April was a terrible month for FS1, but a decent one for ESPN, at least when it comes to year-over-year viewers. Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily reported Tuesday that ESPN posted gains from last April in primetime and only saw a slight total-day decrease (impressive considering the subscribers lost since then, and the general story they’ve battled of declining ratings). Meanwhile, FS1’s April ratings took a big hit in both categories.
ESPN primetime viewership +9% in April vs. April 2016. Total-day (24-hour basis) viewership -2%. FS1 primetime in April -24%. Total-day -15%
— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) May 2, 2017
Of course, month-by-month ratings can be affected by a whole ton of factors, not all of which are necessarily relevant to the networks’ actual positions. For example, one factor may be where Easter fell; Fox NASCAR coverage (a big focus for them) tends to take a hit in the week leading up to that holiday (thanks to people travelling), and the holiday came in March last year, but April this year. If that impacted the numbers, it would make March look higher than normal year-over-year and April lower than normal.
Another possibility involves a NASCAR Trucks race that was moved from FS1 to Fox. That decision unquestionably drew more viewers overall, but hurt FS1 (as live events are some of their most effective content). So, this isn’t necessarily a Fox crisis. Still, the double-digit declines in both primetime and total day (which, unlike primetime, would include much-promoted shows like Undisputed) aren’t great for Fox. Their year-to-date numbers are better, but this still isn’t a good trend.
Similarly with ESPN, we shouldn’t necessarily make too much of one month’s primetime gains, especially when they’re in the single digits and especially when total-day is still declining (albeit slightly). However, this is good news for the network at a time when they’re taking a PR beating around layoffs. It also fits with the slight ESPN subscriber uptick in the recent Nielsen coverage estimates (and with FS1’s downturn there, which has been going on for a few months). Year-over-year numbers for one month are far from everything, but these numbers do suggest that ESPN is far from collapsing on the ratings front (even just relative to itself, rather than in the competitions with FS1 that it’s regularly winning) and that FS1 is facing some ratings issues of its own.
[Austin Karp on Twitter]