Entertainment Industry

Category: NFL

The Morning Fix: Oscar working on timing. Hasbro and Discovery not toying around. `Superman' has its director.

After the coffee. Before yet another flight to New York.

The Skinny: Discovery's and Hasbro's new kids channel doesn't premiere until Sunday, but the critics are already pouncing. Can't Google everyone with Google TV. "Superman" has its next director. The FCC wants more dirt from Comcast and NBC Universal as part of its review

Oscars on the move. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences wants to move the annual Oscar Awards telecasts from its current home of the end of February or early March to January or early February. The motivation is to make the Oscars one of the first awards shows instead of the last so there is less chance of awards-show fatigue impacting the telecast's ratings. The challenge is finding a new home that won't get run over by football. Huh? That's right, football. See, the NFL wants to expand its regular season to 18 games (that's a debate for another day) and if (when) that happens, it will mean the Super Bowl and probably some of the playoffs will get pushed well into February. That means the Oscar folks (and host network ABC) have to find a home where they won't bump up against all that football hype on rival networks and still get ahead of other shows. The scoop from the Los Angeles Times.

Not toying around. On Sunday, Discovery and Hasbro will launch "The Hub," a new cable channel aimed primarily at kids age 6-11. Not only will it face tough competition from entrenched channels such as Viacom's Nickelodeon and Disney's Disney Channel and Disney XD, it will also be scrutinized by media watchdogs. That's because there are concerns that Hasbro will try to make the network into nothing but ads for its toys. The channel's boss, respected kids TV executive Margaret Loesch, says that won't be the case and that only about 20% of Hub shows are based on Hasbro products. But will that be enough to silence the critics? More on The Hub from the Los Angeles Times.

Google this! Google, the search engine that wants to become the connector between the Internet and the television, unveiled its content partners, but the list was more notable for who wasn't on it. While several cable networks, including CNBC, HBO and Turner Broadcasting are on board, the big broadcast networks are steering clear of Google -- for now anyway. To get Google TV, at least in its early incarnation, you'll need either a Sony high-definition TV set, a Blu-ray player or a special set-top box. In other words, it may take a little while for this thing to take off. More on Google's small-screen dreams from the New York Times.

Peace accord. Mexican broadcaster Grupo Televisa is shelling out $130 million for a 5% stake in Univision and an additional $1.07 billion in convertible debt that translates into 30% of Univision's shares, according to the Wall Street Journal. Besides giving Univision a much needed infusion, it ends years of acrimony between the two media giants.

And the backlash begins. Although many critics are worshiping "The Social Network" and already talking about how many Oscar nominations it should get, gripes about the portrayal of women in the movie are starting to surface. Missing from the movie, says Rebecca Davis O'Brien in the Daily Beast, are women who aren't "doting groupies, vengeful sluts, or dumpy, feminist killjoys." 

He's baaack! Former NBC Enertainment chief Ben Silverman is back to doing what he does best -- making new versions of successful shows. He's near a deal to make a sitcom for ABC based on an old Latin American comedy called "I Hate This Place." Not sure what's more ironic, that ABC -- whose old entertainment chief Steve McPherson loathed Silverman -- will be home for the show or that Deadline Hollywood, which relished in Silverman's downfall at NBC, was where the story was leaked.

Super Director. Zack Snyder, whose credits include "300" and "Watchmen," has been tapped to direct the latest version of "Superman" for Warner Bros. and Legend Pictures. Chris Nolan will produce. Deadline Hollywood on the choice and what Snyder's thoughts are about taking on the franchise.

Where's mine? The Wrap makes the shocking discovery that even in a field as challenged as journalism, there are some people pulling down huge salaries. Next you'll tell me there are hockey players making big bucks too. The hook for the story is that Michael Ausiello, an Entertainment Weekly writer best known for his television casting scoops, is launching his own website, backed by the owners of Deadline Hollywood. Hey, if someone wants to pay top dollar for content, you'll get no complaints from me.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Thomas Tull, the chairman of Legendary Pictures, is buying out his original investors and has new partners in Fortress Investment Group and Fidelity. The Federal Communications Commission wants more inside information from Comcast and NBC Universal as part of its review of their pending merger. 

