PTI Overtakes SportsCenter In Ratings, Revenue

You may or may not know who Mark Shapiro is, but he’s the guy who went from Jim Rome’s lowly production assistant in the early days of ESPN2 to the head of network programming in less than 10 years.

PTI has bigger ratings than SportsCenter

(I refuse to give PTI the nod until Tony K. wraps the wraparound)

As head of ESPN on-air conent from 2002-05, Shapiro created some duds, like those lame ESPN movies and Stephen A. Smith, and current ESPN upper management has quite obviously done plenty to distance itself from many of Shapiro’s initiatives. But Shapiro also masterminded many of the net’s signature properties, like the X Games, ESPY Awards and what has become ESPN’s top in-house broadcast property - Pardon The Interruption.

We all remember when PTI debuted. The over-the-top, sometimes nonsensical graphics & countdown clocks, bizarre between commercial look-ins and two well-aged gents no one had heard of outside The District.

Fast forward to today and according to more than one ESPN source, PTI regularly averages more viewers than SportsCenter and also enjoys a higher ad revenue base. And another bizarro Shapiro concoction, Around The Horn, isn’t far behind.

Pretty amazing when you consider the institution SportsCenter has become, and continues to be. But as I’ve pointed out here before, ESPN upper management has taken a lot of the personality out of SportsCenter, apparently leaving the craziness to PTI and ATH. I have heard in the past couple months that ESPN talent execs are indeed trying to bring back more eclectic, assertive voices to the SportsCenter chair, but have had no luck locating the type of talent they’re looking for.

That’s not lip service, from what I’m hearing inside the halls of Bristol, there is indeed going to be bigger personalities on SportsCenter - and soon.

Perhaps an early example of that shift in programming philosophy is the new ESPN2 show SportsNation, which is loosely modeled on PTI and ATH. And thus far, revisiting the Shapiro-created show model has paid off, as SN has landed encouraging early ratings.

Myself, I think SN needs work. More personality needs to be injected into the show, instead of a large reliance on poll data and other fan reax. SN co-host Colin Cowherd is a quality cast, but he’s muted by the constraints of the format. Polling data does not a show make. Unique analysis, which Cowherd is a master of, is what will keep the flame alive.

Co-host Michelle Beadle also has promise - and remarkably good chemistry with Cowherd. Cowherd definitely needs a co-host on TV to round off the edges of his personality, which can sometimes grate on his radio show. With a good co-host keeping him in the fairway, Cowherd can be an interesting, smooth listen.

SN’s good early ratings are more likely the result of viewers enjoying the chemistry between Cowherd and Beadle. As the format is tweaked, the show very well could take off. But the focus needs to be more on the personalities hosting the show, and not the fans. (I know, I know, it’s supposed to be all about the fans. Yeah, sure it is.)

Back to Shapiro, who is now running the bankrupted Six Flags after receiving an ungodly pay package from Dan Snyder to make the jump for Bristol. I’m not going to post the bonus Shapiro received up front, because you wouldn’t believe it and I only have one source on it. But if true, it’s every bit in the neighborhood of what one of Snyder’s Redskins receive.

Yes, Six Flags has taken an absolute nosedive since Shapiro took over, but my sources tell me the situation was doomed regardless, and that Shapiro has actually made changes that will more than likely keep the company solvent after it emerges from bankruptcy.

When Shapiro went to Six Flags in 2005, the idea was to mold it into a Disney-type, all-encompassing media company. That never got off the ground because the company was too different from Diz and retooling it became impossible with the downturn in the economy. My guess is that Shapiro will exit Six Flags when he steers it out of bankruptcy and then look to jump headlong into the movie, not sports, business.

Shapiro was the one who tried to take ESPN to Hollywood, with mostly less-than-pleasant results. Next time though, he’ll be on his own, and with his experience and cult of personality, I fully expect to see him gracing the pages of VARIETY regularly.

In other words, Stephen A., keep the faith. There’s most likely an “African-American Reporter #2″ role in your future, so keep that Blackberry sharpened!