner on Jan. 19 (DEADLINE.com, 11/19).

Windhorst is working on a book about James' business endeavors, his fourth book on the Lakers F
Photo: espn images
Windhorst is working on a book about James' business endeavors, his fourth book on the Lakers F
Photo: espn images
Windhorst is working on a book about James' business endeavors, his fourth book on the Lakers F
Photo: espn images

Brian Windhorst, the "ubiquitous ESPN basketball writer and television personality," has spent 15 years "dogged by the perception that he is little more than a [LeBron] James mouthpiece with the good fortune to have also been born in Akron," according to a profile by Kevin Draper of the N.Y. TIMES. Windhorst has "covered James for almost two decades, since James was 14." This has led to Windhorst being accused of being a "sycophant who clings to one of the world's most famous athletes." However, Windhorst said that he "left the full-time LeBron beat" in '12, after moving to N.Y. to "cover the entire league while keeping one eye trained on James." Draper notes despite Windhorst wanting to "shake the label of being LeBron's personal reporter," he does not seem to be "trying all that hard." He will write a few "big pieces about James's team each year, and he is writing a book about James's businesses, his fourth book about James." After leaving Miami, Windhorst "became more of a national breaking-news reporter," though he "hated much of it, especially the pressure to break news about draft picks." Lately, he has "chided the sports media for how it reports his words," and has even taken ESPN "to task." Now in his 16th year of covering the NBA, Windhorst has "figured out how to do exactly what he wants." He uses podcasts to "talk about the news he cannot quite break, and rejects broadcast interviews with James because he does not like negotiating conditions with James's handlers" (NYTIMES.com, 11/21).

In Spokane, Vince Grippi writes ESPN's team of Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas is "one of the best announcing tandems in college hoops." Bilas "never misses much, and though he's willing to inject some humor into the game action, he rarely lets it overpower" it. Bilas does a feature before most games called "94 feet with Jay Bilas" in which he typically "walks the length of the court" with a player, "asking questions the entire way." Bilas' "94 feet" Tuesday with Gonzaga F Rui Hachimura at the Maui Invitational "was done, appropriately, on a Maui beach" (Spokane SPOKESMAN-REVIEW, 11/21).

LET IT BE: In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote "MNF" voice Joe Tessitore is the "worst Next Room Announcer in the game." Bedard: "I'm fixing a sandwich in the kitchen in the first quarter and I hear the announcer dramatically raise his voice ... I run into the next room, and it's a 5-yard run." Tessitore "announces a first-quarter water break" as if it is "about to cure cancer." Bedard: "Chill out. There are 16 games and 60 minutes of game action. Let the game speak for itself" (BOSTONSPORTSJOURNAL.com, 11/20).

COMING HOME: In Hartford, Alex Putterman notes during a visit to ESPN in October, company co-Founder Bill Rasmussen "reunited" with Chris Berman and "visited the spot on I-84 where he and his son first thought up a 24-hour sports network." Rasmussen also "taped interviews" for "E:60" and "some 40th-anniversary coverage to air next summer, and hosted a meet-and-greet with current employees" (COURANT.com, 11/21).

NBC averaged 3.44 million viewers for its seven Notre Dame football games this season, marking the best figure since the '12 season (4.38 million viewers). It also is the third-best figure over the last decade on NBC. This year's figure rises to 3.49 million viewers on total audience delivery when streaming is included. Last season, for six games, NBC averaged 2.74 million viewers. This year's increase was boosted by the season-opening game against Michigan, which drew 7.09 million viewers and was the most-watched Notre Dame game on the net in 13 years. 

NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL VIEWERSHIP ON NBC
SEASON
GAMES
VIEWERS (000)
'18
7
3,443
'17*
6
2,742
'16
7
2,814
'15^
6
2,954
'14
7
3,226
'13
7
3,340
'12
7
4,381
'11
7
2,617
'10
8
3,130
'09
8
3,684
NOTES: * = Excludes NBCSN game against Miami (Ohio). ^ = Excludes NBCSN game against Boston College.
Download the
Notre Dame NBC trend

POINTS OF INTEREST: ESPN finished with 16.61 million viewers for Chiefs-Rams on Monday, marking the best “MNF” audience since the ’16 season finale featuring Lions-Cowboys (18.61 million). It also is up 54% from 10.76 million for Falcons-Seahawks in Week 11 last year. Despite the big gain, Chiefs-Rams does not rank among ESPN’s top 10 most-watched “MNF” games. The game did help boost ESPN's overall season numbers, with viewership up 9% to date.

