What to Make of the NFL’s Experiment with Putting the Draft on Broadcast

http://sports.morganwick.com/2018/05/what-to-make-of-the-nfls-experiment-with-putting-the-draft-on-broadcast/

http://www.morganwick.com/?p=8803

The NFL Draft this past weekend aired on broadcast television for the first time ever. The first two nights of the draft saw NFL Network’s coverage simulcast on Fox, which will be NFLN’s Thursday Night Football partner next season. ESPN, which had long resisted the league’s calls to put its draft coverage on ABC, acquiesced to simulcasting its coverage of the third day on ABC.

For the league, the hope was that this would just be the beginning. The league made noise about the draft potentially being treated as an event on par with the presidential election, with coverage on every network, earning widespread mockery and being held up as more evidence of the league’s hubris. Even at its most popular, the draft has but a fraction of the popularity of election coverage, or even of most regular season games. Simulcasting the Super Bowl across several networks might theoretically make sense, though that would potentially cause it to lose its status as the premier advertising showcase if several different networks were running their own ads, as well as diluting its status as the biggest lead-in of the season. But most networks bail out of putting on anything people might actually want to watch against the Super Bowl; no one ran scared from the NFL Draft, except possibly Fox itself. Besides, splitting the draft across every network is a terrible idea in its own right. The league is highly concerned about tipping picks and pressures reporters not to do so on social media, but the best way to minimize the impact of tipping picks is minimizing the time between when the pick comes in and when it’s announced. That’s already a challenge with two draft productions that need to synchronize their ad breaks and need to have each of their reporters interview draft picks after they come out of the green room. Can you imagine how bad it could be with four or five?

The result of this year’s experiment might give the league pause about its “presidential election” ambitions. The league boasted the most-watched draft ever, but that was mostly attributable to the move to broadcast, and given that the boost in ratings was fairly modest (especially given how top-heavy the first round was with quarterbacks from name schools and the presence of both New York teams picking in the top three). Fox failed to win the night either on Thursday or Friday, which makes any “presidential election” talk seem downright ludicrous, at least for now. Given that, what’s the best path for how the league should handle the draft going forward? The way I see it, there are three broad options, which can be arranged on a scale:

  • The “presidential election” approach with every network broadcasting the draft.
  • Something like the status quo, with ESPN, NFLN, and a broadcast network showing the draft, with the latter either simulcasting an existing feed or providing its own production.
  • Giving the draft exclusively to a single network, like how ESPN handled the draft on its own before NFLN started muscling in.

Let’s look at the ratings for each day of the draft and see what it tells us about what the best approach is for the league going forward.

Day 1: For the night, Fox’s coverage of the NFL Draft drew a 1.1 rating in the lucrative adults 18-49 demo, good for second place for the night behind CBS and barely edging out ABC. If you’re Fox and the league, you point to the fact that, despite one’s expectation that numbers would erode as the night wore on and you got away from the early, star picks, numbers not only remained mostly steady throughout the night but actually rose as the night went on, from a 1.1 at 8 PM to a 1.3 at 10 PM before crashing back down to a 1.0 at 10:30, suggesting more people discovered the draft was on broadcast at all as the night wore on and the numbers earlier on would be higher in future years. Certainly that’s what you say if you want to convince ABC to give up its Thursday night for the draft, including Grey’s Anatomy, which earned a 1.5 in the demo at 8 PM. But it’s hard to imagine CBS giving up its Thursday night, including the wildly popular Big Bang Theory (2.0 in the demo), for the draft without exclusivity. CBS was willing to move BBT to Mondays during Thursday Night Football season, but that was an actual game taking up multiple weeks; pre-empting BBT a single week for something drawing noticeably lower ratings is a nonstarter. If you gave CBS a captive audience for the draft, and the entire 4.04 demo rating the draft drew on all three networks (and possibly also the .04 ESPN2’s college-centric coverage drew), it might be a different story.

