Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Whole Game, and Nothing But The Game?

Extra cheers today to NBA-TV both for an instant programming decision and for practical use of social media. As most NBA fans know, on Monday night (3/3) LeBron James scored 61 points in the Miami Heat win in what could well have been his best regular season game to date.

On Tuesday morning, NBA-TV announced that it was going to replay the telecast that afternoon, and was able to spread the word via social media. This was excellent for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it showed great flexibility by a national network to go with programming that many fans might want to see while the "news" element was still fresh. Of course, it didn't hurt that the Heat's next game, that following night, was already scheduled to air nationally on NBA-TV.

The fact that the word was spread via social media (I found out via Twitter) is also a big positive. It is because this use of social media was specifically for the purpose of providing a specific reason for viewership at a specific time. All too often, social media alerts from or about TV and radio stations or networks provide reasons NOT to watch or listen, which is why these stations and networks exist in the first place. In this instance, with the Heat replay, the social media alert was designed to encourage viewership within a 2 hour period.

If the tweet (and other social media alerts) had said the game could be seen online, it would have defeated the purpose of attracting viewers to the Network. This is how radio and TV should use social media. They should not be like the music radio stations that want to sell you downloads of their music as a revenue source. After all, once you download all of your favorite songs, you don't need to listen to that station play songs you can't stand and 5-minute or longer clusters of commercials.

NBC certainly benefitted from timing with good ratings this past Saturday (3/1) from the first regular season NHL game shown in prime time on an over-the-air network in 40 years. NHL fans know that Pittsburgh vs. Chicago is a strong matchup this season, but the coincidence of still another winter storm gripping much of the strong viewing area helped drive the numbers home for this outdoor game telecast. Even though the cameras are further way and the player numbers harder to read, you can bet that NBC will be airing more outdoor games next season, and one or more will most certainly involve the Chicago Blackhawks.

The NFL ratings are to the point where NBC is already promoting its opening pre-season telecast. Here it is the beginning of March, and we already know that NBC will have the Hall of Fame Game (exhibition opener) in prime time on Sunday August 3, with the N.Y. Giants taking on Buffalo.

After the recent incident with KNBR San Francisco dumping out of its live U.S. team in the Olympics hockey coverage for a golf show, we had still another incident of a live game broadcast being curtailed on Sunday (3/2). This is not about debating the importance (or lack thereof) of spring training baseball, but stations should either air the entire game or not bother at all. And these were all sports radio stations!

The spring game between the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox was not televised to either market, but was (scheduled to be) broadcast on the flagship stations in both markets, which also happen to be sports stations. You would think it mean until the finish of the game.

Fans listening on KESN Dallas were told a few minutes before 5:00 CT that KESN would be leaving the broadcast at the top of the hour "in the event it is not finished". The game went into the top of the 9th inning around 4:55 PM with the Rangers (home team) holding a 2 run lead. They announced at 5:00 that KESN was leaving the game but told fans "You can listen on Rangers.com or on AtBat".

However, what they didn't know is that the AtBat phone/online application was carrying the feed from KESN and the game broadcast went off there as well. In fact, it took about five minutes for MLB to catch that their AtBat application was airing the first few minutes of the Dallas Mavericks' pre-game show, which was why KESN ended the Rangers broadcast at that time.

You guessed it, the White Sox erupted for five runs in the 9th inning and went on to win the game, even though Rangers broadcast listeners had no idea. Granted, this is not like "the Heidi game" in terms of magnitude, but it was an all sports radio station not airing an outcome changing inning it was contracted to do. And for a ONE HOUR pre-game show for a regular season Mavericks game?

I could understand if the Mavs game was about to start, but it wasn't. Even with the Rangers game itself going until about 5:35, there still would have been over a half hour to preview the Mavs game.

Either air the entire game or don't air it at all.

But there is more. AtBat listeners could switch over to the White Sox radio broadcast. However, flagship station WSCR The Score Chicago was having one of those miserable "interactive" broadcasts, as they call them. For some oddball reason, The Score insists on taking some of their spring training broadcasts (and they do not do all of the games) and stopping actual play-by-play after five innings. Instead, broadcasters Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson take phone calls from listeners discussing the team, and toss in an occasional update of what is happening on the field, as if that is secondary.

They seem to think that fans would rather hear what "Joe from the south side" thinks about the pitching staff instead of how the pitcher standing on the mound that moment is actually throwing. (It is no surprise the White Sox are the only team that lets this happen, but that's another story.) Again, if the game itself is not important enough to carry in its entirety, why air it at all?

Thus, listeners on AtBat or on WSCR were also deprived of the actual five run ninth inning, and it was "their" team that came back and won the game.

Here we have TV stations and networks generating HUGE ratings with live sports, carried to conclusion. And we have all sports radio stations struggling to retain their audience cutting away from live sports events for "other" programming. Ouch.

Elsewhere, another odd decision by Fox Sports. Their expanded MLB coverage is going to include Fox Sports 1's "MLB Whiparound" on weeknights, a new one-hour baseball score, updates, and highlights show with the ability to go to live "look-ins" just like ESPN's Baseball Tonight and MLB Network's "MLB Tonight". While this is a great and welcome idea, it is created with the idea of attracting viewers to the struggling new network. So why is this show planned for 10 PM ET on weeknights (unless a live telecast conflicts)?

It means that on most nights, it will be head-to-head with ESPN's "Baseball Tonight", which has established itself for more than 20 years and has withstood the competition from MLB Network quite well. As we know from incidents such as ESPN SportsCenter attracting more than ten times the audience of FS1 after the Super Bowl (shown and promoted on Fox), it likely means that FS1's show will be practically for naught. Here's hoping they will come to their senses and move the show to 11 PM ET.

By doing this, it could draw people over when "Baseball Tonight" ends who don't wish to endure SportsCenter rotating with every other sport going on and dropping in the occasional baseball highlights.

Instead, Fox is busy promoting that Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci will replace Tim McCarver on Fox telecasts, when Fox Network itself is showing fewer than half as many Saturday telecasts as it has over past years. Reynolds, by the way, is an excellent choice.

Dish Network will be carrying the upcoming SEC Network, as well as the Longhorn Network (University of Texas channel) in their respective marketing areas. Nothing yet about how these will be packaged and whether or not this will cost people who are not fans of either more each month.

DENVER: KKFN The Fan 104.3 has moved Sandy Clough out of late mornings and into the Noon to 3 PM spot along with Drew Goodman and Scott Hastings. However, Clough's shift is not being replaced by local programming, at least for now. The station is airing The Dan Patrick Show in the 9 AM to Noon MT spot.

WASHINGTON D.C.: Now that it is airing the Nationals games, WJFK-FM 106.7 The Fan needs to have its actual sports presence on nights when there are no game broadcasts, and is dumping Don Geronimo after less than six months since his return to D.C.

BOSTON: With the growth of both WBZ-FM Sports Hub and WEEI-FM, and with Glenn Ordway still off the air as it happened, Ordway is going with an online show during the afternoon drive period. Ordway clearly realizes that other stations in the region have carried WEEI-FM, and hopes his online show will land him back on one or more of those stations. His show starts on March 17th on SportsTalkBoston.com.

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