Germany’s Bundesliga Soccer to Resume on May 16

Germany’s Bundesliga professional soccer league is set to become one of the first sports organizations in the world to resume play on May 16. All remaining nine weekend games of the season will be played in empty stadiums for televised and streaming video audiences. The league has been suspended since March 13.

The German Football Association says the matches would run under strict health protocols, including requiring players have regular COVID-19 tests.

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Comcast’s Sky Deutschland will broadcast all games live in Germany and Austria. Pay-TV operator BT Sports has Bundesliga rights in the U.K. is reportedly considering broadcasting the games for free (with ads).

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Report: Sports TV Viewers Turn to News, Religion Programming During Pandemic

When the NCAA on March 17 canceled the men’s and women’s college basketball tournament, known as “March Madness,” sports viewers turned their attention to news, according to new data from 605, a television measurement and analytics company.

The report found that among viewers of college basketball, there was a 43% decrease in viewership of sports talk and documentary programs in 2020 from the same period in 2019. The same demo upped its consumption of news programming 32.3% compared to 2019.

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Notably, the news viewing increase was larger than the news viewership increase (30.6%) by the general public. Among 2019 “March Madness” viewers: 64.8% more households are watching CNN; 36.7% more are watching Fox News and 11.7% more are watching MSNBC.

Domestic household minutes spent viewing news increased 31.5% in March from the previous-year month. 605 said the data resulted in a 79% increase in households watching CNN; a 44% uptick for Fox News; and a 20.1% increase for MSNBC since February.

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“With more Americans staying home, there is an obvious expectation of increased TV viewership,”Noah Levine, chief revenue officer at 605, said in a statement.

As the number of households staying home grew, a similar increase in increase in religious programming viewership emerged — up 44.5% in the last week of March compared to the first week.

The reports that 4.56 million homes surveyed watched less than five minutes of religious programming in March 2019, with the genre now up 6.7% in 2020.

Roku: Idle TV Sports Viewers Streaming More Movies, TV Shows

With professional (or any) sports on television an early victim of the coronavirus pandemic, new data from Roku suggests linear TV viewers suddenly denied access to sports of any kind have embraced streaming TV shows and movies more aggressively than other Roku subscribers.

March 2020 Week 1 vs. March 2020 Week 3

NBA and NHL linear TV viewers increased their non-sports streaming on Roku among the following genres, respectively:
News: 92.15%, 119.83%
Film & TV: 74.92%, 67.56%
Lifestyle: 66.74%, 51.92%
Live TV: 52.88%, 60.12%
Music: 42.99%, 63.53%
Reality: 41.11%, 30.29%
Kids: 33.48%, 31.29%
International: 23.42%, 34.25%
Comedy: 15.04%, 19.66%
Sports: -49.99%, -71.42%

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“Roku users who watched the NHL or NBA on linear TV in February increased streaming hours on the Roku platform faster than the average Roku user,” Dan Robbins VP, ad marketing & partner solutions, wrote in an April 2 blog.

Robbins said that while overall linear TV usage among sports viewers is flat, they are watching more film, lifestyle, music and news on the Roku platform.

Roku had more than 30 million active accounts in the most-recent fiscal period. It added 1.4 million net accounts in the quarter. Viewers streamed 500 million more hours in Q2 than in the previous-year period, or 9.4 billion hours total.

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Robbins said Roku users who watched the 2019 NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament (“March Madness”) on linear TV also streamed more video this March.

“Over the last three weeks, these fans shifted their prime time viewing to entertainment channels in the film & TV genre,” he wrote.

NBC Sports Gold SVOD Service Offering Free Access to Catalog Programming

Jonesing for sports during a pandemic? With no live sports available to stream anywhere on the planet, NBC Sports is going to the vault for PGA Golf, motocross, soccer, cycling, Indy Light racing, Nascar, skiing, track & field, and lacrosse video action.

NBC Sports Gold, the direct-to-consumer streaming service, March 26 announced free access to nine sports passes featuring commercial-free and on-demand content, including full-event replays, classic games, tournaments, races and original programming. All of it catalog fare.

