Earlier today, we published a story “ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU lose a combined 1.9 million homes in latest cable estimates” based on the latest Nielsen cable coverage numbers for November. Those numbers showed that on average, cable networks lost an average of 650,000 homes, a very high amount. According to Nielsen, ESPN lost 621,000 homes, ESPN2 dropped by 607,000 and ESPNU was out in 674,000.
But the numbers were questioned by the cable networks and ESPN issued a statement after we published the story earlier today:
“The Nielsen numbers represent a dramatic, unexplainable variation over prior months’ reporting, affecting all cable networks. We have raised this issue with Nielsen in light of their demonstrated failures over the years to accurately provide subscriber data. The data does not track our internal analysis nor does it take into account new DMVPD entrants into the market.”
And shortly after ESPN issued that statement, Nielsen announced that it is pulling its November estimates and will readjust accordingly:
Nielsen is investigating a larger than usual change in the November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Universe Estimates (versus the prior month). We take the accuracy of our data very seriously and are conducting a thorough analysis to determine whether or not there is an issue with these estimates. In the meantime, we have removed the November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Universe Estimates file from the Answers portal and ask clients not to use the numbers that were posted Friday. We are working closely with clients and will alert them on the findings of our internal review.
This is not the first time Nielsen has had to readjust its numbers. It did so back in February after the cable networks complained and in particular ESPN after Nielsen said the Worldwide Leader lost 417,000 homes.
The loss of 621,000 homes would have been a major hit to ESPN not just to its subscriber base, but also for its ratings and the money it receives from cable providers and from advertisers. So we’ll see how Nielsen will adjust the numbers and how they will affect ESPN and the other sports networks.
For now, the figures that were originally published Friday will be thrown out. But it’s likely that the networks will have lost subscribers in November, but not as much as Nielsen had first estimated.