The previous week, Fox’s lineup of Gotham and Showtime at the Apollo drew .6 demo ratings, last place among the Big Four, so Fox would seem to be on board with doing it again next year under the status quo.

Day 2: Fridays typically draw a smaller audience than Thursdays, so the inevitable decline in ratings for the second night of the draft wouldn’t necessarily kick it off a broadcast network. Unfortunately, Fox’s .6 demo rating tied it with NBC for second behind CBS, and NBC was propelled by Dateline‘s .7 from 9 to 11 more than Blindspot‘s .5 at 8. NBC would be crazy to air the third round of the draft instead of that, at least not without exclusivity. All three of CBS’ shows outpaced the draft at the same time – MacGyver at 8 only drew a .7, but Fox drew consistent .6’s all night until 10:30 when it slipped to a .5. Even Fox itself might not be happy with these numbers; the previous week, MasterChef Junior actually won the night with a .8. It might make sense for Fox’s proposed refocusing of its network towards sports and news programming once its deal with Disney to sell its studio goes through, but who knows if that would actually herald the departure of a reality show like MasterChef. (It’s worth noting that the numbers are more forgiving in 18-34, where a .4 rating tied for the highest-rated show of the night.)

ABC would seem to be the only network willing to give up its Friday primetime for coverage of the second night of the draft, which raises an interesting prospect. Suppose ESPN tells the NFL it’s willing to put its entire draft coverage on ABC if the league doesn’t simulcast NFLN’s coverage on another network again, or in general gives another broadcast network an in. That could mean putting ESPN’s coverage of the second night of the draft on ABC… and only ABC, leaving ESPN to cover the NBA Playoffs and allowing a third or fourth playoff game that night to air on ESPN2 without getting bumped to ESPNEWS. Of course that’s likely to give ABC marks significantly higher than .6, and the temptation on ABC’s side would be to do the same thing with the first night and make it easier to swallow pre-empting Grey’s Anatomy. By my reckoning, coverage of the second night on ESPN and ESPN2 averaged a .59 for the night, though it’s doubtful all of that would devolve to ABC if NFL Network still had its own coverage, especially with an NBA Playoff game on ESPN2 drawing higher numbers than on ESPNEWS. It does show that giving exclusivity would again be enough to convince any network to show the second night; a 1.2 would be the highest-rated show of the night by a significant margin even before adding NFLN’s .39.

Day 3: The third day of the draft appeals mostly to hardcore NFL nerds who are actually willing to do a deep dive into the remaining players and who’s likely to actually make an impact in the league. It doesn’t have the sort of broad popularity the earlier days do; while ESPN and NFL Network have gotten better at treating the fourth round close to on par with the third, NFLN especially tends to devolve into regurgitating the earlier rounds, presenting offbeat and human-interest stories, engaging in frivolous games with the personalities on set, and generally just killing time until Mr. Irrelevant. ESPN is better, but honestly the best coverage of the third day for those who actually care about who’s still getting drafted might be the live stream NFL Now does on NFL.com; it covers the later rounds almost to a fault, delaying and re-airing the pick announcements if they come during a break rather than simply getting caught up like ESPN would.

There’s a case to be made for airing the first three hours on a broadcast network to take care of the fourth round, but while ABC didn’t have anything else to do the rest of the day and could show the entire final day, CBS or NBC would need to air golf coverage starting at 3 PM ET, and Fox might want to show NASCAR racing as they did this weekend. On this occasion there were actually conflicts earlier, as NBC was showing a Premier League game and Fox was showing Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying from Talladega.

On this front the verdicts are not good. For the entire day, ABC drew 1.008 million total viewers and just 314,000 demo viewers, less than what ESPN drew for its half of the simulcast. The good news is those numbers are still better across the board than the early competition, except total viewers for the NASCAR qualifying. It’s not as friendly to the later competition, where it lost in both measures to the Xfinity Series race on Fox and the Stanley Cup Playoffs on NBC, and in total viewers to golf on CBS.

