It’s the ultimate reality TV. Sports provides drama that other programming would love to achieve and it’s one of the reasons that over the last decade, sports rights fees have exploded. And the reason why is that networks know that sports content drives people to watch. The ratings research company Nielsen in its annual look at sports media finds that over the last ten years, sports has risen to the top of live TV viewing. Where in 2005, sports accounted for 14 of the top 100 live viewed programs, in 2015, that number has jumped to 93 out of 100!

Nielsen provides the following graphic to accentuate its point;

Live Sports viewing

That’s is an astounding increase. A lot of that is due to people time-shifting dramas, sitcoms and reality TV programs through DVR’s or watching them on streaming services like Amazon Video, Hulu and Netflix. And compared to ten years ago, the amount of sports programming available to Americans has grown as well:

In 2015, there were more than 127,000 hours of sports programming available on broadcast and cable TV and more than 31 billion hours spent viewing sports, which is up 160% and 41%, respectively, from 2005.

When you look at television dramas which are popular, the live audience is 66% as compared to 95% for sports. You can see why the networks covet live sports programming and will bid heavily when a package like Thursdsay Night Football becomes available because of the mass audience it attracts and knowing it’s a great vehicle to promote other programming.

Another highlight of the report is the measuring of out of home viewing, people who gather at public places or at a friend’s house to watch a live event. Nielsen found that “Viewership in bars, restaurants, hotels, gyms and friends’ houses contribute to large increases in TV audiences,” and the main beneficiaries in 2015 were the World Series and the NFL on Fox.

For the World Series, Fox saw big increases in the overall audience, but specifically among younger viewers in the 18-34 demographic:

Out of home viewing accounted for a 15.2% overall lift in average TV audience (P6+) across the 5 games of the 2015 MLB World Series. This lift was even larger (26.9%) for persons 18-34, whose social lives revolve around the local bar. The largest OOH lifts can be attributed to the two games played on weekend nights, when the bars and restaurants are packed with fans cheering on their favorite teams. Impressively, it seems that trick-or-treating took a back seat to the World Series this year, as the largest spike in OOH came on Halloween Night.

Out of home viewing

And the NFL on Fox received a 19.1% overall lift from out of home viewing for the entire season which shows that people like to watch sports at the local gathering hole.

So the takeaway from this year’s annual Nielsen sports media report is that Americans love to watch sports live and they like to do so with friends and family.


About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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