URBAN LEAGUE: Ohio State’s 52-51 win over Maryland on Saturday drew 5.59 million viewers, marking the best viewership for an ABC game in the 12:00pm ET window in around two years. That dates back to Michigan-OSU in ’16, which drew 16.84 million viewers and remains the most-viewed noon kickoff on record for any net.

The chart below lists final audience figures for select recent sports telecasts.

TELECAST
DATE
NET
TIME (ET)
RAT.
VIEWERS
(000)
"SNF": Vikings-Bears
11/18
NBC
8:23-11:13pm
10.7
18,843
NFL: Eagles-Saints (98%)
11/18
Fox
4:25-7:30pm
10.7
18,377
"TNF": Packers-Seahawks
11/15
Fox/
NFL Net
8:23-11:19pm
10.0
16,885
NFL: (singeheader)
11/18
CBS
1:00-4:05pm
8.2
13,803
NFL: (regional)
11/18
Fox
1:00-4:15pm
7.9
13,321
"MNF": Giants-49ers
11/12
ESPN
8:14-11:25pm
6.2
10,649
"Football Night in America"
11/18
NBC
7:30-8:14pm
4.3
7,251
College football: Ohio State-Maryland
11/17
ABC
12:01-4:08pm
3.5
5,588
"Fox NFL Sunday"
11/18
Fox
12:00-1:00pm
n/a
4,723
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series:
Ford EcoBoost 400 (Homestead)
11/18
NBC
3:36-7:00pm
2.5
4,154
College football: West Virginia-Oklahoma State
11/17
ABC
4:08-7:37pm
2.4
3,900
College football: Cincinnati-UCF
11/17
ABC
8:07-11:39pm
1.9
3,098
College football: Syracuse-Notre Dame
11/17
NBC
2:30-6:00pm
1.8
2,873
"The NFL Today"
11/18
CBS
12:00-1:00pm
n/a
2,802
College football: Kansas-Oklahoma
11/17
Fox
7:35-11:02pm
1.8
2,762
College football: Michigan State-Nebraska
11/17
Fox
12:00-3:45pm
1.6
2,515
College football: Duke-Clemson
11/17
ESPN
7:05-10:32pm
n/a
2,452
College football: Indiana-Michigan
11/17
FS1
4:05-7:55pm
1.4
2,273
NBA: Trail Blazers-Lakers
11/14
ESPN
10:38pm-1:02am
n/a
2,067
College football: Missouri-Tennessee
11/17
CBS
3:30-6:45pm
1.3
2,025
College football: USC-UCLA
11/17
Fox
3:45-7:15pm
1.3
1,983
NBA: Raptors-Celtics
11/16
ESPN
7:11-9:52pm
n/a
1,824
"College GameDay"
11/17
ESPN
9:00am-12:01pm
n/a
1,817
NBA: Bulls-Bucks
11/16
ESPN
9:52-11:51pm
n/a
1,704
College football: Arizona-Washington State
10/17
ESPN
10:35pm-1:04am
1.0
1,568
"Fox NFL Kickoff"
11/18
Fox
11:00am-12:00pm
n/a
1,455
"Sunday NFL Countdown"
11/18
ESPN
10:00am-1:00pm
n/a
1,399
"Monday Night Countdown"
11/12
ESPN
6:00-8:00pm
n/a
1,343
Figure Skating: ISU Grand Prix (taped)
11/18
NBC
12:00-1:30pm
0.6
881
LPGA: CME Group Tour Championship: Final Round
11/18
ABC
1:00-4:00pm
0.4
589
"World of X Games"
11/18
ABC
12:00-1:00pm
0.3
484
"Gamers Choice Awards Nomination Special"
11/18
CBS
5:00-6:00pm
0.3
412
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Audience