Fox Sports 1's flagship show Fox Sports Live has gone through various tweaks since it launched in order to find the right formula in which to resonate with sports fans across America. Experiments have been done with the graphics. The athlete panel discussions have been pushed largely to the backburner with more focused conversations replacing them. And the stars of the show, Jay Onrait and Dan O'Toole, have seen their schedules shifted to get them in front of bigger audiences.
All of those tinkerings are to be expected in the first few months of a 24/7 cable sports network. And to tell the truth, many of the changes have made Fox Sports Live a better show than when it initially launched.
But at some point, to make Fox Sports Live and Fox Sports 1 as a network a success, it's going to have to translate into viewers. And Fox isn't anywhere close to doing that yet. In fact, the network may be taking a jarring step backwards.
According to Robert Seidman from the industry website TV By The Numbers, Fox Sports Live drew just 7,000 viewers for its 11 PM ET Tuesday show.
Via @Seidman from the excellent TV By The Numbers site: Fox Sports Live drew 7,000 viewers last night for its 11PM ET show. Rough one.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) January 9, 2014
7,000 viewers! If that seems like an inconcievably low number – it is. In fact it's so low that it seems at first glance like a technical glitch. For a frame of reference, the lowest number FS Live did for its first airing during the month of December was 13,000 viewers on December 17th.
To make matters even more puzzling, Fox Sports Live drew 26,000 viewers the night before up against the BCS National Championship Game when 25 million people were watching ESPN. Even though there was an exciting Top 5 college basketball matchup on ESPN Tuesday night (Ohio State-Michigan State), that audience isn't in the same stratosphere as the BCS title game.
For what it's worth, Tuesday's episode of FS Live that was watched by the attendance of a Miami Marlins game featured an in-depth conversation with former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe.
The volatility of ratings for FS Live depend solely upon live sports lead-ins. On nights where FS1 doesn't have live sports programming, Fox Sports Live suffers. Five episodes during the month of Decmber drew less than 30,000 viewers. On the flip side, 6 first run episodes drew more than 100,000 viewers including 349,000 after a live UFC card.
Whatever is really behind the nosedive this week, Fox execs have to be very concerned that the core audience for FS Live without lead-in programming is trending downward. FS1 put a lot on the line in positioning Fox Sports Live as a direct challenger to SportsCenter, so they have to take the heat that comes with it when ratings fall not just short, but miles behind the competition. For as much hoopla as there was over the cancelation of The Crossover on NBCSN, that show never cratered out quite like this.
Viewership in the 4 digit realm at the prime hour for sports fans is a disaster for Fox Sports 1 and it makes the climb up the mountain in building a legitimate cable sports outlet that much more steep.