Television still survives -- thanks to sports

The Top Attraction on TV? No Script, but Plenty of Action

By Bill Carter/NYT

If it wasn't clear before, this season has underscored the point,
italicized it and shouted it from the rooftops: NFL football is by far
the most popular form of programming on Ameri
can television.

The evidence: Of the 20 highest-rated telecasts of any kind so far
this television season, 18 have been NFL games on CBS, NBC or Fox. In
terms of the best of 2010, nothing else comes close. Of the 50
highest-rated programs during the calendar year, 27 have been NFL
games, including 8 of the top 10.

And at a time when little or nothing on television increases its
audience, the NF. is still finding new viewers. NBC's Sunday night
games are up 10 percent this season. "Sunday Night Football" is
certain to complete the fall as the most-watched offering in prime
time, the first time the NFL's prime-time showcase (which began in
1970 as "Monday Night Football") has ever attained the top ranking.

CBS's Sunday afternoon games are also soaring, up about 10% from last
year. Games on Fox are up about 2%. ESPN's Monday games are about flat
with last season, which that network considers remarkable because last
season's games broke all records.

The games on ESPN not only dominate cable television (the top 13 spots
in cable ratings this fall are all NFL games) but also have become a
force against a network show on that night. While the show, "Dancing
With the Stars" on ABC, managed to draw more viewers over all, "Monday
Night Football" smashed all its competition among the younger-adult
viewers most sought by the networks.

Advertisers certainly know it. Dick Ebersol, the chairman of NBC
Sports, said that pricing for commercials is up everywhere the games
are carried.

NBC also reported that more advertising dollars had been attracted by
one growing audience segment, one not conventionally associated with
football: women. NBC's Sunday games this season rank third in prime
time among women 18 to 49.

None of that means the networks make money from the games. Rights fees
are huge (the league takes in about $4 billion a year in television
money) and losses for the networks are routine. But no network is
complaining. The games provide audience circulation like nothing else
the networks can buy, and they use the once-a-week mass assemblage to
promote their other programs.

"High definition TV has been the dollop of frosting on top of
everything else," Mr. Ebersol said. "If you think about it, the game
is rectangular anyway, and now you buy this big rectangular screen."
Mr Ebersol cited the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft,
who, he said, first compared NFL games to another popular television
form. "Bob said, 'We have the greatest reality show in all of the
medium,' " Mr Ebersol said.

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