The agency followed through today on an effort launched last month by then-Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn: It released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that invites public comment before it eliminates the rules adopted in 1975 to help broadcasters and the NFL. They say that if a sports league requires a TV station to black out a game – usually a football game that isn’t sold out — then cable and satellite distributors can’t offer it in the community either. “The sports industry has changed dramatically in the last 40 years…[and] the economic rationale underlying the sports blackout rules may no longer be valid,” the notice says. When the rules were adopted about 59% of the NFL’s regular season games were blacked out due to failure of the games to sell out. But the FCC observes that in 2011 just 6% were blacked out, and just in four cities: Buffalo, Cincinnati, San Diego, and Tampa Bay. Also, TV payments have become much more significant than gate receipts to most teams’ revenues.
Right up there with death and taxes on the inevitability scale is an enormous TV rating for the NFL‘s annual championship game. Advertisers, of course, are hip to that — and Fox announced today that its ad inventory for Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2 is completely sold out, nearly two months before the Big Game. Sponsors are shelling out an average of $4M for a 30-second chunk of the prime airtime during the game — one of the few remaining events most TV viewers watch (gasp!) live. Some late spots scooped $4.5M. By contrast, CBS didn’t announce an ad sellout for its 2013 Super Bowl until January 10, when 30 seconds was averaging $3.7M-$3.8M. Fox Sports Media Group EVP Sales Neal Mulcahy wouldn’t divulge exactly who bought which spots for the game, but he noted that there’s still some ad time available during the postgame and endless pregame programming.
The burly, mustachioed color man who followed a Hall of Fame football career with a three-decade stint in the broadcast booth is hanging up his microphone. Dan Dierdorf will retire from CBS after this season, his 43rd connected to the National Football League. After a 13-year stint as an offensive tackle for the St. Louis Cardinals, he began his announcing career with CBS Radio in 1984, moving to the TV side the following year. He left CBS in 1987 for ABC, where he did color for Monday Night Football until 1999 and also covered NCAA games, boxing and the 1988 Winter Olympics. He has been with CBS for the past 14 years. Dierdorf’s often brusque, call-it-like-he-sees-it style earned him plenty of detractors — snarky L.A. sports radio legend Jim Healy famously referred to him as “Dan Dierdork” — but in 2008 he became one of only four Pro Football Hall of Fame players to receive the Hall’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for excellence in broadcasting.
EXCLUSIVE: While Ridley Scott is taking on the massive Moses movie Exodus with Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, he and producing partner Giannina Facio have been meeting with A-list writers for what he hopes will be the next film he directs. Scott wants to create a drama focusing on the debilitating effects that concussions are having on our sports heroes, and the role that league owners play in allowing it to happen. His plan is to create a morality tale on that issue, much the way that Michael Mann’s The Insider took on the tobacco industry’s complicity in covering up the addictive and cancer-causing effects of cigarette smoking.
It sounds like a most worthy project to me. Scott is a big fan of sports including rugby and football, but he is going to focus on pro football. He has been moved reading all that has been written on athletes including former NFL stars Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, both of whom committed suicide after suffering chronic traumatic encephalopathy, with each making sure to leave his brain intact so it could be studied in the hope the results would help their gridiron brethren who also are suffering.
UPDATED, 4:01 PM: The NFL responded to the WSJ report today by saying there are no plans to add more games on Thursday nights, let alone discussions about who might air them. Brian McCarthy, the league’s VP Communications, tweeted today: “Wondering where the idea of Thursday night doubleheaders came from? So are we. We have not considered this.”