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter and I'll tweet you something special. Twitter.com/JBFlint

NFL exec wonders why Time Warner added adult channels but not NFL Network

How frustrated is the National Football League that Time Warner Cable isn't carrying its cable network?

So frustrated that the NFL's top spokesman took to Twitter to take a shot at Time Warner Cable's recent decision to add eight new channels featuring adult entertainment, which was reported Wednesday by the New York Post. According to the article, the new channels include Manhandle on Demand and Penthouse on Demand.

In a Wednesday tweet, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello cracked, "Interesting page 3 story in today's NY Post. Time-Warner is offering 8 new porn channels [but not NFL Network!]. What a world! What a world!"

The NFL is trying to get wider distribution for its NFL Network, which is has about 60 million subscribers. Time Warner Cable has balked at carrying the service, as has Cablevision and a few other big pay-TV distributors. The price tag for the channel, according to SNL Kagan, is around 80 cents per subscriber, per month.

-- Joe Flint

NBC says hail to the Redskins, but will game help prime-time score?


NBC got its biggest audience numbers ever for a regular season game with its Sunday night coverage of the tight game between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, in which the 'Skins squeaked out with a 13-7 win.

About 25.3 million people watched the game, according to Nielsen, beating NBC's previous best for a Sunday night game, which was last year's match between the Cowboys and New York Giants. That is a little off from the 27.5 million that watched NBC's Thursday night coverage of the New Orleans Saints beating the Minnesota Vikings.

Now the real question is what the trickle-down effect will be for NBC. The network pumped its football coverage full of promotions for its new fall schedule, particularly its big-budget drama "The Event," which premieres Monday. Most broadcast networks lose money on professional sports but often argue that they have value as promotional platforms for their entertainment lineups.

NBC, which shells out $660 million a year for its football package, desperately needs to improve in prime time and is launching several new shows that will require a heavy marketing push to stand out. Besides "The Event," other programs NBC is pushing heavily is "The Chase," which is from Jerry Bruckheimer, and "Outlaw," starring Jimmy Smits as a former Supreme Court Justice who goes rogue. It has not gotten a lot of early love from TV critics.

The networks and the NFL are going to keep a closer eye than usual on the ratings this season. While they are always scrutinized, the league wants to extend the season to 18 games and strong ratings will no doubt seem like proof that there is an appetite for more games. That would mean more money from the networks, which have been fairly quiet about the idea of extending the season.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Redskins and Cowboys battling. Credit: Rob Carr / Associated Press

Brett Favre may not be ready for prime time but the fans were


The networks better pray there isn't an NFL lockout next season.

Thursday night's National Football League opening game on NBC between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints drew 27.5 million viewers, the biggest audience for a prime-time regular season game in 14 years. Not bad considering that most of the action was over in the first half.

Brett Favre may have looked rusty for the Minnesota Vikings, but fans were in midseason form. Of course, all the promotion from NBC and the NFL for the game probably made most feel it would be downright un-American to not tune in to the game, which the Saints won 14-9.

The 27.5 million viewers was a 32% increase over NBC's 2009 season opener, in which the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Tennessee Titans. The most-watched prime-time regular season game ever was a 1996 Monday night matchup between Green Bay and Dallas, which averaged 31.5 million viewers.

"This shows what can happen when we apply a strategic, multi-platform marketing approach to put a broad promotional blitz behind a project," NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said in a statement. (That's code for "we threw everything we had at hyping the heck out of this thing because we're paying $660 million a year for these games.")

There has been a lot of speculation that there will be labor unrest next season and that the 2011 season is in jeopardy. The networks collectively pay over $3 billion a year for football. If there is a lockout, the networks are still on the hook for their rights fees. However, ultimately the league would be required to make sure the networks got that money back eventually.

Among the issues that the NFL isn't on the same page with its players on include salaries and an 18-game schedule. The NFL is really pushing for a longer season, against the wishes of the NFL Players Union, who are concerned about the wear and tear of two extra games on the players.

