Last Sunday’s soccer match between the United States and Japan, a rematch of the previous Women’s World Cup Final match in which Japan defeated the United States, set a ratings record for broadcast or cable TV for the sport in the United States, bringing a big victory for Fox and its coverage of the sport over the past month. The previous record for viewership for a soccer game in the USA was 18.2 million viewers, for last year’s men’s match in the World Cup between the United States and Portugal. The US Women’s National Team’s victory on Sunday far outpaced that, with more than 25 million English-language viewers.
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Nielsen estimates that Sunday’s game averaged a whopping 26.7 million viewers, with 25.4 million watching the English-language telecast on Fox and another 1.3 million checking out the Spanish-language airing on Telemundo. The total audience is larger than that for every NBA Finals basketball game since 2010 and every World Series baseball game since 2004.
The big tune-in for soccer on Sunday, along with a portion of the USA-Germany women’s soccer game on Tuesday, propelled Fox to an easy demo win for the week of June 29-July 5; the network drew about as many young-adult viewers as its two closest competitors (NBC and CBS) combined. Fox also scored a rare victory in total viewers (6.7 million).
The lesson here is that soccer can be a big moneymaker for broadcast and cable networks in the USA, as long as the US National Team—either men’s or women’s—is involved.
The face of cable television, or at least how people watch cable television programming, is definitely changing. One of the major indicators of this is the mainstream media acceptance of shows developed specifically for Netflix, shows that only air on the streaming service and not on channels aired by cable television providers. That acceptance has reached a critical level with Emmy nominations for House of Cards, an original show developed for Netflix, and for Arrested Development, a show that once aired on Fox but whose last season was also created for the streaming service.
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The move by Netflix to produce its own shows has upset the equation, especially now that it has made good on its goal of developing high-quality series in the model of premium cable channels such as HBO. Many analysts expect the Emmy nominations for Netflix to encourage more companies to produce their own shows and prompt those already experimenting — such as Amazon.com, which is developing several new series — to expand their ambitions.
“It is a watershed moment for video content,” technology industry analyst Carl Howe of Yankee Group said. “We’re now starting to see awards that don’t pay attention to how content is distributed. . . . What the awards people are saying is: We don’t care anymore.”
Cable channels had their own breakthrough in 1999, when HBO’s “The Sopranos” became the first series not carried on broadcast television to be nominated for best drama.
So new is Internet television that there is no standardized tool for measuring viewership, as Nielsen ratings do for shows delivered through traditional channels. The average Netflix subscriber watches 87 minutes of television on the Web site per day, more than on any cable network, according to BTIG Research, though Netflix has declined to release figures for how many people watch its original content.
The news is not all bad for cable operators. Many of the firms that deliver cable television also deliver broadband Internet through the same wires. Falling demand for traditional television may correspond with rising demand for data.
Cable providers will be able to survive because they are also often the high speed internet providers for their customers as well. But what about DISH Network and DIRECTV, who do not bundle internet with their pay-TV? Only time will tell.
According to the New York Daily News, ratings for three of the major NFL pregame shows are down this year. On cable TV, ESPN’s Sunday Countdown is taking a hit. On the major networks, both the CBS pregame show, The NFL Today, and Fox’s NFL Sunday are also down, with their numbers taking a larger hit than ESPN. CBS’s pregame viewership is down 17% compared to this time last year, and Fox’s pregame show is down 15%. The NFL Network Sunday pregame show is the only one that has not taken a hit, with its ratings up slightly from last year.
What’s the reason for this change? In our opinion, too much joking around and not enough actual football analysis. ESPN’s show used to be a go-to for news, with reporters on site at every game, and newsbreakers like Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter bringing up-to-the-minute injury news. Now, that breaking news is still there, but it’s sandwiched with human interest pieces and too much joshing on the set with Chris Berman, who used to be top dog among NFL pregame hosts but is now a shadow of his former self.
The CBS and Fox shows were never that great. Fox employs an on-air comedian who takes up too much of the broadcast time. CBS and Fox both have trouble with the chemistry on set. Hosts Curt Menefee and James Brown are solid, but the former players and coaches offering analysis spend more time poking fun at one another than they do providing insight on the upcoming games.