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The NBC Sports Gold app available in the U.S. on Apple iOS & tvOS, Android, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast and NBCSportsGold.com, and also on Xfinity X1 and Xfinity Flex.

The nine passes include:
PGA TOUR LIVE (through May 17)
Includes 250+ hours of archived content, including condensed replays of tournaments from the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons. “Return of the Roar,” a documentary chronicling Tiger Woods’ return to the top of the sport at the 2018 TOUR Championship
New, weekly content from the PGA TOUR archives

Premier League (soccer) through April 30. More than 150 pieces of long-form content, including dozens of classic matches and full-event replays from select 2019-20 matches. More than 50 episodes of “Premier League World,” 12 episodes of Gary Neville’s “Soccerbox,” and 11 episodes of “PL Legends.”

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Pro Motocross (through May 1) featuring all races from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons.

IndyCar (through May 31) featuring main races, qualifying races, practices, and Indy Lights from the entire 2019 season and select classic races. Condensed replays of all races from the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and episodes of “Off the Grid” and “Inside IndyCar.”

TrackPass (through May 1) featuring full-event replays of all races since TrackPass launched in December 2019. Nearly 50 long-form documentaries on Nascar stars, venues, and stories. Condensed replays of every AFT, IMSA WeatherTech, K&N and Modified race from the 2019 season will also be made available shortly.

Snow (through May 1) includes full-event replays of nearly every FIS and IBU World Cup stop in 2019-20. Full-event replays of 2019 Alpine, Biathlon, Cross-Country, Freestyle, Nordic Combined, Ski Jumping, and Snowboarding World Championships.

Premier Lacrosse League (through April 9) featuring full-event replays of every game in the league’s inaugural season, the All-Star Game, Skills Competition and 2019 Draft.

Cycling (through May 1) features full-event replays of some of the biggest races in cycling, including the Tour de France, Vuelta a España and Paris-Nice. Replays of the UCI Road, Track Cycling, Cyclo-Cross and Mountain Bike World Championships, and the Track Cycling and Cyclo-Cross World Cup.

Track and Field (through April 25) full-event replays of every Final from the 2019 IAAF World Championships. Select components of every 2019 Diamond League stop. Full-event replays of the 2019 Chicago, Berlin, Prague, London, Hamburg, Boston, and Rotterdam Marathons, and the 2020 Tokyo Marathon and 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon.

The Night Sports Turned Off the Lights

The evening of March 11 seemed like any normal night for Disney-owned ESPN, with evening NBA telecasts between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, and Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans, respectively, rounding out a broadcast schedule that was preceded by the University of North Carolina playing Syracuse University in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

College game commentators Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale went through their paces discussing the NCAA’s decision to run the pending March Madness national basketball tournament without spectators due the spreading coronavirus pandemic. The news overshadowed an upset in the making on the court as the storied N.C. Tar Heels were being dominated by the visiting Orange.

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Then came the bombshell: the NBA was suspending its season indefinitely after a player on the Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus. With games in Oklahoma City and Sacramento canceled before they began, and Jazz players and team officials quarantined in their locker room by health officials (a second Jazz player would test positive a day later), ESPN toggled between its headquarters in Bristol, Conn., Oklahoma City, Sacramento and Greensboro giving updates on the rapidly changing situation.

“I’ve loved [college basketball] for 40-something years,” Vitale said. “I never in my wildest dreams would think that I would say the NCAA tournament should be canceled, but it should be. There’s no doubt it should be. Health and safety is a priority. That’s the No. 1 priority. The NCAA has got to act and act quick.”

Indeed, within the next 24 hours the NCAA and most professional leagues (MLB, NHL, MLB, XFL, Nascar, PGA Tour and Association of Tennis Professionals, etc.), the Boston Marathon and high school sports competition in the United States had been either shut down or postponed for the next 30 days or longer.

With President Trump March 13 declaring a national emergency regarding COVID-19, ESPN and ESPN+, the brand’s subscription streaming video platform, and other sports TV networks were left with a gaping content hole that not even endless coronavirus chatter could fill.

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“This is an unprecedented situation,” ESPN said in a statement. “We have great relationships with our league partners and are confident we can address all issues constructively going forward. Our immediate focus is on everyone’s safety and well-being.”

