Thursday, April 26, 2012

Draft Format Makes Show a TV Success

As a TV show, the NFL Draft has everything it needs for success and there's no mystery why a sports-related show without on-field competition or a final score perennially produces hefty ratings.

First and foremost, the draft provides something of interest for fans of every team in the most popular sports league in the United States.

It has a larger built-in audience than any regular season game. That sets a strong foundation for interest, ratings and viewership.

Last year, draft coverage on ESPN drew ratings that topped almost everything else on the all-sports network except regular season NFL games.

Beyond that, the show's format, with a pick every few minutes,  provides exactly what sports fans love -- bursts of action followed by several minutes to analyze and speculate about what just happened. It's the kind of program people can consume completely, or use as background noise and pay attention in bits and pieces and still feel informed.

The show comes with known characters, too. That begins with the players who have spent a few seasons building name recognition playing college football and includes the on-air talent in the form of ESPN and NFL Network commentators who capably analyze the action.

An always opinionated and vocal audience at Radio City Music Hall should not be overlooked either. Those die-hard fans provide additional color.

Plus, the event almost annually comes with news (five trades reshaped the draft lineup in just the first 23 picks Thursday night) that generates action and reaction. And that's before teams like the Seattle Seahawks reach on a pick that drives even more angst among the analysts.

Finally, hhanks to savvy scheduling by the NFL, draft coverage can win ratings Thursday night (with the first round), Friday night (with second and third rounds) and even pull big numbers Saturday (with the fourth through seventh rounds).

It's simply solid programming, and it has earned its spot as one of the best and most-anticipated TV sports events of the season.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Big Names Find Some Anonymity on TV

Two hypothetical sports media questions found similar, real-life answers this week:
  • What one of the more distinctive voices of a generation conducted his labor of love in relative anonymity?
  • What if well-known personality someone produced a sports-talk program on TV and nobody watched?
Veteran Bob Costas has relaunched "Costas Tonight," his usually insightful and top-notch sports-talk show on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN), but it continues to go unnoticed by the masses.

The first show as part of the relaunch happened in conjunction with the Super Bowl months ago in Indianapolis. That live show attracted A-list guests (as Costas always does) and it evoked some good information. Even if some segments at the end were rushed, it was still a solid start for a show NBCSN no-doubt hoped would provide something of a regular programing presence.

While Costas has done the show and done it well -- this week's episode focused on the state of college sports from a variety of angles -- it does not seemed destined to become must-see TV.

With NBCSN lost among the high numbers on most cable systems, the show can be hard to find. At the same time, the short attention span of viewers does not match well with the thoughtful work Costas regularly produces.

It's good TV, something that can hopefully survive. With Costas' gravitas, as well as the ability to parse the show afterward for excerpts or online audiences, it probably can survive for a while. It's just not something that many people might watch, and that's a shame. It's good TV.

Much like Costas, another big sports name returned to TV this week -- albeit in an even more obscure role. Radio and TV veteran Jim Rome launch his self-named program on CBS Sports Network (CBSSN) following ample promotion while CBS carried the NCAA Tournament and before the network's coverage of The Masters.

With CBSSN still not rated, although company officials have said it's available in 99 million homes, Rome's initial work has gone unnoticed. In fairness to Costas, the work of the two men differs greatly, but they both have legions of fans.

For me, missing Rome is not as concerning as missing Costas and how the respective networks treat the two shows could be interesting. Neither program should be expensive to produce, but sports networks typically thrive on live programming. Without that option, finding a show hosted by a personality could be helpful, and either network would like its show to become a popular staple with viewers.

Still, neither show seems destined for a consistent prime-time spot, either. After all, if sports programming becomes available, most games or matches would play out in prime time and bouncing a talk show could be an easy decision.

In the end, sports typically matters more than sports-talk for TV networks. So, while Costas and Rome are certainly valuable for the respective network brands games matter most. If games become available and viewers remain sparse, it'll be interesting to see how well the commitment of the networks to the shows holds up.

Monday, April 2, 2012

One Reason, Two Gaffes, Two Sports

Two different networks carrying major sporting events over the weekend forgot to simply serve viewers and stumbled as a result.

First up was CBS Sports, which lost its handle on the Final Four game between Kansas and Ohio State on Saturday night by using an inconsistent approach that led to missed action and non-existent context.

The problems started on consecutive trips down the floor for Kansas -- when an apparent foul by Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger was left alone on one trip and a different foul, which appeared a little less harmful than the first, drew the attention of game officials. Unfortunately, even with a stoppage in play CBS did not provide a replay of either incident.

It was in interesting choice because the broadcast team had done such a good job earlier in the game of detailing how a Kansas foul was whistled on the wrong player, and then detailed that the use of video to correct the mistake was not allowed under NCAA rules.

That seemed like an interesting and strong start to the broadcast. Unfortunately, the end of the game did not live up to those standards.

Most egregiously, the confusing final seconds of the game were totally whiffed. As OSU guard Aaron Craft committed a lane violation when trying to quickly launch and rebound a free throw, CBS went to a replay of what happened rather than sticking with live action as KU inbounded the ball and ran out the clock.

There was no controversy on the floor -- the referees made the correct call in that instance -- but CBS missed the action. There was plenty of time for a replay and some context about what happened after the game ended. It's a shame that's not how it happened for viewers.

Context was where another TV partner failed Sunday afternoon. Fox Sports provided coverage of the Sprint Cup Series race in Martinsville, Va., and it got ratings and viewership gold with a competitive short-track race until the final laps.

When Clint Boyer drove hard into the bottom of the first turn and got underneath leaders Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson during a late-race restart, the outcome seemed obvious -- an ugly wreck was about to happen. That's exactly what followed, cars were all over the track, and Ryan Newman eventually survived after another restart to get the victory.

Still, an earlier incident, when David Reutimann stopped on the front stretch, forcing the restart when Boyer made his calamitous move, was where Fox Sports failed.

The network's commentators offered all kinds of opinions, even ''oohs" and "aahs," regarding the accident. That might not have been good work, but it was certainly expected.

Conversely, even with Reutimann's team owner (Michael Waltrip) as part of the broadcast crew, any insights about what happened with that car were missing. Waltrip told viewers it's never clear or easy to know what might be happening in a car during a race, but that was not enough. C'mon, he's the team owner. It was interesting that he did not vehemently defend his driver while some speculated what could've happened. Even if he was not in the pits or on the radio, he's the owner, he's a proven driver in the series, something more was expected.

Thankfully, Fox did get a post-race interview with an emotional and defensive Reutimann who said he had hoped to get his car off the track, but that it broke before he could. Best of all, he provided the necessary context, that he was still running, even nearly 60 laps down, in an effort to gain points and remain among the top 35 in series points -- a cutoff point that guarantees a team a starting spot from week to week.

You'd have thought that context would've crossed the mind of Waltrip, who was already sitting in the broadcast booth. It's a shame that viewers could not have gotten that sooner.