Combined, coverage of the third day on all three networks drew 2.914 million total viewers and 1.197 million demo viewers. That would make it the second-most-watched non-NBA sports-related event of the weekend behind the actual NASCAR race on Sunday, and only the NBA would top it in the demo. That doesn’t necessarily mean the other networks would fall over themselves to air the whole day with exclusivity, but it might if the networks could get around existing contractual commitments. Of the late afternoon sporting events, the NHL game did best in the demo with 644,000 viewers, just over half of the draft’s audience, while the Xfinity Series race did best in total viewers with 1.899 million. That suggests the decline as the third day wears on would have to be pretty precipitous for bailing out of exclusive coverage to be the best approach from a pure ratings standpoint, at least in the demo. But it’s hard to see the other networks taking that bargain without using it as a lead-in for an actual sporting event.

Where does the NFL go from here? The notion of treating the draft like the presidential election is probably dead for the foreseeable future, with CBS in particular laughing the prospect out of the room. If the draft ever does become popular enough for all four networks to drop out of their Thursday primetime lineups to simulcast just the first day, it’ll probably be more because of the decline of scripted programming on broadcast than the increased popularity of the draft itself.

The NFL and Fox would probably want to perform the same experiment again next year to establish how popular the draft could be on broadcast if more people are used to it, but depending on where Fox is a year or two from now, they would probably be fine if ESPN and ABC decided to go ahead and put their entire draft broadcast on their broadcast network, with the league preferring the simplicity of not switching networks mid-draft and Fox preferring higher-rated programming on Friday nights. ESPN would lose most if not all of the benefit the draft would provide to its subscriber fees, but those benefits have been neutered anyway with NFLN carrying the draft and now showing it on broadcast without them. But given how much this draft had going for it from a ratings standpoint, I could see them wanting to see at least another year’s worth of numbers before deciding to pre-empt Grey’s for the draft.

The real question comes when the current rights agreements come up for renewal in a few years, when the league will have to consider how best to maximize the popularity of the draft. Ideally, that would involve simulcasting it on as many networks as possible, which would mean maintaining some variant of the status quo. But the days when the league could give the draft to an upstart cable outlet that doesn’t air games because they don’t see how it would make good television are over, so if ESPN decides not to re-up for Monday Night Football, I could see the league taking away the ESPN and NFLN broadcasts of the draft and offering to rotate exclusive draft rights between the three remaining broadcast partners, perhaps going to the network that’s between Super Bowls, so this past draft would still go to Fox since the last Super Bowl was on NBC and the next one will be on CBS, but then next year’s draft would be on NBC, and the one after that would go to CBS. At minimum, the network that gets the draft would have to air the first two nights, but the league could be open to at least allowing the network to show only the first three hours of the third day, with the rest airing on NFL Network (as long as all three networks do the same thing). CBS would take the most convincing to dump BBT (if it’s still on) for its own production, trotting out Jim Nantz, James Brown, Tony Romo, Bill Cowher, Gary Danielson, Tracy Wolfson, and whoever they got to be their equivalent of Mel Kiper Jr., all for something that would get barely double the demo ratings, and the league could just end up handing every draft to Fox or NBC, but given where the state of television is likely to be in a few years it still shouldn’t take much. If the league is honest with itself, that’s a far more honest assessment of the future of the NFL Draft than its ludicrous “presidential election” dreams.

Some thoughts on the state of web design

http://www.morganwick.com/2018/04/some-thoughts-on-the-state-of-web-design/

http://www.morganwick.com/?p=8801

Over the years, especially in recent years, I’ve gotten a number of criticisms of how my website looks, including most times when I’ve attempted to link it on other platforms, calling it outdated or just plain ugly, or even people I know asking me if I’m going to refresh my website layout.

To understand my attachment to it, understand that I conceived of the basic concept in my head well before I actually started implementing it on an actual site, and became enamored by its simplicity and modularity. It seemed to me the distillation of the web design trends of the time, with a header image and a sidebar with important links and sections of the site (though when I moved Da Blog to MorganWick.com, ultimately the 128 pixels I gave the main sidebar necessitated the creation of a second sidebar for elements that wouldn’t neatly fit there). That was over a decade ago.