If the season is extended, the networks would likely want more money from the networks as well as DirecTV. At the same time, there are risks to extending the season that go beyond the health of the players. A longer season could mean more meaningless games at the end of the season. Furthermore, the NFL wants to cut the preseason from four games to two games, and local stations count on preseason games as a strong source of ad revenue.

A lockout would also leave the broadcast networks without a huge platform to promote their shows. And unless the NFL tries to offer up games played by replacement players as it did in 1987, the networks would have to come up with product to fill the void.

-- Joe Flint 

Photo: Brett Favre. Credit: Chris Graythen / Getty Images.

18-game NFL season could mean a new TV partner, permanent date for Super Bowl

The National Football League's push for to extend the regular season to 18 games -- from its current schedule of 16 -- could have a dramatic effect not just on the players and fans, but also on the television industry. 

GOODELL Although an 18-game season is not a lock, it seems likely to happen, perhaps as early as 2012. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league intends to officially propose extending the season by two games in the near future. While the NFL Players Union will probably oppose it, owners will push hard for a longer season because of the revenue it could bring them.

Clearly, a longer season would give the NFL some juice to try to get the networks to pay more for rights. The NFL's current deals with CBS, NBC, ESPN and Fox are set to expire in 2014. The league takes in about $3.1 billion annually for those deals, another $1 billion annually from DirecTV for the Sunday Ticket package and $400 million a year from its own NFL Network.

With a longer season, the league could even consider carving out yet another television package of games. Currently, the NFL Network carries eight games in the second half of the season on Thursday and Saturday nights. The NFL could add one game to that package and create another nine-game package for games in the first half of the season that it could sell to itself or to another cable or broadcast network.

As for whether an 18-game season would mean an earlier start or later finish: If recent history is any guide, the NFL wants to take over February. The Super Bowl always used to be played in mid- to late January, but over the last 10 years, the game has mostly taken place in February. Adding two regular-season games could push the Super Bowl into mid-February and give the NFL a chance to make the three-day Presidents' Day weekend a permanent home for its biggest event. No doubt there are plenty of football fans who overdo it on Super Bowl Sunday and wouldn't mind having Monday off.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Credit: Keith Srakocic/Associated Press.

DirecTV to offer Sunday Ticket football package online to some non-subscribers


Want to spend Sundays watching the football games that are not on your local stations but can't subscribe to DirecTV and get its Sunday Ticket package that shows every game? Your troubles may be over. Now DirecTV will offer that package to you via the Internet without having to sign up for the satellite broadcaster's pay-TV service.

There's one catch. You have to be able to convince DirecTV that you have a legitimate reason not to subscribe to its satellite broadcasting service. Often, the reasons people can't buy DirecTV are because landlords won't let them put up the dish, or they live in an area where getting a clear line of sight to pick up the signal is difficult. New York City, for example, has few dishes because of both the skyline and a reluctance on the part of many landlords to allow dishes on their buildings. DirecTV, which was given the rights to offer an Internet-only version of Sunday Ticket in its last TV deal with the National Football League, tested the service last year in New York City and now is rolling it out nationwide.

Although the number of people likely to take this offer is probably pretty small, that doesn't mean Fox and CBS, the two rights holders for Sunday NFL football, are cheering this. Although both are aware DirecTV has this option, anything that can potentially shrink their audience is worrisome.

The cost to subscribe to an Internet version of Sunday Ticket will be about $350, which breaks down to a little more than $20 per game. That sounds like a lot, but a hardcore sports fan who goes to a bar to see his favorite team (assuming that team isn't on a local television station, as is the case with me and my Washington Redskins), the cost of food and beverage probably tops that amount.

Furthermore, who wouldn't want to watch the game in peace as opposed to at a noisy bar. And as people get more adept at hooking their Internet to the television, they won't necessarily have to watch the game while hunched over a computer. That said, I have had the pleasure of sampling the NFL's online offerings of preseason games, and the picture quality is amazing.

DirecTV's Sunday Ticket package currently costs about $300 a season and has around 2 million subscribers. The satellite broadcaster says it is not going to do a lot of promotion of its new Internet offering and does not expect a big response.

Still, as more games become available on more platforms, the long-term rights holders may have to start thinking twice about the big bucks they shell out for football if they can prove that their ratings are in danger as a result.

