ESPN remained the dominant sports cable network leader in 2016 despite a 9 percent drop in each prime time and total-day viewership year-to-year. Its top program “Monday Night Football” averaged a 9-year low for its season and was down 12 percent from its previous year (11.4 million vs. 2015’s 12.9 million). Due to the unprecedented 2016 presidential election, ESPN (1.95 million) lost its cable prime time leader crown to Fox News Channel (2.466 million) by a margin of just over 500,000 viewers.

NFL Network also witnessed prime time slippage due to the election (as well as due to most of their much-maligned “Thursday Night Football” slate of games), down almost 12 percent in viewership from 2015.

In prime time, the Chicago Cubs’ historic MLB playoff run that led to their eventual first World Series win in 108 years generated a 21 percent viewership boost to FS1 — the network which exclusively carried the 6-game National League Championship Series between the Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers — and a 2 percent lift to MLB Network reaching its new highest prime time mark and which had its most-watched telecast with Giants-Cubs NLDS Game 2 (4.6 million viewers) on 10/08/16.

FS1 saw a 11 percent year-to-year increase in its total-day audience with its improved daytime lineup that added new studio debate shows “Skip and Shannon: Undisputed” and “Speak for Yourself.”

The Rio Summer Olympics gave rise to NBCSN, up 7 percent in prime time and up 13 percent in total day. It was the first time an Olympics aired in prime time on the cabler, alongside its NBC broadcast network telecasts.

The acquisition of The Open Championship (aka British Open), the return of golf in the Olympics and Tiger Woods with a decent performance at the Hero World Challenge in December all provided Golf Channel to its best total-day viewership in its 21-year history.

Prime Time (Mon.-Sat. 8-11 p.m., Sun. 7-11 p.m.)

NETWORK VWRS
in 2016
(000)
PCT CHG
from 2015
(vwrs 000)
PCT CHG
from 2014
(vwrs 000)
PCT CHG
from 2013
(vwrs 000)
PCT CHG
from 2012
(vwrs 000)
ESPN 1950 -9.22%
(2148)
-15.98%
(2321)
-11.12%
(2194)
-16.20%
(2327)
ESPN2 354 -18.81%
(436)
-24.52%
(469)
-26.40%
(481)
-24.52%
(469)
ESPNU * 98 -14.78%
(115)
-15.52%
(116)
-14.78%
(115)
NBCSN 392 +6.81%
(367)
+30.67%
(300)
+41.52%
(277)
+62.66%
(241)
FS1 * 479 +20.65%
(397)
+40.88%
(340)
+105.58%
(233)
+144.39%
(196)
FS2 * 33 -15.38%
(39)
+43.48%
(23)
-5.71%
(35)
-13.16%
(38)
NFLN 351 -11.81%
(398)
-8.83%
(385)
-12.25%
(400)
-6.65%
(376)
NBATV 118 +8.26%
(109)
-7.81%
(128)
+1.72%
(116)
-3.28%
(122)
GOLF 126 +1.61%
(124)
+2.44%
(123)
-8.70%
(138)
-7.35%
(136)
MLBN 146 +2.82%
(142)
+10.61%
(132)
+4.29%
(140)
+37.74%
(106)

Total Day (6 a.m.-5:59 a.m.)

NETWORK VWRS
in 2016
(000)
PCT CHG
from 2015
(vwrs 000)
PCT CHG
from 2014
(vwrs 000)
PCT CHG
from 2013
(vwrs 000)
PCT CHG
from 2012
(vwrs 000)
ESPN 817 -9.02%
(906)
-19.59%
(1016)
-15.77%
(970)
-19.51%
(1015)
ESPN2 245 -8.92%
(269)
-10.58%
(274)
-10.58%
(274)
-13.12%
(282)
ESPNU * 52 -7.14%
(56)
-16.13%
(62)
-13.33%
(60)
NBCSN 173 +13.07%
(153)
+16.89%
(148)
+84.04%
(94)
+69.61%
(102)
FS1 * 182 +10.98%
(164)
+38.93%
(131)
+52.94%
(119)
+55.56%
(117)
FS2 * 21 -4.55%
(22)
+40.00%
(15)
-4.55%
(22)
+5.00%
(20)
NFLN 159 -2.45%
(163)
-3.05%
(164)
-1.24%
(161)
+5.30%
(151)
NBATV 56 +9.80%
(51)
-3.45%
(58)
-1.82%
(55)
-5.08%
(59)
GOLF 109 +7.92%
(101)
+9.00%
(100)
+0.93%
(108)
+14.74%
(95)
MLBN 79 -3.66%
(82)
+11.27%
(71)
+16.18%
(68)
+49.06%
(53)

Source: Live+7 data from Dec. 28, 2015-Dec. 11, 2016 blended with Live+Same Day data from Dec. 12-25, 2016, Nielsen Media Research

The year period of 2016 is from Dec. 28, 2015 to Dec. 25, 2016.
The year period of 2015 is from Dec. 29, 2014 to Dec. 27, 2015.
The year period of 2014 is from Dec. 30, 2013 to Dec. 28, 2014.
The year period of 2013 is from Dec. 31, 2012 to Dec. 29, 2013.
The year period of 2012 is from Dec. 26, 2011 to Dec. 30, 2012.

* In 2012, ESPNU was not rated by Nielsen, Fox Sports 1 (FS1) was known as Speed Channel and Fox Sports 2 (FS2) was known as Fuel.

 

About Douglas Pucci

Douglas Pucci is a contributor to Programming Insider and blogger at Son of the Bronx.

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