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An In-Depth Chat With CBS Sports’ Sean McManus

Jason Barrett

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From increasing Thursday Night Football ratings, to a creative deal to expand coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament, to helping mint a new wave of must-see golf stars, Sean McManus is one of sports television’s top innovators. As chairman of CBS Sports, he presides over an enviable batch of big-league properties that put up enviable results in 2015. According to Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO, McManus is “a first-class guy and a great leader of the division” whose trademarks are strong relationships, savvy negotiating skills and stellar leadership.

A McManus pet project, CBS’ Thursday Night Football, averaged 15.8 million viewers this year, up 6% from last year, and several Sunday afternoon games vaulted into the fall’s roster of most-watched programs. The run of pigskin glory will culminate in February with Super Bowl 50. McManus took a time-out from big-game preparations to speak with B&C’s Michael Malone and Dade Hayes in his New York office. An edited transcript follows.

What are you most proud of in 2015?

At the top of the list would be Thursday Night Football. We had some really lofty goals in terms of promotion, branding, marketing, production and presentation. We’ve worked incredibly closely with the NFL and I think all of the expectations that we had have been either met or, in most cases, exceeded. The ratings have grown over last year. We have settled into a really good rhythm from a production standpoint and the marketing has been unprecedented—we’ve done more marketing for Thursday Night Football than any product in the history of CBS, and it has really worked out.

Give us some more specifics about the marketing.

In a 24-hour period before the first game was going to air on the NFL Network [Thursday games were simulcast on CBS and NFL Network during Weeks 2-8, then were exclusive to NFL Network, with CBS producing, starting Nov. 5. They will be simulcast again Dec. 3], Stephen Colbert did about a minute and a half on the transition in a lighthearted, funny way. CBS This Morning, that Thursday, did a big feature on the NFL and the matchup and the Golden Football promotion. The Talk, our syndicated show, did a football-themed cooking segment talking specifically about the NFL Network. [CBS] All Access did a major piece in its program. Then at 8:25 [p.m.] we did a promo for Thursday Night Football in The Big Bang Theory, our No. 1 show. Just in that 24-hour period, the quality and value of the promotion is unprecedented.

What’s the status for Thursday Night Football next season?

We’re talking to [the NFL]. I’d like to think the results we have shown will have a bearing on who airs Thursday Night Football next year. But the NFL was very open about the fact that they wanted to do a one-year deal and that’s what we have. But some time in the next month or two we’ll be sitting down with them. I’m sure there’s a lot of interest from other parties but we’ll make our case and do everything we can to keep it on CBS.

 

 

 

Any concern that NFL programming loses its novelty when so much is available on TV?

Oversaturation is something we all worry about. The fact of the matter is, we haven’t reached that point yet because Monday night’s ratings are still very, very strong, Sunday nights are really strong, Sunday afternoon continues to be strong and Thursday night is growing year after year. There is still an appetite for the amount of football that’s programmed. If anything, the interest seems to be greater in the sport than it has ever been.

Ratings outside of football are down. Why are people tuning in to NFL content in such giant numbers?

First of all, it’s such a great sport for television. The players really are gladiators out there. And the way the sport is played and the way it’s covered, it’s just incredibly visually dynamic. And there’s always all sorts of storylines—the NFL is now a 12-month a year product; it is always in the news, sometimes for bad things, a lot of times for good things. The fact that there are only 16 regular season games, every game is important and it generates a lot of interest.

Fantasy football has had an affect, especially on the younger viewers.

And I think the new ways in which the NFL is consumed, whether it be on mobile, on the DirecTV package, NFL Red Zone, all feed into this general level of interest. It just seems to get bigger and bigger every single year.

The NFL has some very successful cable distribution, both on the NFL Network and on ESPN. But I believe strongly in the broadcast platform and I think it’s been proven that for certain properties, like Thursday Night Football, that network television is still really, really important.

There have been layoffs at Turner Sports and ESPN. Is CBS Sports the right size, staff-wise?

I think we have the right size. I work for a man, Leslie Moonves, who believes you should make money on sports programming. Other networks have a different philosophy, which I wholeheartedly respect. They have deficit-spent on properties like World Cup Soccer, Olympics, Major League Baseball, where they may not be making a pure profit on it. But from the position of building their assets, whether it’s cable companies or cable networks, they have been good deals for them. We have chosen not to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in our 24-hour sports network [CBS Sports Network]. We’ve taken a different approach. So when there is a bit of a downturn, we haven’t had the need to downsize. I never like to see it when other companies announce layoffs, but I think we’re positioned pretty well for the future and our properties work for us financially. We are not, by and large, losing money on our sports properties.

