SBJ Media: NBC's Countdown To Tokyo
Hello from the Big Apple, where I attended “cocktails and conversation” at 30 Rock as NBC celebrated the one-year mark from the Tokyo Olympics.
NBC GEARS UP FOR TOKYO GAMES
- Kathryn Tappen interviewed Steve Burke, Pete Bevacqua and Gary Zenkel in front of NBC employees today to mark the beginning of a year-long countdown to the Tokyo Olympics. Jim Bell and Mike Tirico participated live from Tokyo. The moment was a small part of NBC’s marketing blitz this week around the Games. But for Bevacqua, who has been with NBC for 10 months, the moment demonstrated how important the Olympics are to all parts of the company. “To see all the work, effort and preparation that goes into the Olympics in breathtaking,” he told me tonight at a press gathering at 30 Rock. “It shows how involved and supportive all of NBC is around the Olympics.”
- When Dick Ebersol ran NBC Sports, he slept in NBC’s production compound during the Olympics. Mark Lazarus stayed in hotels, but was a constant presence in NBC’s compound during the Games. Bevacqua said that he sees his role as one of supporting the people that have decades of experience in putting together an Olympics – people like Zenkel, Bell and Peter Diamond, executive vice president of programming for NBC Olympics. “My role is to give people the support they need to get the job done,” Bevacqua said. “My role is to oversee our efforts and make sure that everything is functioning properly. … I’m not one to kid myself -- I am going into my first Olympics in this role.” Bevacqua said he feels a lot of responsibility to make sure the Olympics run smoothly because of their importance to NBC.
- Bevacqua mirrored NBC Sports Group’s ad sales chief Dan Lovinger by pushing that the Olympics will be a unifying force for the country, coming in between the Republican and Democratic National Conventions next summer. “We are going to witness the power of sports to transcend,” he said. “The Olympics are unique among all sports with its power to unite.” Yesterday, Lovinger said that advertisers are responding well to NBC’s pitch that the Games will be a unifying event and a brand-safe environment that is free of politics. Lovinger said that NBC is on pace for a record ad sales haul that should easily eclipse the $1.2 billion it brought in from the Rio Games.
ESPN DATA SHOWS MAJORITY OF VIEWERS WANT NO POLITICS
- Whenever the issue of ESPN and politics has come up over the past year, one of the network's talking points was to cite internal data showing that fans tune out when political talk heats up. I would always ask to see that data, but ESPN was reluctant to share the numbers. After the recent Dan Le Batard controversy, I asked ESPN again to share its internal data -- and this time it relented.
- Per ESPN, a poll taken in June found that 74% of fans prefer not to hear about politics on any of its platforms. That preference had bi-partisan support -- 69% of Democrats and 84% of Republicans said they do not want hear politics on ESPN. Perhaps more importantly, 85% of what ESPN calls "avid fans" said they don’t want politics on ESPN.
- ESPN also shared one anonymous comment that it collected from a focus group that the network feels best illustrates a common view: people come to ESPN to get a break from the political news cycle: “There are so many places where I get news about politics, and I don't need it on ESPN. When you introduce that element of broad politics, it ruins having a diversion.”
- The bottom line: former ESPN President John Skipper was sympathetic to allowing talent to voice their political viewpoints. But the new regime headed by Jimmy Pitaro wants ESPN’s personalities to stick to sports -- a policy that won’t change any time soon.
HBO MAX TO FEATURE LIVE SPORTING EVENTS
- The headlines from AT&T’s second quarter earnings will focus on DirecTV -- and those numbers are ugly. The satellite TV provider lost 778,000 subscribers in Q2, and its streaming service DirecTV Now lost 168,000 subs. But the sports community will be most interested in AT&T’s plans for its HBO Max over-the-top service, which will launch next spring.