As for yours truly, until the Redskins can convince me that they are not headed for another mediocre season, I'll hold off on getting my landlord to send DirecTV a note so I can sign up for this service.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: DirecTV pitchman and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/ US Presswire.

NFL's Bornstein: Innovate or 'fizzle out'

Steve Bornstein, the National Football League's brash executive vice president of media and president of the NFL Network, took issue with concerns raised by Fox Sports President Ed Goren about the league's recent deal with Verizon to stream content on its phones and its new Red Zone cable network.

BORNSTEIN Speaking at IMG and Sports Business Journal's annual World Congress of Sports conference on Thursday, Bornstein said the NFL "needs to provide different ways to digest your content," adding that if you don't innovate, "you will fizzle out" and "lose the next generation."

On Wednesday at the same conference, Goren expressed worries about the NFL's deals for undercutting their broadcast partners. News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting shells out north of $700 million a year for rights to the NFL.

The Red Zone, a cable channel the NFL launched last season, shows live coverage of Sunday's games whenever a team is inside an opposing team's 20 yard line, which is known as the red zone. The NFL also recently struck a deal with Verizon that will give the phone company streaming rights to the Sunday night games on NBC and the Thursday night games on the NFL Network. Verizon also will offer the Red Zone on its phones.

For networks such as Fox, the fear is that spreading NFL content on more and more platforms could hurt its viewing audience and, subsequently, ad dollars. Bornstein said the NFL does not want to kill the golden goose and cracked that Goren is "entitled to his wrong opinions."

At a second panel about television and sports, Joe Ravitch, a former senior partner at Goldman Sachs who has since founded Raine, a boutique bank, warned about the rising costs of sports programming.

"It will reach a point where sports rights can't keep increasing, Ravitch said. Otherwise, he said, it may reach a point where ESPN is the only player.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Steve Bornstein. Credit: NFL.

Saints' Super Bowl win nips 'MASH' finale for most-watched show ever


Move over Hawkeye Pierce, looks like Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints just took your ratings crown along with the Super Bowl title.

A record 106.5 million people watched the Saints write a storybook ending to their dream season by beating the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV on CBS, according to Nielsen.

That's not only the biggest audience to date for the Super Bowl, but the biggest audience for a televised event in the U.S. ever -- barely knocking off the finale of CBS' "MASH," which averaged almost 106 million viewers when it ran in 1983.

Of course, the television landscape has changed dramatically here over the last 30 years. When the "MASH" finale ran in 1983, there were 83.3 million television homes; now there are almost 115 million television homes. One can spin that beating the record set by "MASH" was inevitable.

Though there may be more eyeballs available now than there were 27 years ago, there are also a lot more options for viewers, making the Super Bowl number more impressive. "MASH" played in the glory days of three broadcast networks. Now, people also have hundreds of cable channels and the Internet as entertainment options.

There was some concern that power outages caused by heavy snow in the mid-Atlantic region may have hampered viewing. Instead, it looks like the cold and snow helped, keeping people inside and in front of their televisions on Sunday night. It was a similar story in 1982 when a snowstorm and Arctic blast hit that region and CBS' coverage of the game between the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals scored a then-record 85.2 million viewers. 

When it comes to big-event programming, it is becoming clear that the Internet is more friend than foe to television ratings. The growth of social media creates a national water cooler for viewers to share thoughts and trade quips about what they're watching. Someone watching the game alone can now feel like they are watching it at a party without having to worry about cleaning up dishes later. Twitter was overloaded a few times during the game, with people tweeting about advertisements -- particularly the spot featuring David Letterman, Jay Leno and Oprah Winfrey -- as well as about the game and The Who's halftime performance.

The big number provided a strong lead-in for CBS' new reality show "Undercover Boss," which premiered after the game and drew 38.6 million viewers. That is also a record for a new show's premiere after the Super Bowl. CBS took a gamble by launching a brand new show after the Super Bowl. The network ran a very tight post-game show so that "Undercover Boss" started at 10:13 p.m. EST. Sometimes the game and post-game show run so long that it's not unusual for the entertainment programming scheduled after the game to start after 10:30 p.m. in the East, which usually means lower ratings as fatigued viewers drift away.

