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Volume 21 No. 13


NFL games accounted for nine of the top 10 telecasts.
Despite a big drop for NFL regular-season viewership during the calendar year 2017, the league — and sports overall — still dominated the TV landscape.

Among the 100 most-viewed shows on TV in 2017, 81 were sports telecasts, which is down from 88 in 2016. But that decline may largely be due to an Olympic year in 2016, with 15 NBC telecasts from the Rio Olympics cracking the top 100 that year.

Only two scripted TV episodes were in the top 100 in 2016, whereas nine made the list in 2017. Also missing from the top telecasts in 2017 were three presidential debates, which came in at Nos. 2-4 in 2016.

Within the top 10, NFL game windows accounted for nine slots (the Oscars were No. 7). Within the top 100, 64 telecasts were NFL games in 2017, compared to 60 in 2016. Outside of the NFL, six of the Astros-Dodgers World Series games on Fox cracked the top 100, while all five of the Warriors-Cavaliers NBA Finals games on ABC made the list as well.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship again cracked the list, as did a Final Four game (North Carolina-Oregon) and one regional final (North Carolina-Kentucky). Two college football games made the list in 2017 — the Clemson-Alabama CFP National Championship and USC-Penn State in the Rose Bowl (both on ESPN).

The Kentucky Derby returned to the top 100 after missing the list in 2016. Outside of the Oscars, the other live non-sports telecasts to crack the list in 2017 were the Grammys, “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Golden Globes, an episode of “America’s Got Talent,” the 50th anniversary special for the “Carol Burnett Show” and the red carpet special for the Oscars. Five episodes of “NCIS” made the list, as did two episodes of “The Big Bang Theory.”

First Look podcast, with the Top 100 discussion at the 18:22 mark:

Both CBS and NBC saw double-digit percentage drops in ratings for “Thursday Night Football.”
ABC Sports has emerged as a surprise bidder for the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” package, according to several NFL and media sources. The NFL has not yet received a formal bid, which would come via ESPN as Disney owns both networks and ESPN produces sports events on ABC.

But the league clearly expects a bid from ABC, along with incumbent “TNF” broadcasters, CBS and NBC — both of whom have indicated to the league that they will bid for the package. Fox also was setting up a bid for “TNF” — a package that has incurred the wrath of fans, players and television executives over the past several years due to complaints of a condensed schedule leading to bad games, more injuries and lower ratings.

The deadline to submit bids to the league was last week, but sources say bids still will be submitted after the deadline expires.

Amazon Stats

* Biggest “TNF” viewership by state
1. California
2. Texas
3. New York
4. Florida
5. Washington

* Biggest “TNF” viewership by country (outside U.S.)
1. Mexico
2. Germany
3. South Korea
4. Brazil
5. United Kingdom
6. Japan

CBS and NBC pay a combined $450 million per year for the current package, which has seen ratings drop double-digit percentages over the past two years. CBS averaged 14.1 million viewers for its five games, down 4 percent from last season and down 20 percent from 2015. NBC averaged 13.5 million viewers for its five “TNF” games, down 21 percent from its first season with the package.

ABC bid on the Thursday package in 2014, but that bid was not competitive and CBS ended up with the package. Two years ago, the last time the “TNF” package was open, ABC showed initial interest, but dropped out of the process early.

John Skipper’s surprising resignation as ESPN president last month led some to question whether ABC would move forward with a bid. Ultimately, Disney and ESPN executives decided to do so, though it is not known whether their bid will be competitive.

The decision to submit a bid for ABC instead of ESPN is happening for a few reasons. The NFL has made it clear that it wants its “TNF” package on broadcast television, not cable. But ABC’s programming strategy also has undergone a change. Years ago, it walked away from the live sports business, opting to put almost all of its sports programming on ESPN. But since then, the broadcast network has found ratings success with college football on Saturday nights. Network executives also have been happy with its schedule of Saturday night NBA regular-season games, which it started last year.

