My brother Steve, who's not quite as avid of a sports fan as I am, but enjoys the NCAA tourney and I have had some conversations where he's complained about the excessive number of television timeouts during the CBS NCAA coverage.
Today he cited recent columns from Washington Post columnists John Feinstein and Mark Cuban's favorite person, Leonard Shapiro which were critical of some aspects of the CBS tournament coverage and also complained about all the timeouts.
I asked him if they'd brought up the fact that CBS paid $6 BILLION for the rights to the tourney for 11 years and he said they did bring it up so I went and read the articles.
I don't really have too much of a problem with it because if I am out at a sports bar watching, I'm usually eating and drinking and with other people and don't notice it much. If I'm at home and it's not a game that matters to me (AKA I don't own one of the teams in the annual Calcutta Auction), I try not to get too vested until the last 5 minutes anyway. Until then, all the timeouts mostly play to my attention deficit disorder and I don't care too much because I wind up reading/writing e-mail, responding to comments on the blog, reading The Hollywood Reporter, or normal stuff like getting a snack and bladder relief.
While I don't know enough about MMA to comment on Cuban's criticism of Shapiro, I found his column about the NCAA coverage very well-reasoned.
That endless stream of commercials just keeps coming. In games I watched, I can't recall a single stoppage of play for a timeout or an injury when CBS didn't go right into its full Madison Avenue mode. There are times when they string four or five 30 second spots together, with a few promos for CBS programming. I wasn't doing an official count, but I'd guess there are at least 20 commercials aired between the end of the first half and the start of the second in every game.
Shapiro goes on to say that CBS is getting $1.4 million per 30 second spot, but the ratings in primetime certainly don't justify that kind of premium. I can't help wonder if CBS may not be making nearly that much per spot, and is instead making it up in volume.
Shapiro said it would bother him if he were a fan in the stands to have all that dead time. Bill and I both went to all of the first and second round games that were held in Sacramento and San Jose last year and personally, every time out spelled more cheerleaders so it just wasn't that awful. But it definitely seemed to affect the flow of the game from my perspective in the stands.
I certainly can understand about seeing the same spot 5 times per half hour, but with all the checking e-mail and The Hollywood Reporter, I don't really let it get to me. Sometime ADD and multitasking can be your friend. It will be interesting to see if CBS renews the contract when it expires in 2011 and what the next contract costs on an annual basis. At $545 million a year, CBS only needs to air around 400 thirty second spots for the whole tournament at $1.4 million per spot. And even with my limited attention span it seems like there at least 100 per game!
CBS averaged less than 10 million viewers during primetime portion of the coverage on Thursday night, less than half of which were in the coveted 18-49 demographic. By contrast a new episode of CSI: Miami last week averaged almost 16 million viewers and well over five million people in the demo on CBS. Last year's NCAA Final drew 19.56 million total viewers, but the next to the last new episode of granddaddy CSI pulled 19.87 million viewers and almost 8 million 18-49 demo viewers on December 13, 2007.
My brother raises one interesting consideration. He wonders whether the Nielsen ratings for CBS' coverage wouldn't be better if there weren't so many commercials.