On the other hand, the NFL Network pregame, hosted by Rich Eisen, fills the void that ESPN once did as the cable show focusing more on football than pregame antics. With NFL Network now in more homes than ever before, it’s no surprise the show is stealing some of the viewership from the other competition.
Before Sunday’s clinching game, when the San Francisco Giants closed out the World Series in sweeping the Detroit Tigers four games to none to win their second title in three years, this World Series had been the lowest-rated ever, according to USA Today. Final numbers for the last game are not yet calculated, but seeing as it was going up against Sunday Night Football on NBC, normally the most highly-watched program of the week, things are not looking good for what was once America’s pastime.
This is not a new trend. The past seven years have brought the seven lowest-rated World Series; even so, MLB TV rights have been secured for the next eight years with Fox for broadcast television and TBS and ESPN on cable TV. Some are presupposing that the low ratings are due to the lack of a major moneymaker franchise in the mix, like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs, but the series does not lack in star power; the likely MVPs for each league, San Francisco’s catcher Buster Posey and Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera were both present in this series, as well as American League Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander. The ratings would likely have been higher had the Yankees or Sox been involved, but it’s more of an indication of a complete shift in sports loyalty by many Americans: football is now the favorite sport to watch in America, bar none.
Why has football taken over? Fantasy football and gambling are the major reasons, but also there are only 16 games a year per team, compared to 162 for baseball, allowing each game to be presented as an event. By the time the World Series rolls around, many sports fans have baseball fatigue; and if your team’s not in, why continue to watch, especially when football’s on?
As reported by BusinessWeek, the Big 12 Conference has signed an agreement with ESPN and Fox Sports to televise the conference’s football and basketball games through the 2024-2025 season. The 13 year agreement has ABC/ESPN sharing the over the air and cable rights with Fox but remaining the primary rights holder of Big 12 men’s basketball, including the Big 12 postseason tournament. The agreement is worth $2.6 billion or about $20 for each school every year. This TV announcement comes after several of the Big 12’s biggest teams, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri, left the conference for the Big 10, the Pac-12 and the SEC. The Big 12 now stands at 10 teams after having brought in West Virginia and TCU.
The agreement includes an increase in guaranteed national football telecasts, with 25 to appear per season on ABC, Fox, ESPN and FX. This is greater exposure than the conference has had in the past, with games appearing on both cable TV and over the air on ABC and Fox.
Disney, CBS and News Corp., the powerful companies behind three of the four major television broadcast networks, have filed lawsuits against the satellite TV provider Dish Network over the new “Auto Hop” feature, which allows viewers to skip over commercials more easily than ever before. Auto Hop allows viewers to watch shows in commercial-free mode with the touch of a button, eliminating even the fast forwarding associated with most DVR usage to skip commercials; ABC, CBS and Fox, with NBC waiting in the wings, see all of this as a threat to the future of free, over the air television.
If the networks win these lawsuits, it could prevent further technology like this from being offered, but if Dish Network wins, it is likely that other cable television and satellite television providers, such as Charter Communications, Verizon, AT&T and DIRECTV, will begin to offer similar products.
The fact that the networks are suing over this developing technology seems to miss the point: that the way people watch television is changing, and the ad-driven strategy of the major networks may end up going by the wayside. More than 90% of homes get their television through cable TV or satellite TV providers, meaning that “free, over the air television” is not experienced by many homes, and when customers pay for cable or satellite services, the fees they pay support the cable networks that air in those packages. If the networks lose this fight, they will have to consider operating under a similar model; it’s worked very well for ESPN, which demands the most in cable rights fees from providers, a cost passed on to the consumers.
Even further: many thought the VCR would be the death of ad-driven television, as people could tape shows and fast forward through commercials, but that was not at all the case. Besides, many events that bring in the biggest ad revenue are watched live: the Super Bowl and other sporting events, the finales of big reality shows. While networks should start looking to the future, in the present they don’t have much to worry about.