PREVIOUSLY: This possibility petrifies cable and satellite execs. Who knows how many sports fans would cut the video cord if they had a Web-based alternative to satisfy their craving for live games? Yet The Wall Street Journal this morning strangely buried the possibility of a digital deal with the NFL in a story about the league’s interest in selling a new package of Thursday night games. (Officials are disappointed with the performance of the Thursday matches that air on their NFL Network.) While the league believes that a cable channel would be interested in a new package, officials “have also considered” selling to “a nontraditional media partner, including online players like Netflix Inc. or Google Inc.” according to an unnamed source. And why not? Google’s executives reportedly met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about rights to the Sunday Ticket package when the deal with DirecTV expires at the end of 2014. Netflix also is eager to try different kinds of programming. CEO Reed Hastings noted in response to a question in an …
The NFL has quietly passed a rule during its fall meeting that will force one franchise per year to be filmed for HBO’s Hard Knocks. The news came the same day that the league was fending off some negative PR over PBS’ premiere of the football concussion docu League Of Denial and President Obama weighing in on the Washington Redskins nickname flap. The popular series, which follows a team through preseason, had a tough time finding a subject this year. Five teams declined to participate before the Cincinnati Bengals — a good-not-great small-market franchise with a negligible national following — agreed to do it for a second time. The NFL and HBO signed a multiyear extension for the program in July, so something had to be done. Under the new rules, teams can volunteer to be on the program, but now the league will select one if there are no takers. Teams that have a new head coach, have been in the playoffs at least once in the past two seasons, or have done one Hard Knocks in the past 10 years are exempt from appearing on the show.
File this under “cable confounds broadcast again”: CBS is losing an NFL rivalry game between the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers this Sunday because grounds crews won’t have enough time to convert the O.co Coliseum from a diamond to a gridiron after a baseball playoff game the night before. Major League Baseball didn’t announce the start time for Saturday’s Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series, hosted by the Oakland A’s, until late Monday afternoon. Now the football game has been moved from 1:25 PM PT to 8:25 PT — and from CBS to the NFL Network. With Raiders-Chargers starting in primetime in the West, it should draw a huge number, especially in LA, an NFL-free city where both teams have large fan bases. That can’t be good news for broadcast networks so early in the new TV season or for HBO and Showtime, which have high-profile Sunday dramas Boardwalk Empire and Homeland, respectively. NBC has its regularly scheduled Sunday Night Football game, which should bleed into the start of Raiders-Chargers. NFL Network should send out sympathy cards to rival nets – right after that thank-you note to MLB.
CBS announced this morning it will pre-empt 60 Minutes this Sunday for NFL football and the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards. Scrubbing this Sunday’s newsmag edition gives CBS its best hope for starting the Emmy broadcast on time, despite the later start time — 4:25 PM — for the NFL’s double-header games. On the bright side, going straight from football to the Emmycast will give the trophy show about a 20 million viewer lead-in — which the Emmys could use, since it will not only compete for viewers with NBC’s Sunday football but also the penultimate episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad as well as Showtime’s Dexter series swan-song. 60 Minutes pre-emptions are fairly rare: Sundays in which CBS has broadcast rights to the Super Bowl, AFC championship nights, etc.
Discovery Channel announced this morning it will air a two-part special, NFL In Season, in which the network goes on the road with the NFL as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Jacksonville Jaguars prepare for two “critical regular season games” — in London. It will be produced by NFL Films. The two-part special will premiere Friday, October 4, and Friday, November 1. In this way the special will book-end PBS’ Frontline special about head injuries sustained by NFL players, League Of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis, which is now scheduled to debut on PBS on October 8. The Frontline project was originally scheduled to debut as a two-parter October 8 and October 15, but that was before ESPN pulled out of that documentary, calling it a “branding” issue. Anonymous sources in August told the New York Times that ESPN, which reportedly pays the NFL upwards of $1 billion a year for Monday Night Football rights, succumbed to pressure from the NFL, which the NFL denied. This morning’s announcement:
NFL ratings are soaring again this young season, exemplified by Sunday’s matchup of quarterback brothers Peyton and Eli Manning. And the stellar numbers for that game would have been ever better if not for the mandatory regional TV coverage of the Oakland Raiders-Jacksonville Jaguars yawner in some local markets. See, the NFL designated Orlando as a “secondary market” when the Jaguars joined the NFL in 1995. Because TV signals for Orlando affiliates reach within 75 miles of the Jags’ stadium 140 miles away, by rule stations must carry all of the team’s road games. That means no cutting away during blowouts to show a more competitive out-of-town contest. So while most of the U.S. was enjoying the Manning brothers’ showdown last Sunday, Orlando CBS affiliate WKMG was torturing viewers with a plodding 19-9 Jaguars’ loss to the Oakland Raiders. And next Sunday, when most of the country will enjoy the marquee matchup of hotshot young QBs Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick, the Jaguars will lose to the unbeaten Seattle Seahawks.