ESPN SAN FRANCISCO, CA – FEBRUARY 05: A view of the logo during ESPN The Party on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN)

The latest Nielsen household estimates are good news for ESPN (well, at least the main network) and great news for NBCSN, but not so good for FS1 and ESPN2. Sports Business Daily’s Austin Karp has the numbers for May:

The numbers for April don’t seem to have come out anywhere, but we know from Sports TV Ratings’ March 7 piece on the March estimates that ESPN was in 87,437,000 homes then (422,000 less than they were in February) and FS1 was in 84,724,000 homes then (565,000 less than in February). For May at least, ESPN reversed the trend of decline, and that may have to do with more streaming services (such as SlingTV, Playstation Vue, and DirecTV Now) being counted.

Nielsen only had an estimated 37 of those households in its sample in March (up from six in January), a small fraction of its around 40,000 overall households. That Sports TV Ratings piece said “Nielsen plans to grow the alternate MPVD services (streaming services like SlingTV, Vue, DirecTV Now) participation rapidly over the next 6 months.” Thus, if that growth of streaming services on their panel has continued, that could explain the ESPN uptick.

As for NBCSN, that growth looks really impressive, but it’s part of a larger trend. They signed a February placement deal with DirecTV to add a reported 3 million subscribers to their footprint, but only gained 1.3 million in the March estimates. So this appears to be still Nielsen’s estimates catching up to that deal (although it may also include some people upgrading their package to get NBCSN ahead of the NHL playoffs, arguably the most relevant time of year for that channel). NBCSN is certainly close to FS1 now though (83,790,000 subscribers in March versus 84,159,000), and may have even passed them.

The ESPN2 trend is also interesting. They lost 382,000 subscribers from February to March, dropping to 87,349,000, but that was still very close to the main ESPN network. To see them continue to trend down while the main network actually adds subscribers is a further suggestion that things are getting harder for ESPN’s alternate channels. Of course, the+40,000 and -70,000 numbers here are quite small compared to ones that we’ve seen before, and they could be just noise. But it’s certainly interesting to see main ESPN gain subscribers in these estimates instead of losing them for a change, and that may have a lot to do with further counting of streaming services.

[Austin Karp on Twitter]


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.