Last we checked with NBC Sports Network's ratings, the numbers were very, very, very bleak. And that's putting it nicely. Without the NHL, almost no programs drew over 200,000 viewers and three-fourths of the network's most watched shows were hunting and fishing shows. Now that the NHL has returned to NBCSN and the calendar has flipped over to 2013 there are finally signs of growth that can give the peacock some semblance of hope for flashing its feathers in the future.
Thsi week NBC was touting a 14% increase in viewership for NBC Sports Network in the first quarter of 2013 compared to last year. The biggest reason for the increase? The NHL, who has seen ratings go up across the board since bringing the 2013 season back from the realm of the dead. NHL games are averaging 428,000 viewers through the new year, up 34% from last year. In particular, NBCSN's Wednesday Night Rivalry series has been a big success for the network averaging 680,000.
Other properties doing better now that NBCSN is in its second full year of existence are IndyCar, whose first race almost doubled in viewership from last year (388,000 vs 218,000) and MLS, whose early season games are up 8% versus last year averaging 112,000 viewers. Time will tell whether Formula One can regain some of their Speed audience after making the move to NBCSN as well.
While NBCSN's ratings are improving, this is still a long and winding road ahead for the network. Overall, the 14% increase in viewership only accounts for 65,000 viewers from 6 AM – 6 PM. Last week ESPN averaged 700,000 viewers throughout the day.
Can NBCSN reach that kind of viewership? You'd have to be a fanatical optimist to think it'd be possible before Bob Costas gets a gray hair. Right now even 100,000 average viewers would be a tremendous accomplishment and appears to be a couple years away.
NBCSN can't reach either of those plateaus unless the arrow flips in the right direction. After a rough first year and significant questions about the network's viability, there are at least signs the network is turning that way as it enters Year 2. With the addition of the EPL, the NHL Playoffs, this year should be focused on continuing that growth instead of competing with ESPN or even Fox Sports 1. If NBC can gain momentum and continue to increase exposure for the network, those little victories may add up over the course of time.