If ABC’s bid is successful, it would mark the first time ABC will carry a regular season package of NFL games since 2005, the final year of “Monday Night Football” on broadcast television. ABC, of course, was the first TV network to carry NFL games in prime time when it launched “Monday Night Football” in 1970.

The league has told potential TV bidders that NFL Network needs to carry a minimum of seven games exclusively to comply with its pay-TV affiliate deals. Plus, the league will sell streaming rights separately to have what the league calls a tri-cast with a broadcast TV partner, NFL Network and a digital platform such as Twitter or Amazon carrying the games.

The NFL expects a lot of digital interest in its “TNF” streaming package. Amazon carried the games last season, and Twitter had them the season before. Amazon refuses to say whether it will bid to keep the rights, but judging by comments from its top sports executive last week, it seems likely to be involved in the bidding.

“We’re still learning a lot,” said Jim DeLorenzo, Amazon’s head of sports. “Having ‘Thursday Night Football’ on Amazon was great. We loved being able to partner with the NFL.”

It’s easy to see why Amazon was so high on the package. Amazon averaged 310,000 viewers for its 11 NFL games, based on an average-minute audience. The previous season, Twitter averaged 265,000 viewers. Amazon’s viewers watched for an average of 63 minutes.

Facebook and Twitter are expected to bid on the rights, as well.

League executives have told the digital companies that they could submit bids for the entire package, which would mean Amazon could carry the games exclusively on Amazon Prime, produce them and sell them to affiliates in the local markets. It’s not clear if any of the digital companies planned to bid on the whole package.

As ESPN announcer Jason Benetti prepared to call an Oregon State baseball game in June, news broke that the school’s star pitcher Luke Heimlich had pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a young relative just five years earlier.

Benetti immediately called ESPN’s senior director of communications, Keri Potts, to help him figure out what words he should use when he addressed the situation on-air.

“I don’t know what I would have said, but I do know that it would have been more ham-handed than what I said,” Benetti said.

When the NFL suspended Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for a domestic violence incident in August, “SportsCenter” anchor Kevin Negandhi recalled a talk Potts gave on the language of sexual assault as he wrote his script for that night’s show.

Keri Potts, ESPN’s senior director of communications
“I just remember channeling Keri in the back of my mind saying, ‘Don’t be afraid to make sure you explain why we’re going through this,’” Negandhi said.

The story of how an ESPN PR representative becomes such an important voice on how ESPN covers sexual assault and abuse issues is nearly a decade in the making. It’s a story of not giving up when doors get closed, which is something that happened quite a bit over the years.

Where ESPN editorial and talent once dismissed Potts as an advocate, they increasingly have leaned on her to help with the language they should use when they report news of sexual violence and sexual harassment. Announcers regularly call her to discuss how to address sexual assault storylines that arise in a given game. News anchors send countless emails to Potts, checking language on sensitive stories.

These issues are important to Potts, who was sexually assaulted in Italy in 2008. She told her story in a 2010 issue of Marie Claire, after which she started giving talks outside of ESPN about that experience. Potts said she was surprised by how many people were moved by her story.

“I realized that while I was an expert about my own personal story, I wasn’t an expert on the topic, and I felt like I needed to go get training and get certified,” Potts said. “I also didn’t realize how inspiring my talks would be to people. After I would give talks, people I didn’t even know would come to my office and ask if they could speak with me, and then just break down and tell me about a rape that just happened like the week earlier.”

Potts got her certification to work with sexual assault victims and began helping them in her spare time outside of work. It wasn’t until 2011 when she saw attorney Claudia Bayliff give a presentation called “Raped or Seduced” at the CounterQuo conference at Suffolk University that she realized she could effect change where she worked. Bayliff’s talk explored language used in writing about sexual assault crimes, and how some terms — like “accuser” and “claimed” — are prejudicial. Potts saw those terms come up all the time at ESPN.

“As you tend to be when you come out of a conference, I was super ardent,” Potts said. “I reached out to some folks in our news division, particularly about changing the word ‘accuser.’”

