NBC Sports Network, the channel formerly known as Versus that relaunched this year under the banner of NBC as a potential competitor for ESPN in the world of cable television sports coverage, is suffering badly in the ratings this year. If it were not for the Summer Olympics bringing viewers late this past summer, 2012 would have entirely been a loss for the network, even as it moved into the main DIRECTV sports listing at channel 220.
NBC Sports Network was borne out of Versus, which was born from the Outdoor Life Network, a channel that focused on hunting and fishing shows until landing the NHL in the mid-oughts after ESPN dropped its hockey coverage. Rebranded as NBC Sports Network this year, the network refocused its coverage on the NHL, airing games three or four nights a week during the regular season and every night during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While hockey isn’t the biggest sport in America by a long shot, it’s provided a solid viewer base for NBCSN as it developed other programming.
As sports fans know, the NHL is locked out, with about half of the season already cancelled, and this has been a major blow to NBCSN. Now, 14 of its 20 highest rated programs are the outdoor shows the network was planning to get rid of, and it is nowhere near competing with ESPN and the family of networks associated with ESPN, whose off-brand events like the Crossfit Games even beat the programming on NBCSN.
In fact, only two programs in December on NBCSN drew more than 200,000 viewers: a live boxing card on December 8, and coverage of the 49ers-Patriots Sunday Night Football game that aired on the network while President Obama’s speech cut into the regular network broadcast.
There are some positive thoughts that the NHL could return for a 48-game season beginning in mid-January, but if this does not happen, NBC Sports Network could find itself even further down in the cable TV sports rankings.