The network March 12 aired its venerable “SportsCenter” program non-stop interviewing (now) idle coaches and game analysts around the country — many backtracking earlier comments that they felt the games should continue.

Fox Sports shuttered until March 20 all studio show productions due to the virus. NBCUniversal, Netflix and Amazon, among other media companies, advised their employees to work from home going forward.

With most of Hollywood shutting down content production to safeguard employees, and AT&T mandating that all employees (including WarnerMedia Entertainment) work from home if possible, the COVID-19 fiscal impact on the entertainment industry and the U.S. economy in general remains to be seen.

“In terms of impact on media, it really depends on how the virus plays out,” Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, told The Wall Street Journal. “The NBA and major media companies will have to focus on the health and safety of their employees and stakeholders. That will drive all decision-making.”

XFL Cancels Reboot Season, Vows 2021 Return

WWE founder Vince McMahon’s alternative professional football league, the XFL, is canceling the remainder of its inaugural season due to the coronavirus. The move follows other professional sports leagues and organizations shutting down venues and events to help thwart the spread of the pandemic that has infected more than 125,000 people and killed about 5,000.

Games have been streamed on Disney-owned ESPN’s ESPN Player, the standalone service only available outside the United States.

With many state and local governments issuing moratoriums on large gatherings of people (limited to 250 or less), the decision was largely out of McMahon’s hands.

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“Currently, the XFL will not be playing its regular-season games,” the league said in a statement. “However, all players will be paid their base pay and benefits for 2020 regular season. All XFL ticket holders will be issued refunds or credit towards future games. The XFL is committed to playing a full season in 2021 and future years.”

The XFL, which had completed five weeks of its season, was scheduled to hold its championship game on April 26. The NFL doesn’t begin play until September.

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Netflix to Bow Documentary Series on Tennis Star Naomi Osaka

Netflix will bow an untitled documentary series on tennis star Naomi Osaka, in association with Uninterrupted and produced by Film 45.

The series follows multiple-Grand Slam-champion Naomi Osaka, who became the first Asian player to reach the No. 1 singles ranking after winning her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open in 2018 and second at the Australian Open in 2019.

The documentary series also gives audiences a window into the life of a global tennis superstar. It will cover Naomi’s pivotal year, from the U.S. Open in August 2019 and on tour with the tennis star as she plays in each of the Grand Slams and prepares for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, Osaka emigrated from Japan to the United States as a child, where she rose to become the first Asian player to reach the heights of international tennis. The series follows Naomi to Japan to understand her connection with the country she represents and the reflections of her multi-cultural identity.

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“To be able to tell my story and let people in during this big year, working with a team that really understands me, has been a rewarding experience,” said Osaka in a statement. “It won’t look like a traditional sports documentary, and I’m so excited to share it with everyone.”

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The series is directed by Garrett Bradley whose short film Alone was shortlisted for an Academy Award. At Sundance 2020, Bradley won Best Director for her U.S. documentary feature in competition TIME.

Vudu Greenlights ‘Legacy’ Series Showcasing Children of Famous Athletes

Vudu, Walmart’s digital video service, Jan. 7 announced it has ordered the eight-episode docuseries “Legacy.” The new Vudu Original will star 13-time NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade, who will also serve as an executive producer on the series.

“Legacy” joins Vudu’s slate of original content including series “Mr. Mom” and feature film Adventure Force 5.

“Legacy” will chronicle the lives of gifted young athletes who all have one thing in common — they are the children of famous athletes, and they are working toward living up to the name on their back while also building their own athletic identity.

The docuseries will be available for free exclusively on Vudu in 2020.

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“Legacy is a part of Vudu’s commitment to invest in creating premium and compelling original content for families to enjoy together,” Jeremy Verba, VP and GM of Vudu, said in a statement.

The docuseries will follow Wade’s son, Zaire Wade, as he navigates his senior year of high school as a Division I basketball prospect; and Randall Cunningham’s daughter, Vashti Cunningham, who is a track and field athlete specializing in the high jump and a contender to win gold at the 2020 Olympics.