In recent years, networks have tended to use the post-Super Bowl time slot for a special episode of an established show, as was the case last year with NBC and "The Office." The last time a network premiered a new show was in 1999, when Fox ran "Family Guy" after the match between the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons.

For history buffs, last year's down-to-the-wire Super Bowl match between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals on NBC averaged 98.7 million viewers. This is the fifth year in a row that the Super Bowl has averaged more than 90 million viewers, making it the new norm for success. Prior to the February 2006 match between Pittsburgh and Seattle, the previous seven Super Bowls had fewer than 90 million viewers.

Ad rates for Sunday's match were between the range of $2.5 million and $2.7 million although some advertisers may have paid as much as $3 million to get into the game. Look for News Corp.'s Fox, which has the game next year, to use this year's huge ratings to try to push the cost per 30-second spot well over the $3-million mark.

If it seemed like you had more time to run to the kitchen or bathroom during the game, that's because you did. According to industry consulting firm Kantar Media, the telecast had 47 minutes and 50 seconds of commercials, a new record. If only a few had been as clever as the spot with Letterman, Leno and Winfrey.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees enjoys the moment after the Saints' victory. Credit: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

Saints - Vikings thriller scores huge number for Fox

Almost 60 million people watched Brett Favre throw the interception that snuffed out the Minnesota Vikings' hopes for a Super Bowl trip, the second biggest audience for a National Football Conference championship ever, according to Nielsen.

FAVRE The most-watched NFC championship game remains the January 1982 matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, which is famous for the last-minute touchdown pass Joe Montana threw to Dwight Clark to send the 49ers to their first-ever Super Bowl. That classic had an audience of almost 70 million people.

That yesterday's overtime battle between the Vikings and New Orleans Saints drew 57.9 million viewers in the age of cable and the Internet is pretty impressive. Although the Super Bowl generally attracts over 90 million viewers, that game has become a cultural event watched by many for the commercials and the halftime show.

CBS' coverage of the American Football Conference championship game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts (after more than 25 years, I still want to write Baltimore), wasn't chopped liver. About 47 million viewers tuned into see the Colts end the Jets' dream of a second trip to the Super Bowl. 

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Brett Favre. Credit: Brian Peterson / Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT

Brett Favre helps ESPN wrap up huge year with 'Monday Night Football'

Thanks to a couple of really big games from ageless quarterback Brett Favre, Walt Disney Co.'s sports cable channel ESPN had its best season ever carrying the National Football League's "Monday Night Football" franchise.

FAVRE ESPN, which shells out about $1.1 billion a year for its football package, said "Monday Night Football" was the most-watched show on cable television this fall. This is ESPN's fourth year of "Monday Night Football," and its current deal expires after the 2013 season. 

With a price tag of almost $4 per subscriber, ESPN is the most expensive cable network for cable and satellite distributors. That being the case, having strong ratings is key for the channel to justify its high cost. For Walt Disney Co., which owns 80% of ESPN, the cable channel is a crucial revenue driver. Hearst Corp. owns the remaining 20%.

For the season, ESPN's 17 games averaged 14.4 million viewers, a 20% increase over its 2008 season. Its finale on Monday night, which featured a tight match between Favre's Minnesota Vikings and archrival Chicago Bears averaged almost 12 million viewers, impressive given that the week between Christmas and New Years usually has small viewership.

ESPN's biggest telecast was the Oct. 5 match between the Vikings and Favre's longtime team, the Green Bay Packers. The game drew 21.9 million viewers, a record for a cable network, and it easily beat all other programming including what was on the bigger broadcast networks. It was only the second time that a cable show had beaten the broadcast networks during the traditional September-to-May television season.

Overall, ratings for football have been strong performers on all the outlets that carry the games. News Corp.'s Fox, General Electric Co.'s NBC and CBS have had strong seasons. CBS, which carries the Super Bowl this season, has just about sold all the commercials for the game.

The downside is, of course, that the NFL will have a lot of leverage when the contracts for football are up for renewal. 

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Brett Favre. Credit: Rob Grabowski-US Presswire.


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