Two things have changed the internet landscape in the interim: social media and mobile devices. Social media has made individual web sites less important and individual blogs like mine a relic of a bygone age, and mobile devices have introduced a new paradigm for web design to take into account. The need to develop for a variety of screen sizes, and the decreased emphasis on the individual web site, has resulted in a web design landscape that’s less easy to characterize than it was ten years ago. No longer can it be assumed that most people will experience your site the same way; almost always designing for mobile is assumed to be a different thing from designing for traditional computers. Most websites I come across are optimized for the needs of professional outlets (which in many cases means neglecting the actual web site and focusing more on an app instead) and don’t necessarily have lessons that can be easily ported to my own context. In what could be considered the “Revenge of the LiveJournalists”, what individual blogs remain seems to have seen Tumblr eclipse Blogger and WordPress as the platform of choice.

What I have seen increasingly disappoints me. Most sites that are actively trying to make money are increasingly bloated with ads, videos, and complex scripting for their basic interfaces. Normally these things are toned down on mobile devices (although there definitely are sites, which shall remain nameless, which are a chore to browse on mobile), but on traditional computers the result is that many sites end up chewing up enormous amounts of memory. At the same time, the traditional-computer market has increasingly bifurcated, especially with the reimagining of Windows impelled by Windows 8, and these days if you’re not looking to use your computer for graphics-intensive gaming, you’re expected to get a low-end machine with the Internet expected to bear the brunt of your activity through the cloud. But if all but the most minimalist web sites chew up huge amounts of memory and ask a lot of the processor to load all their heavy-duty video ads, the result is an inevitable degradation of the experience, and it’s hard for me to keep certain sites open for very long, in some cases even long enough to actually read the article. This, I suspect, is a major reason for Google Chrome’s continued dominance; there’s only so much a browser can do to curb a site’s resource consumption, and no matter how many reasons there may be to switch to, say, Firefox, if it doesn’t have Chrome’s multi-process gimmick, meaning I can’t just shut down one or a handful of particularly resource-hogging tabs when I’m done with it (at least not without outright closing the tab, which doesn’t completely remove its resource footprint), I can only use it for so long before the cumulative effect of all the sites I use renders it unusable.

Anyway, the end result is that if I were to redesign my website today, I wouldn’t be led as easily to a simple, unifying concept I could design it around, mostly because of mobile devices; the “burger menu” so prominent on mobile designs adds an annoying extra click when applied to desktop. Personally I don’t have a problem with browsing my site on mobile even though it usually requires zooming in, but for all I know that may be depressing my mobile audience just by knocking down its status on Google. Most sites seem to be heading in the direction of being dominated by a header image, with sidebars becoming less prominent or important (unsurprisingly, given how little space there is for them on mobile devices), but hardly disappearing entirely.

My own priorities may also have changed since the mid-2000s. I originally conceived of the site’s design as something that could have a unifying effect across the various different uses I conceived for it, many of which now seem to be doubtful they would ever come to fruition, or that they would use the current layout if they did. I never particularly intended Da Blog to be as cramped as it is with no real margins, but I didn’t want to come up with arbitrary margins for everything and I figured it looked fine enough as it is. I’ll also admit to being less enamored of the fonts I use than I was then, though I’m not sure what alternative fonts I’d gravitate towards if I had to come up with new ones today. But I also like the current layout as an expression of myself, and my shortcomings with coding already affects the current site in ways that would become more acute with a refresh; if I would want to ditch the sidebar as a major design element of the site I would want to replace it with a top bar for navigation, but that seems to be much harder to customize what links to put there in WordPress than a sidebar is.

Anyway, maybe my thoughts on the matter will evolve as I continue to think about it and continue toying with ideas for not only what I want the site to look like but what I want it to be and what I want to do with it and with my life. For now, this is just what I came up with over the course of an hour at night in order to continue having at least one post a month. Maybe others will have their own ideas of what I should change and how.