Potts’ enthusiasm hit a brick wall. The news group wanted to bend over backward to not appear biased and saw Potts as someone trying to take it to an extreme.

Potts bided her time.

Three years later, Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulted his then-fiancee on an elevator, and Potts renewed her push to change the language ESPN used when reporting those cases. While the news division was more receptive, her pitch again went nowhere.

“It’s hard not to be a little bitter, because it is personal,” she said.

It changed last January when during the Allstate Sugar Bowl, ESPN announcer Brent Musburger defended Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon, who was charged with assaulting a woman. (“Folks, he is just one of the best,” Musburger said.)

A week later she huddled with Stephanie Druley, ESPN’s senior vice president of event and studio production. Druley wanted her announcers and analysts to use more neutral language when talking about these matters and decided to give Potts a platform.

She arranged to have Potts address all of ESPN’s college football talent at the network’s annual meetings in August. This year, the meeting was held in Atlanta, where Potts lives.

“The goal was not trying to change people’s minds about however they felt about things,” Druley said. “It was about making sure they have the right background to put themselves in certain positions to understand what all sides are going through.”

Potts’ talk was a hit, and she left to a standing ovation. Other departments quickly invited Potts to speak to their groups. ESPN’s editorial department even brought Potts in to help develop guidelines for how to write about sexual assault and sexual violence, similar to guidelines for how ESPN writes about the LGBT community.

Under ESPN’s new sexual assault guidelines, people are not called “accusers” or “alleged victims.” Rather, ESPN refers to them as men and women. The guidelines spell out euphemisms to avoid and what Potts calls “consensual language” that shouldn’t be uttered. ESPN tries to not refer to a salacious story as a “sex scandal” and does not call rape a “sex act.”

“We try to be careful with our language,” said David Kraft, ESPN’s executive editor of news operations. “We want to be as honest with our viewers and readers as possible without being seen as being sympathetic to one side or another.”

Marking an intersection in the once-significant barriers between primary and secondary ticketing, AXS has blended both types of inventory into a single offering.

The company has retooled its ticket purchase process to not only show primary and secondary tickets in a single search, but allow a user to merge them into a single transaction. The effort, roughly a year in development, joins other similar products such as Ticketmaster’s TM+ that also shows primary and secondary tickets in a single search. But TM+, which debuted in 2013, still requires separate transactions for primary and resale inventory.

AXS’s merged ticketing will be combined with its recently introduced 360-degree, three-dimensional seat visualization technology called FanSight that gives users seat-level views. The AXS system, similar to its rivals, denotes which seats are primary and which are being resold. But the single purchase flow is aimed at allowing more flexibility for users to put together their own groups and seating choices.

“We see this as a big step forward, and something that helps the fan experience by making it easier to buy tickets and in turn helping our clients,” said Brian Peunic, AXS senior vice president of sports. “For us, it’s simply about removing obstacles.”

The blended ticket purchasing is being used by several AXS NBA clients, including the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ultimately, the company intends to spread the functionality across its entire portfolio.

“Both our individual and secondary sales have grown because we never have to turn a fan away,” said Gretchen Sheirr, Rockets chief revenue officer.

Longtime ESPN executive Ed Durso delayed his retirement from ESPN to work with George Bodenheimer, who agreed to serve as interim president for 90 days.

Durso, who planned to retire in December after a 28-year run, was in Atlanta before the College Football Playoff with ESPN executives and escorted Bodenheimer on a walk around the field in the hours before the game.

“You will rarely find a person who is so involved in every single thing a company does,” Bodenheimer said of Durso during an interview in December.

It was never going to be easy for Durso to leave ESPN cold turkey, as he has been an important behind-the-scenes player for nearly three decades. In fact, Durso nearly missed a small going-away party at a Bristol restaurant last month because it coincided with the publishing of a Boston Globe story detailing sexual harassment allegations against ESPNers.

In an interview last month, Durso reflected on his career and said that he would miss the people and energy of ESPN.