The series will also shadow Evan and Elijah Holyfield, the sons of former heavyweight world champion boxer Evander Holyfield. Evan is following in his father’s footsteps and pursuing a professional boxing career, while Elijah (who played at University of Georgia) has chosen a different path as an NFL running back. Additional names will be announced in the coming months.

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“I’m proud to executive produce ‘Legacy’ and bring my son’s athletic journey to other aspiring young athletes,” said Wade. “I hope this docuseries leaves viewers feeling inspired through showing the hard work and dedication needed to turn your dreams into reality.”

 

Amazon Injecting Tech into NFL Thursday Night Football

Amazon Prime Video for the third year will stream NFL Thursday Night Football, beginning Sept. 26 at 8:20 PM Eastern with the Green Bay Packers hosting the Philadelphia Eagles

This season Amazon will again feature three viewing options, including the default Fox broadcast with Troy Aikman and Joe Buck, sports journalists Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer providing commentary on a second feed, in addition to U.K. English language broadcasters Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth.

Amazon is also offering “X-Ray for TNF,” software that enables users to watch and understand the game without taking their eyes off the screen or missing a play.

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“X-Ray” brings statistics previously available only to coaches and announcers to all Prime Video users on demand, on every play.

Users can gain insights such as a quarterback’s average time to throw, a running back’s average yards after contact and a wide receiver’s average yards of separation, which are enabled through Next Gen Stats’ real-time player tracking.

The software is available to anyone streaming TNF on Android, iOS, and Fire TV. To access X-Ray, users simply flip their phones, tap the “Stats by X-Ray” button on their phone or tablet or click ‘up’ on the Fire TV remote control during the game.

In addition, Amazon is streaming “NFL Next,” a new 30-minute live show available exclusively on Prime Video at 7:00 PM Eastern each Thursday and produced by NFL Films.

The show provides insight and commentary from two-time Super Bowl Champion Chris Long, NFL Network’s Kay Adams and Next Gen Stats expert James Koh.

“We’re revolutionizing the way football fans stream Thursday Night Football and allowing Prime members to personalize how they watch and hear the game,” Marie Donoghue, VP of Prime Video Sports, said in a statement. “We think both longtime sports fans and those new to the game will love watching and engaging with TNF on Prime Video and Twitch.”

“We’re excited to collaborate once again with Amazon Prime Video to produce a different kind of NFL show,” said Ross Ketover, Chief Executive of NFL Films. “To have the talents of Chris Long, one of the most insightful players to play this game, paired with a dynamic personality like Kay Adams makes for a show we think fans are going to love.”

For the third year, TNF will also be available on Amazon-owned gaming platform Twitch, including co-streamed commentary on Twitch’s interactive social video service.

 

U.S. Pay-TV Ace Card: Live Sports

With the exception of Amazon Prime Video, subscription streaming video services in the United States — notably Netflix — have shied away from live sports programming.

That reality has been a lifesaver of sorts for traditional pay-TV, which just bowed myriad NFL and college football programming packages for the 2019 season.

New data from Altman Vilandrie & Co., a industry consultant, found that 90% of 5,000 pay-TV survey respondents watch live sports.

Indeed, the survey found that sports — specifically the National Football League — is must-have programming for pay-TV.

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Ninety percent of the sports fans who watch sports regularly are subscribing to traditional or virtual MVPDs (Internet-based TV like YouTube TV or Hulu Live). In contrast, only 67% of sports non-viewers are subscribing to Pay TV.

Of the four major pro sports, the NFL was the number one sport for viewers who wanted to watch their favorite team (88% of NFL fans) and for fantasy implications.

In contrast, the NBA had the fewest respondents who watch because of a favorite team (76%), but the highest respondents that watch because of a favorite player(s) (54%).

This confirms the player-driven focus of the NBA and the impact high profile players have on the sport.

“There’s no question that the NFL dominates the current survey but the breadth and diversity of sports interest among younger viewers predicts a shift in the American sports TV landscape,” Matt Del Percio, principal at Altman Vilandrie & Co., said in a statement. “Sports fans now have many more viewing choices than ever and pay-TV providers must find ways to reach new fan bases while retaining fans for traditional sports who subscribe at very high rates.”