After last year’s disappointment, ESPN rebounds
Network sees year-to-year gains for college football playoffs
January 4, 2017
ESPN dealt with a series of disappointments last year, starting with having to offer makegoods on College Football Playoff (CFP) games following surprisingly low ratings, and ending with its signature franchise, “Monday Night Football,” putting up its lowest-rated season in a decade.
But 2017 opened with better news for the network.
The CFP rebounded from last year’s disappointing numbers, including notable gains in streaming.
While the network is most concerned about the TV ratings – makegoods shouldn’t be an issue this year – the bump in online viewership should be a sign of things to come in 2017.
The Alabama win over Washington averaged an 11.5 overnight household rating, according to Nielsen, airing on ESPN and ESPN2. That was up 17 percent from last year.
And the second, later game (7 p.m.) featuring Clemson’s victory over Ohio State posted a 10.5 across the two networks, up 5 percent from last year.
Both CFP semifinals were not even close, much like last year. But they aired earlier in the day, which helped, since most people are out on New Year’s Eve.
And they also happened to fall on a Saturday after airing on a Thursday last year, when people were at work for the start of the games.
Are ESPN’s CFP problems solved? No. This year’s ratings were still way down from 2014, the year of the first CFP, when interest in the then-brand-new playoff was at an all-time high.
But ESPN also has fewer subscribers than it did two years ago, which could also have contributed to the lower ratings since then. Nothing on TV is immune to declines at this point, even including the once-impervious NFL.
Online hits an all-time high
Still, the gains in online viewing suggest that there’s still some room for growth. The per-minute streaming audience for Alabama’s victory was up 57 percent from last year, while the Clemson win rose 29 percent.
That’s still from a relatively small base, but the games became ESPN’s biggest online college football games ever excluding national championships.
It’s a continuation of a trend seen this summer, when online viewing of the Olympics soared. Improved wifi, a greater number of connected TVs, a rise in unlimited data plans and more have contributed to the gains.
While they’re not contributing huge numbers to overall viewership, they do account for some of the viewership drain since 2014, and it’s a big story to keep an eye on for the coming year, not just on ESPN but across all of sports television.
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