- The service originally will focus on entertainment programming, but it eventually will include live NBA and MLB games, AT&T Chair & CEO Randall Stephenson said on an analyst call today. Stephenson: “We have some great exclusive content in Bleacher Report, from NBA to soccer to European soccer -- a lot of opportunities to take advantage of unique content deals we have in WarnerMedia.”
A LOOK BACK AT THE AUDIENCE FOR GOLF MAJORS IN 2019
- What should we make of the fact that three of golf’s four majors saw viewership declines for their final rounds in 2019? SBJ’s ratings guru Austin Karp crunched the numbers and concluded that: 1) Tiger Woods is as important as he ever has been to numbers; and 2) It’s way too soon to make any calls as to the effects of golf’s new calendar.
- Tiger still is the main reason golf ratings rise or fall. Two majors -- the PGA Championship and British Open -- posted Sunday viewership declines of over 40%. Woods contended at those respective events last year and didn’t make the cut in 2019. The jury is still out on whether the PGA’s move from August to May is good for TV ratings. It’s a debate that won’t be answered next year either as the event will have a primetime finish from San Francisco, which almost certainly will lead to higher ratings.
- CBS and the Masters were unlucky this year in the traditional April position. Woods’ first win at a major in more than a decade fell into their laps, but bad weather forced Sunday tee times to be moved to where the final putt was struck closer to 2:30pm. The live audience dropped 17% compared to 2018, when the finish was closer to primetime.
- One bright spot among the majors was the U.S. Open, which kept its June spot and saw a big jump out on the West Coast. The beautiful scenes from Pebble Beach and the primetime action led Fox to see the event’s best viewership since 2013 at Merion.
- It wasn’t long ago that people were writing obituaries for “SportsCenter.” Since April of last year, ESPN's 6:00pm edition has posted viewership increases in 13 of 15 months. In SBJ this week, I asked ESPN's Norby Williamson, who took over “SC” in November 2017, about the turnaround. Williamson: "If you take care of little things, whether they’re bumps, teases, teaching people how to ask the right questions, all of a sudden you have a basis from which you can then build on."
- NFL Films' Ken Rodgers, who is filming“Hard Knocks” with the Raiders right now, told SBJ’s Thomas Leary that the show found its stride when the Jets were featured in 2010. “The show took a big evolutionary leap when Rex Ryan appeared. It’s crazy to think of the before and after. (After that season aired), I saw him on ‘CSI: NY’ playing himself, ‘Hard Knocks’ was an answer on ‘Jeopardy’ and we were being spoofed on ‘The Daily Show.’ Sports Illustrated called it the ‘summer’s best comedy.’ It just crossed over in that sixth season.”
- Topps and ’47 Brand have signed on as partners of TeamWorks Media’s La Vida Baseball, an English-speaking Latino baseball digital media company that launched in 2017. The deal has Topps and ’47 participating in content partnerships and consumer apparel programs with La Vida Baseball. That includes product placement, on-air content and celebrity guest appearances.
- Baseball in Queens is a mess this season. The Mets are 46-54 and have created some not-so-great headlines off the field. The club's local TV ratings are down 12% on SNY, and now comes the news that a planned Mets-specific subscription site within Yahoo Sports will not even get off the ground. The N.Y. Post’s Andrew Marchand noted that the Mets also missed out on a $1 million payment from Yahoo since the product never actually launched.
- DAZN’s Adnan Virk had a self-deprecating appearance on Barstool Sports’ “Pardon My Take” podcast, talking candidly about his departure from ESPN. Speaking about the reported leaks on scheduling plans for "Baseball Tonight" that ultimately led to his exit, he said: “It wasn’t exactly the Pentagon Papers.” More Virk: “I’d been there for nine years, thought I put up a good resume. You develop relationships with guys in the media. But in this case, ESPN was really upset and wanted to part ways. ESPN is a great place to work -- just the last 72 hours were not great.” One of lighter moments of the interview came when Virk asked podcast co-hosts Big Cat and PFTCommenter if they’ve ever been fired. Katz: “Yeah, one time. By ESPN.”
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