What’s happening on CBS Sports Network?

It’s basically live events—live football, live basketball. We’ve got some really good studio programming, such as Boomer & Carton, which is simulcast in the morning. We have Adam Schein [host of Time to Schein] that airs every afternoon. We do Monday QB, which features people like Phil Simms and Trent Green and Steve Beuerlein and Dan Fouts giving a quarterback’s perspective on what happened that week in football.

We have a lot of really good studio programming with Inside SEC Football and Inside College Football. We have a three-hour Sunday morning show, which is an adjunct to NFL Today, and We Need To Talk, which is the only female-hosted show. That should’ve happened a long time ago; I’m proud that we were the first ones to do it.

We are trying to build the network from the ground up and I think we’re doing a really good job. But we haven’t, as I said, gone out and spent hundreds of millions of dollars on properties because we believe we should be making money in the cable sports business. And eventually we will be competitive for the marquee properties. Right now we are doing it in a more conservative, more measured way.

Read the entire interview on Broadcasting Cable where this article was originally published

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NBA Finals Game 5 Averages 12.2 Million Viewers on ABC

‘Game 5 of the 2024 NBA Finals averaged 12.2 million viewers on ABC while also attaining the largest share of audience among People 18-34.”

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Graphic for the NBA Finals
Courtesy: National Basketball Association

The Boston Celtics secured their 18th NBA Championship with a win over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night. Boston now has the most championships in the history of the NBA. Game 5 was especially a hit on ABC television as the game broadcast averaged 12.22 million viewers. That represented the most-watched game of the NBA Finals. Viewership of the matchup peaked at 13.28 million viewers on the night and also set a record for the largest share of audience within the People 18-34 demographic ever.

Total viewership of the NBA Finals on ABC averaged 11.315 million viewers across the five-game series, according to Anthony Crupi of Sportico in a post on X. The NBA Finals matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat also went five games last year and averaged 13.08 million viewers. The NBA Countdown program, which featured host Malika Andrews and analysts Stephen A. Smith, Michael Wilbon and Bob Myers, along with guest analysts Josh Hart (games 1-2), Paul George (games 3-4) and Julius Randle (Game 5) averaged 4.02 million viewers through the series.

The Walt Disney Company (ESPN/ABC) is entering its final season within its existing media rights agreement with the National Basketball Association. The league is reportedly formalizing new media rights contracts with Disney, NBCUniversal and Amazon’s Prime Video with a collective value of $76 billion over the term of the deal.

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Final Round of U.S. Open Averages 5.9 Million Viewers on NBC, Peacock

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NBC Golf Logo
(Illustration) | NBC Golf Logo – Courtesy: NBCUniversal

The final round between Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy during the 124th U.S. Open from Pinehurst Resort and Country Club highlighted Sunday at the golf tournament in which the network attained a total audience delivery of 5.9 million viewers on NBC and Peacock. The seven-hour window ranks as the most-watched East Coast final round of the event since 2013 and is up 9% over the last U.S. Open to be held on the East Coast from Brookline, according to data from Nielsen Media Research and Adobe Analytics.

Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch reported that the presentation had a 2.8 rating and that Nielsen measurements of the consumption equated to an average of 5.55 million viewers. Ratings were down by 11% from the final round of the U.S. Open last year from the Los Angeles Country Club in Los Angeles, Calif.

Viewership of the competition peaked at 11.4 million viewers from 6:15 to 6:30 p.m. EST and 11.3 million viewers from 6:30 to 6:45 p.m. EST. When excluding streaming-based viewership, the audiences peaked at 10.8 million and 10.7 million viewers, respectively, during those same aforementioned quarter hours. The total peak audience of 11.4 million viewers is the highest peak audience for any U.S. Open competition since 2015. DeChambeau ended up defeating McIlroy by one shot, highlighted by his emerging out of a bunker for par on the 18th hole of Pinehurst course No. 2.

Primary broadcast coverage of the U.S. Open garnered a total audience delivery of 3.1 million viewers, which is up 13% from the 2022 iteration of the event. Moreover, it exceeds the previous six U.S. Open events and is now the most-watched East Coast U.S. Open since 2013. The broadcast was also the most-streamed golf event on record for NBC Sports, the second time this record was broken during the tournament following first-round coverage on Thursday. Overall consumption of the event was up 17% year-over-year across all feeds.

