NBCSP is still running the Mikey Miss simulcast, sometimes eight hours a day!
By Peter Gleason
Sports in American exploded in the mid-1950s, just about the same time that TV became wildly popular and Sports Illustrated was born.
Now SI is a joke of a magazine and the games are on hold.
So that leaves TV with virtually no games to broadcast.
NBC Sports Philadelphia, which in normal times airs more infomercials than live events, still hasn’t updated its digital listings so that you might expect to see the Phillies today against the Toronto Blue Jays, except that Grapefruit League game has been cancelled because of the coronavirus.
NBCSP ran a replay last night of the Sixers-Celtics 2019-20 season opener.
ESPN has nine domestic cable channels, plus a streaming service, so it has over 200 hours of programming each day built specifically around a live sports calendar that no longer exists.
“Our programming team is hard at work to fill the holes on our networks, and we will provide updates when finalized,” an ESPN communications executive wrote in an email to the New York Times announcing Saturday’s significant program changes. ESPN has been sending out new schedules a day ahead of time. That seems about as far out as it is possible to plan for a reality that changes each day, each minute.
Most sports networks are opting for older versions of their originally scheduled programming, borrowing the strategy endemic to ESPN Classic. CBS ran the Big Ten men’s basketball conference championship games from 2018 and 2019 this weekend. NBCSN showed a Premier League match from earlier this season. Fox played the movie “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” instead of an MLS match.
Fox Sports has canceled all of its studio shows through next week. “SportsCenter” has gained prominence in ESPN’s lineup. Sports documentaries, like those from ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, are in heavy rotation.
They are not live sports, but at least they aren’t rerun sports.
The strength of live sports on television is in the very name: They are live. They are appointment viewing. They cannot be missed.
In a DVR and streaming world, sports are practically the only thing that needs to be viewed on a specific channel at a specific time. If a network has enough live sports media rights, cable companies are all but forced to carry it — and to pay a hefty monthly fee for the privilege of offering the games to their customers — and advertisers have to pay large sums of money to reach the vast audience of sports fans.
Live sports are the star of the show, and the surrounding programming is just window dressing.
Regional sports networks, which show the vast majority of N.B.A., M.L.B. and N.H.L. games in the United States, take this to the extreme. Most barely bother to offer compelling daytime programming. The networks know they are indispensable because of the three hours each night they show your favorite team’s game — why run up costs during the other 21 hours of the day?
Even at ESPN, FS1, NBCSN and other networks that try — with varying degrees of success — to persuade viewers to watch programming that isn’t live action, people generally understand the reality.
“The majority of the costs, the majority of the ratings, and the majority of the revenue is always going to be from the games,” Brian Windhorst, an ESPN analyst who appears on a number of the company’s shows, told me two years ago. “If we could put games on 24/7, there wouldn’t even be us.”
Then came the sobering kicker. “We’re just filling times between the games,” he said.
So what happens when the sports are all filler and reruns?
The second a game ends, its value drops precipitously. As programming, live sports aren’t the brand-new car that loses 10 percent of its value the second it is driven off the lot. Live sports are the brand-new car that gets totaled by a speeding semi-truck the second it is driven off the lot.
In other words, nobody wants to watch sports when they already know the outcome.
Scripted programming, on the other hand, is still watchable — and therefore valuable — years or even decades later. Streaming services pay around $85 million annually to show the sitcom “Friends” and $100 million annually to show “The Office.” “Friends” went off the air 16 years ago, and “The Office” ended in 2013. People will watch these shows years later, and then rewatch them and rewatch them.
What makes sports so enthralling — the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, to steal a phrase from ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” — is the same thing that makes sports channels so useless right now.
“Sports is really good in the moment,” Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, said a few years ago. “So you want to watch the game, but the afterlife of a given show is quite small.”