“I’ll miss the challenge of it,” he said.

— John Ourand

The late artist Andy Warhol is famously credited for saying “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” But a group of lawyers and technologists have sped that concept up to a matter of seconds.

15 Seconds Of Fame, which debuted nearly three years ago in a test at the University of Michigan, seeks to capture fan moments from stadium video boards and sports broadcasts — such as catching a foul ball, dancing during a timeout or getting located by a Kiss Cam — that were typically lost to consumers after the fact.

15 Seconds of Fame
 Launched: 2014
Headquarters: New York, with several satellite locations including Seattle and Boulder, Colo.
Number of employees: 34
What they do: Deliver fan moments from video boards and TV broadcasts using several technologies including facial recognition
Using a proprietary combination of several technologies including facial recognition, 15 Seconds Of Fame ingests, clips and delivers fan shots to their personal devices. The free fan clips, often delivered soon after the completion of a game, are then easily shared across social media networks.

The 15 Seconds Of Fame content is delivered to fans through the company’s mobile application that takes a picture of the user at sign-up, and then notifies the fan when a match is found using a mix of facial recognition and specially created algorithms searching through broadcast and scoreboard footage.

“We consider this sort of the ultimate selfie,” said company Chairman Bruce Cohen, a longtime Washington, D.C., lawyer and former chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee. Cohen’s team includes Chief Executive Brett Joshpe, who also has a legal background having spent a decade in corporate law before starting 15 Seconds Of Fame in 2014.

“This is a moment where a fan is rewarded for being a fan with professional quality content they didn’t have to take themselves,” Cohen said.

The company, using a tagline of “The Future of Memories,” has assembled a variety of top-tier partnerships, including ones with MLB Advanced Media, the NFL, NHL, Big Ten Network and a growing collection of pro and college teams. The Vegas Golden Knights recently became the latest team to align with the company.

Photo by: 15 SECONDS OF FAME
And in the collegiate ranks, several schools are also looking to deploy the 15 Seconds Of Fame technology in non-sports settings such as graduation ceremonies and other major university events.

One of the biggest requests and most frequent calls we always get are from fans who said they saw themselves on the Jumbotron and want to get that video,” said Nathan Schwake, associate athletic director for marketing and licensing at the University of Kentucky. “Until now, we haven’t really had an answer for that. So we view this as a real service to our fans.”

15 Seconds Of Fame has not disclosed its revenue to date, with executives describing them so far as modest as the company still seeks to build awareness and scale. But it is looking to develop a two-pronged revenue model in which hardware and software licensing fees are joined by advertising revenue generated through the fan clips.

Most of those ad executions primarily will involve short post-roll videos since the 15 Seconds Of Fame fan clips are often less than 10 seconds.

Key Executives:
 Bruce Cohen: chairman
Brett Joshpe: chief executive officer
Alix Cottrell: chief operating officer
Sandy Montag, Kobe Bryant and Armen Keteyian: consultants and adviser

Key Partners:
MLB Advanced Media
Big Ten Network
A wide array of individual pro and college sports teams
Despite a steady flow of venture capital money toward sports technology startups in recent years, 15 Seconds Of Fame has yet to raise any institutional funds. Instead, the company’s development to date has been supported by an undisclosed eight-figure sum of convertible notes. But it has not ruled out a larger equity round with a strategic partner as it continues to build its offering.

Aiding the company, particularly in working with various sports properties and networks, is Sandy Montag, president and chief executive of The Montag Group. The industry veteran and former IMG powerhouse said he almost accidentally “stumbled upon” 15 Seconds Of Fame as he began to build out his own consultancy, but quickly joined on in late 2016 as a company adviser.

“I saw this as an opportunity to get these guys in the room with the top leagues and networks and help get them to the next level as everybody tries to figure out what the future of media looks like,” Montag said. “I see 15 Seconds Of Fame and what they’re offering as a really powerful cross section of technology and live entertainment.”