FS1 debate vs ESPN.

We last wrote about Nielsen’s cable coverage estimates in May, when ESPN actually gained homes (42,000), a difference from what we’ve often seen recently. That month also saw FS1 lose 80,000 homes and NBCSN gain 593,000, but we didn’t have the total numbers, only the month-to-month change. Sports TV Ratings has now returned to posting detailed coverage estimates tables for the first time since March,  and that gives us important overall data on where these networks stand.

The key takeaway is that ESPN is down since March (-220,000 subscribers) despite month-to-month growth, while FS1 is up since then (+262,000), but ESPN still has several million more subscribers, 87,217,000 to 84,421,000. NBCSN weighs in with 84,439,000, up 649,000 since March. ESPN2 has 87,088,000 subscribers (-261,000), while ESPNU has 66,083,000 (-2,491,000), suggesting ESPN may be lowering the carriage emphasis on that channel (as well as ESPNEWS and ESPN Classic, which aren’t in these estimates). FS2 has 52,170,000 subscribers, which is up 2,006,000 since March, but still way behind most sports networks. And the Big Ten Network was added to these estimates for the first time, clocking in with 57,595,000 subscribers.

Do these include streaming skinny bundles that have these channels? Well, slightly. Sports TV Ratings has more on that:

I applaud Nielsen for plowing ahead though I don’t know that I’d have gone ahead and started when I only had 6 (January estimates) or 21 (February estimates) or 37 (March estimates) households, or even the 91 (August estimates) that I could sample. By comparison the national TV panel has around 40,000 homes in it with around 100,000 participants.

**Nielsen plans to grow the alternate MPVD services (streaming services like SlingTV, Vue, DirecTV Now) participation rapidly over the coming months.**

…I always liked the Cable Plus metric, but that’s now way more confusing. If you compare to the version without MPVDs ESPNs declines are lower than overall declines for pay cable since March, but if you compare them to the loaded w/MPVDs number…small sample size with lack of apples-to-apples (Nielsen didn’t have that metric in its March estimates), but in the case of ESPN it doesn’t look like MVPDs are making up for all of its wired losses.

So, the streaming bundle data is still from quite a small sample size, but it’s interesting to note that not everyone leaving traditional providers is picking up ESPN through skinny bundles. However, even with this downward trend and FS1’s upward trend, ESPN still has a lead of several million subscribers. And they’re making much more money from those subscribers thanks to their much-higher per-subscriber fee. But the since-March trend is interesting, as it suggests that even this recent (July to August) ESPN uptick isn’t enough to offset their earlier losses.

Thus, there are still big problems for ESPN from subscriber loss. But Sports TV Ratings’ data is valuable for providing the total subscriber numbers rather than just the change; that’s important context, which indicates that Fox isn’t having a great time in this cord-cutting world either. The rivalry between the sides (and their debate shows, pictured above) is undoubtedly going to continue, though. For now, ESPN and ESPN2 still have a significant lead on FS1. We’ll see if that changes.

[Sports TV Ratings]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.