Coverage of the U.S. Open as a whole on NBC averaged 3.1 million viewers, which is up 13% compared to the previous year. Additionally, 2.89 million viewers within the aggregate figure watched the tournament on NBC, according to data from Nielsen Media Research and Adobe Analytics.

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Venu Sports Announces Founding Leadership Team

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Venu Sports Leadership Team
Courtesy: Venu Sports

Venu Sports, the new joint streaming venture from ESPN, Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery, has announced the members of its founding leadership team that will report to Pete Distad, the chief executive officer of the entity. The team will be based in New York and Los Angeles and features executives with vast experiences in entertainment, media, technology, sports and sports betting companies.

Brian Borkowski has been named the chief marketing officer for Venu Sports and will be responsible for marketing, branding and growth strategies to help the brand launch and grow. Borkowski previously worked at FanDuel where he was the senior vice president of marketing for the company as it continued its expansion. Additionally, he has held various leadership roles with Hulu, including vice president of media and acquisition, along with head of subscriber acquisition. Over the years, he worked as the chief marketing officer of analytics firm Verikai and also had marketing leadership roles with Neilson Financial Services and Farmers Insurance.

Jessica Casano-Antonellis will serve as the senior vice president and head of communications for Venu Sports. Casano-Antonellis previously led communications at SiriusXM and also worked as the vice president of communications for Disney+ and Hulu at The Walt Disney Company. Among her responsibilities were overseeing communications initiatives for streaming propositions, including launching and rolling out Disney’s flagship streaming service.

Tim Connolly is the chief business officer of the company, possessing responsibilities pertaining to strategic initiatives for the sports streaming platform. Some of these areas of focus include content rights and licensing, distribution and strategic partnership and subscriber growth and retention strategies. Connolly previously helped lead subscriber growth for Apple TV+ and MLS Season Pass at Apple, along with serving in senior leadership roles at Hulu and The Walt Disney Company.

Amit Dudakia will be responsible for product management and design, along with programming and editorial for Venu Sports in his new role of senior vice president and head of product. Dudakia most recently worked as the senior vice president of product management for Fox Technology and Digital where he led product and design for the FOX Sports division. Dudakia started working with the Fox Corporation at FX Network where he helped launch a variety of entities under its umbrella.

Skarpi Hedinsson has been named the chief technology officer of Venu Sports and will be responsible for technology strategy and execution for the streaming service. Hedinsson was previously the chief technology officer of the Los Angeles Rams and played an integral role leading the team envisioning, designing and implementing technology within SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park. Hedinsson is the former chief technology officer of Disney/ABC Television Group, working in the role amid the launch of the WATCH ABC and WATCH Disney services.

David Hillman will oversee legal matters for Venu Sports in his new role of chief legal officer. Before joining Venu Sports, Hillman worked on the corporate legal executive management team at Paramount Global, recently serving as executive vice president and general counsel for CBS Sports, CBS News and Stations and Broadcast Operations. Within his position, he observed negotiations for strategic content agreements across several genres. Hillman previously held similar positions at Simon & Schuster and Westwood One.

Gautam Ranji will serve as the chief financial officer for Venu Sports, having purview over financial operations for the joint streaming venture. Ranji is the former chief financial officer and treasurer for Sphere Entertainment, involved in fiscal functions and within the management team that launched the Sphere in Las Vegas, Nev. Before this endeavor, he was responsible for strategic planning and business development at CBS and was a co-leader for the integration following the merger between Viacom and CBS, currently known as Paramount Global.

Judy Schwab is the senior vice president and head of people at Venu Sports, overseeing workforce planning, organizational effectiveness and talent acquisition along with the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. Schwab previously worked as a leader in human resources within the Apple Services division, and she was also a member of The Walt Disney Company leading human resources for its direct-to-consumer businesses. She was a key member of the leadership team that helped launch Disney+ and integrated Hulu as well.

In addition to the leadership team at Venu Sports, more than 150 engineers and executives are working to build the product that will look to serve sports fans without a traditional cable subscription. The service will combine several linear television networks owned by The Walt Disney Company, Fox Corporation and Warner Bros. Discovery that broadcast sports programming. Pricing and a launch date for the service have not yet been announced.

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