Despite ESPN Layoffs, Sports A Vital TV Viewing Source


The mid-week news regarding ESPN was bleak: Some 100 layoffs were seen for the sports brand across TV and radio. Yet, one top Wall Street financial analyst says sports programming hasn’t lost its importance to traditional TV networks. “As a genre, it represents an outsized source of costs, revenues and strategic leverage between networks and distributors,” says Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser. Learn more about why sports’ Power Ratio hasn’t ebbed for TV in this Media Information Bureau report._____________________________________________________________________

By Brian Wieser

Sports programming remains an important source of viewing of traditional TV. As a genre, it represents an outsized source of costs, revenues and strategic leverage between networks and distributors. We estimate that viewing of sports programming on national TV properties during 2016 amounted to approximately 36 billion person-hours on a live + same-day basis across all dayparts and all people, and around 38 billion person-hours including time-shifting on a similar basis. This represented 10% of total national TV viewing hours including 7 days of DVR playback, which amounted to 374 billion person-viewing hours during 2016. All live and time-shifted viewing, which includes viewing on local properties, amounted to around 490 billion person-viewing hours in 2016.

As is well-known, live sports viewing has held up despite ratings declines and is increasingly important for national network owners. Over the past decade, live + same-day viewing hours of sports is actually up by nearly 7% in total, although half of this was attributable to the inclusion of the Summer Olympic Games in 2016 vs. the Winter Olympic Games in 2006.

Over the past year, all nationally rated sports viewing on a live + same-day basis (and on a live + 7 basis) was up by 5% during 2016, over 2015. Excluding the Olympics, viewing was down by -3%. For reference, all other nationally rated viewing hours fell by 1% during 2016 vs. 2015. By network group during 2016, Disney properties, primarily ESPN, accounted for 32% of viewing. NBCUniveral properties generated 20%, with more than a third due to Olympics. Fox networks accounted for 16%, while CBS represented 13%.

Wieser’s analysis through April 23, 2017 of year-to-date viewing reveals the following:

Viewing of sports TV on national media properties is flat. For the 17th week, sports viewing was down by 7% year-over-year.

Disney networks’ sports viewing, which accounted for 35% of year-to-date viewing, is down by 4%.

For the week, during which it accounted for 33% of viewing, Disney networks’ sports viewing fell 10%.

NBCUniveral-owned properties accounted for 16% of viewing during the week and 12% year-to-date, and fell by 7% on the week and 10% year-to-date.

At Fox-owned networks, which represented 8% for the week and 21% year-to-date, viewing was down 27% on the week, but up 55% year-to-date primarily because of the Super Bowl (or up by around 13%, excluding the game week in both years).

At CBS, viewing accounted for 3% of total national sports during the week and 14% year-to-date. For the week viewing was down 15%. Year-to-date viewing of sports on CBS is down by 3%, excluding the Super Bowl week in both this and last year.

During the most recent week, basketball — now solely represented by the NBA’s playoffs as the college season has wound down — was dominant. It accounted for 43% of the total, up significantly versus recent years.

Total viewing of all the sport was 5% for the week, and 8% year-to-date. Looking only at the NBA, viewing is up 2% year-to-date.

Sports Commentaries (such as ESPN’s SportsCenter) was next-most important, with a 16% program-viewing share for the week, down from 18% last year. For the week, related viewing was down 18%, below the 12% year-to-date trend.

Disney-owned properties including ESPN — by far the biggest player — saw a 21% decline for the week, part of a 16% decline YTD for their networks. Commentaries continue to diminish in importance, with consumption falling by 32% from the 2010 peak. On a full-year basis, commentaries accounted for 29% of sports viewing during 2016, down from 33% in 2010 and 35% in 2012.

Among other sports, soccer accounted for 8% of the sports marketplace, with 36.7 million person-viewing hours. Despite outperforming baseball and hockey, no individual soccer league broke 5% of the total sports market. Hockey itself represented 7% of viewing (nearly all due to the NHL), although viewing levels were down significantly vs. the year-ago period, with faster completion of the post-season’s first round series’ in the Western Conference, leading to far fewer games played.

Baseball followed as the next-most important sport, with 6% of viewing (nearly all of which was MLB).

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