According to the report, ESPN decided to quietly fix how viewership was tabulated for future broadcasts by no longer reporting streaming and live TV numbers separately. Instead, they’d be lumped together — thus boosting the overall number.
“Mapping out live viewership is of critical importance to ESPN, which depends heavily on live sports telecasts and which has suffered a drop in traditional subscriptions to its cable networks in recent months,” Variety reported.
“Providing evidence of migrating sports fans, and tabulating them up in a way that pleases advertisers could provide the network with a broader audience to sell its clients – and generate more ad money. One of ESPN’s flagship programs, ‘Monday Night Football,’ has suffered a viewership slump, owing in part to a general decline in audience for National Football League broadcasts over the past year.”
The network thinks that including streaming totals will “add as much as 5 percent to 7 percent in younger audiences.” Monday was the first day of this change, according to Variety. All of the networks’ advertisers have agreed to go along with the change, executives said.
Meanwhile, there was scant good news on the NFL front. Sunday’s football ratings were a bad for all the networks. And while ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” ratings were up this past week compared to last year, according to USA Today, there were two major caveats to that. First, the game featured the Dallas Cowboys, a significantly bigger draw than last year’s Falcons-Saints matchup. Second, last year’s game was scheduled against one of the presidential debates. Given those factors, the modest 3 percent gain reported doesn’t exactly seem that great.
Between cord-cutting, the NFL’s “Star-Spangled Banner” controversy and the network’s hard turn left in terms of politics, it’s pretty clear why viewership has been declining at ESPN for some time now. And yet, even though its viewership totals are trending in the red, the networks seems convinced that changing how the totals are tabulated are going to give a more favorable number to advertisers.