With the advent of Fox Sports 1 and NBCSN and their aspirations to climb the mountain and challenge ESPN, it's easy to forget just how tall that mountain is. It's not just climbing Mount Everest, it's trying to climb Olympus Mons. Check that, it's like building your own rocketship, conquering a manned space flight to Mars, and then climbing the largest mountain in the solar system.
In other words, challenging ESPN is really $#%ing hard.
Your latest reminder comes in the ratings data for the 5 PM talk show block where PTI and Around the Horn have been staples for a decade. According to John Ourand of SBJ, ratings are actually down for those two ESPN flagship shows this year. PTI has fallen from 1.3 million viewers in the fall of 2010 to 961,000 this fall. Similarly, ATH has fallen 943,000 to 763,000 viewers. However, ESPN folks point to the rise in DVR viewership and streaming/mobile viewership that they believe more than makes up the deficit.
In comparison, Crowd Goes Wild on FS1 is averaging 64,000 viewers.
Pro Football Talk on NBCSN is averaging 47,000 viewers.
That means PTI has 15 times the viewership of FS1 at the moment and 20 times the viewership of NBCSN at the same timeslot. That's not just a healthy lead for ESPN. That's like Usain Bolt running a match race against Ted Washington and Keith Traylor. Fox Sports 1 talked a big game when they launched and they would have to double their audience four times over to reach PTI audience levels at 5:30 PM ET.
What's more, FS1 and NBCSN are even registering viewership levels behind the routinely panned Intentional Talk on MLB Network at 72,000 viewers. These two networks have found the quest for viewers much mroe difficult than imagined. Perhaps viewers will gradually come as their live sports portfolios continue to improve. Nevertheless, this is just one fact that points to this truth – it's going to take a generation or more for either network to even begin to reach ESPN's stratosphere of viewership levels.