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ESPN Stays on Top, NBC Shines and Rick's Dislikes the Giants: Media Roundup

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- ESPN, the motor behind Disney's (DIS)profits, is showing no ratings erosion even as more broadcasters offer live national sport programming, reported UBS analyst John Janedis.

ESPN
not only retained its lock as the top purveyor of television sports event but ratings have yet to slip as a result of new competition from FoxSports1, 21st Century Fox's (FOXA) new all-day, all-night sports channel that began airing on Aug. 17. The start of Fox's new sports hub, formerly the Speed network, comes as networks such as Time Warner (TWX)are boosting their live national sports programming.

Most impressive and reflective of the sports-centric nature of the cable-TV bundle, ratings at ESPN as well as at FoxSports1 are actually up since mid-September. In other words, rather than competing with one another, ESPN and FoxSports1 are proving to be complimentary to another.

ESPN offers National Football league and college football games while FoxSports1 has game analysis shows while offering programming such as Nascar and Ultimate Fighting Championship contests. Fox's network carries NFL games. According to UBS, ESPN accounted for 33% to 43% of all live national sports programming among the top eight providers since mid-September while FoxSports1 comprised 14% to 17%.

CBS (CBS), a major broadcaster of NFL games, along with Disney and Time Warner, are Janedis' top picks. CBS currently trades at 18.1 times estimated 12-month earnings compared to Disney at 19.3 times and Fox at 21.8 times, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. This compares to the S&P 500 Index, trading at 15.2 times forward earnings.

Looking at television, Comcast's (CMCSA)NBC appears to be an early leader in the fall rating sweepstakes with a 35.9% growth in total viewership on the sustained popularity of  The Voice and buzz surrounding its new drama The Blacklist, a crime-world thriller starring James Spader with a shaved head and Megan Boone who retained her long, brown hair for the part of an FBI special agent. NBC showed at least double-digit gains last week compared to the same period a year ago, prompting Cowen analyst Doug Creitz to call the network the "clear winner" among the big four broadcasters.

Fox's television programming declined 6.1% for the week compared to a year ago as the X-Factor failed to sustain earlier excitement.

Elsewhere, Time Warner Cable (TWC)shares were dropping 1.3% to $111.33 after the country's second-largest pay-TV provider said it will pay $600 million to acquire privately held DukeNet Communications, a fiber-optic network operator concentrated in the Carolinas and the U.S. southeast. Wells Fargo analyst Marci Ryvicker said DukeNet's coverage area "overlaps nicely" with Time Warner Cable's residential customer base in the region though it's not something that "moves the needle."

And while Twitter hardly needs more publicity for its initial public offering, Nielson gave the money-losing social network a boost Monday announcing it will track the world's zillions of tweets to gauge viewer interest in television programming. Nielson's Twitter TV Ratings promises to be the first-ever measure of TV-related conversation on the communication platform famous for its 140-character messages.

Both broadcasters and cable-TV channel owners are likely to use Nielsen's monitoring of Twitter to help sell advertisers on their programming.

The future for fans of the New York Giants became bleaker Monday when Rick's Caberet (RICK), the so-called gentlemen's clubs operator, said it will no longer televise games of a team that has yet to win thus far in 2013. Rick's spokesman Allan Priaulx confirmed the news reported first by the Web site Busted Coverage. Televising the Giants and their dismal 0-5 record had become a downer, hurting sales and tips from the club's many gentlemen.

Shares of Rick's were dropping 0.5% to $12.41, paring its 2013 advance to a mere 54%.

--Written by Leon Lazaroff in New York
--News stories and columns by Leon Lazaroff




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