Baseball fans in the Bay Area and Detroit may be transfixed by the World Series between the Giants and Tigers, but so far the event isn't a big hit with TV viewers across the country.
The Giants' lopsided 8-3 win over the Tigers in Game 1 was witnessed by an average audience of of 12.2 million, making it the lowest-rated World Series opener ever. It drew a 7.6 rating and 12 audience share, according to Nielsen Media Research.
That's a 13 percent drop from the 8.7/14 for last year's Game 1 between St. Louis and Texas (14.2 million), which broke the previous low set in 2010 when the Giants faced the Rangers (15 million). The rating is the percentage of television households tuned to a program, and the share is the percentage of homes watching among those with TVs on at the time.
Among individual markets, Detroit led the way with a 33.2/46, followed by San Francisco (32.3/58). The game earned a 7.3/11 in New York, 7.0/13 in Los Angeles and 6.9/11 in Chicago.
Predictably, Fox tried to put an upbeat spin on things. In a press release, the network said the Game 1 rating was still good enough to win the night against rival networks and was Fox's most-watched prime-time program since the "American Idol" season finale in May.
Moreover, Fox said the big early lead by the Giants sent viewers fleeing from the broadcast. The game actually was out-rating last year's opener (8.8-8.7), but once the Giants pulled ahead 6-0, the numbers started dwindling.
And the ratings weren't the only downer for Fox. Its oft-criticized broadcast team of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver again came under fire on social media and sports-talk radio shows for various gaffes.
The biggest one came when the AT&T crowd was chanting "Barrry! Barry! Barry!" for starting pitcher Barry Zito. After McCarver noted that the previously embattled Zito hadn't heard cheers like that very often during his Giants career, Buck returned serve by saying: "They used to say it for somebody else around here."
Buck was, of course, referring to former Giants slugger Barry Bonds, but McCarver inexplicably made a reference to "when Barry Manilow was playing a concert."
Dumfounded, Buck, teased, "Or Barry Bonds. ..."
Eventually, McCarver tried to laugh it off as "one of those moments."
The incident became the butt of jokes for the Bay Area morning sports show on "The Game" (95.7 FM), during which Manilow tunes sporadically played. It also provoked a multitude of barbs on Twitter. Among them, @Sherman_report tweeted, "At least Barry Manilow wasn't on steroids."
The low ratings and broadcast blunders have detracted from the technical brilliance of Fox's postseason telecasts. For the World Series, the network is deploying 40 cameras at AT&T and Detroit's Comerica Park, including five that use super-slow motion technology to provide staggering images never before seen on television.
Three of them are "X-Mo" cameras capable of shooting up to 3,000 frames per second. The other two are "Phantom Cam" devices that can capture up to 20,000 frames per second. The typical cameras used during televised sports events only shoot at 60 frames per second, according to Jerry Steinberg, senior vice-president of field and technical operations for Fox Sports.
"They've added to our coverage in a really dramatic way," he says. "I've been a diehard baseball fan since the age of 6 and I'm seeing things I've never seen before."
The cameras slow down the action and provide intriguing views of baseball physics: The way the barrel of the bat bends, bulges or breaks as it collides with the ball; the spin of the ball's seams as it leaves a pitcher's hand. During Game 1, viewers saw extraordinary images of Pablo Sandoval's bat action on his historic three home runs.
But the most memorable shot of the postseason so far came during the closing minutes Game 7 of the National League Chamionship Series when a volumnious rain storm drenched AT&T park. TV viewers saw enchanting, slow-motion images of Giants infielder Marco Scutaro gazing skyward and and savoring the moment as big raindrops, looking like sparkly diamonds, poured down.
"It was a 'Field of Dreams'-type shot," Steinberg said.