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Volume 23 No. 23
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Speeding up play at 'Sunday Countdown'

ESPN is shortening its “Sunday NFL Countdown” pregame show from three hours to two as part of an effort to quicken the show’s pace and attract younger viewers.

ESPN will put “NFL Insiders: Sunday Edition” in the 10-11 a.m. ET hour, a show that also will be produced with a quicker pace, according to Seth Markman, ESPN’s senior coordinating producer for NFL studio production.

The “Sunday NFL Countdown” crew will fill two hours instead of three this season.
Photo by: ESPN IMAGES
“We honestly just felt like ‘Countdown’ would be a better show at two hours,” Markman said. “The show moved a little slower than I liked last season. I promise you that’s not going to be the case any more.”

That means, for example, host Chris Berman will not start the show with the long lead-ins where he introduces each game to viewers.

“Those are going away,” Markman said. “With the amount of information that’s out there each week, everybody knows who’s playing, everybody knows the storylines.”

Instead, Berman and analysts Cris Carter, Mike Ditka, Keyshawn Johnson and Tom Jackson will focus on the topics of the day more succinctly.

ESPN is basing its changes on focus group feedback that said the show was becoming stale over three hours, Markman said. The show averaged 1.897 million viewers last season, a figure that was down from the previous year.

“The guys might have been running out of gas a little bit because we were talking about the same topic three or four times and we were on for three hours,” Markman said. “When you are getting reports from empty stadiums three hours before kickoff, I’m not sure that’s bringing that kind of anticipation to the fan.”

Trey Wingo will host “NFL Insiders,” which Markman said will be based on Chris Mortensen, Adam Schefter and Louis Riddick “emptying their notebooks.”

Both shows also will have a heavier fantasy football emphasis this season, which means much more airtime for Matthew Berry. Rather than individual fantasy football segments, ESPN is planning to bring up fantasy football as part of normal on-set discussions.

“Years ago, we didn’t want to alienate real fans with fantasy information,” Markman said. “You know what? Fantasy is really popular. It’s a great business for ESPN. Fantasy football players are just football fans. Nobody gets turned off by that information anymore.”

— John Ourand