Tag Archives: Comcast SportsNet

If You’re a Baseball TV Ratings Geek, You Will Really Enjoy This Story

I will totally cop to being a ratings geek.  Even when I was a kid and they would publish local TV or radio ratings once a quarter in the entertainment section of the paper, I would immediately glue myself to the story and memorize the numbers and rankings. I love ratings so much, I selected my college major and career path just so they could be a part of my work.  So when I see an article like Maury Brown’s in Forbes from the other day, it’s like handing me a pound of peanut M&Ms and saying, here you go, chow down.

Brown takes a good look at the Nielsen TV ratings for the 29 clubs based in the U.S. (Toronto is in Canada and thus is not measured by Nielsen, so they’re not included here.) I would recommend you go on over and read his story for yourself, but if you can’t make time, here are a few high points from it:

  • Local baseball telecasts continue to dominate their markets during prime time (defined as 8p-11p Eastern and Pacific, and 7p-10p Central and Mountain). Ten teams rank #1 in their markets, led by Kansas City, St. Louis, Detroit and Pittsburgh. Another six come in at #2 or #3. This is amazing because almost all the telecasts run on cable regional sports networks, which do not have penetration into all the TV households in their markets, yet they routinely outpull even broadcast (aka “over-the-air”) stations in total viewers.
  • If you exclude broadcast stations from the analysis, baseball ranks #1 for 24 of the 25 local TV markets (except only Houston, who are handicapped by having to overcome a horrible TV situation with Comcast Sportsnet  from last year).
  • The Royals are riding their surprise World Series appearance and fast start this year to a +114% ratings increase versus last year, which puts them at the top with an astounding 12.7 household (HH) rating.  This means that 12.7% of all TV HH in Kansas City are tuned to the Royals at any given time. The Royals have both the highest rating and the greatest increase over last.  The Cardinals are second with a 10.2 HH rating. The Tigers (7.7), Pirates (7.6) and Mariners (6.3) round out the top five in ratings.
  • After the Royals, the  Cubs are riding a similar surge in win-loss record, plus exciting new young players, to a similar increase in ratings: +112% over last year, up to 3.1 from 1.5.  The Padres (+52%), Cardinals (+35%) and Nationals (+29%) round out this top five.  On the flip side, the White Sox are disappointing on TV as well as on the field, losing viewers at a -42% clip over 2014.  The Indians (-36%), Braves (-32%), Brewers (-27%) and Reds (-25%) have had similarly horrifying ratings losses, and yet, these latter four teams are still the #1 ratings grabbers in their markets.
  • In terms of total average viewers, big markets rule: The Yankees (206,000) and Mets (180,000) are 1-2, with the Red Sox (146,000), Tigers (141,000) and Cardinals (125,000) coming in at #3 through #5.

Here is the table from the Maury Brown story.  You can click through it to go directly to his story over at Forbes.

h/t Forbes.com and Maury Brown.
h/t Forbes.com and Maury Brown.

Does the DISH/Extra Innings Deal Really Mean In-Market Streaming is Nigh?

After an eight season absence, MLB has broken the bonds of its quasi-exclusive arrangement with DirecTV and Big Cable’s iN Demand consortium and have signed on DISH Network to carry the Extra Innings package starting this season.  The most interesting aspect, of course, was the prospect that live MLB games would finally be streamed in-market, an issue which has picked up steam this offseason in particular.

The DISH deal appears to open the door to that possibility by including this in the press release about the deal:

“The agreement provides a path for consumers to have authenticated access to stream live in-market games on digital properties from MLB, local programmers  and pay-TV providers. In-market live streaming would require additional agreements between the parties including DISH, MLBAM and programmers with local TV rights of MLB games.”

It has become clear since Rob Manfred replaced Bud Selig in the Commissioner’s chair that Major League Baseball really, truly wants to allow all of their product to be made available on all MLB.TV digital platforms, including the local game streaming within the local market.  This is something that has been more or less banned ever since the beginning of Internet-based broadcasts of live games.

But just because the press release says this “path” has been “provided for” doesn’t mean it’s going to happen very soon, or even soon-ish.  As Maury Brown metaphorizes in his sharp article about the deal, the broadcasting relationship in place among the parties is a three-legged stool: MLB is one leg; the telecast networks like Fox and NBC/Comcast and ROOT are the second leg; and distributors such as satellite and cable providers are the third.  But it is that third leg that is the load-bearing leg that might undermine the whole arrangement if they were to pull out, and they have a good reason to pull out, or at least threaten to, if the other two legs insist on in-market streaming.

In this era of programming in which the majority is time-delayed by watchers so they can view it at their convenience―and, incidentally, be able to zip through expensive commercials―sports programing is considered the gold bar of programming, since it almost always demands live viewing to fully appreciate it.  With that live viewing comes much greater viewing of commercials.  Because of this, commercials in sports programming are more expensive per viewer than in nearly all other types of programming.

But if local live sports becomes available to viewers on digital platforms (i.e., platforms other than cable and satellite), then that removes a very big reason for people to continue to subscribe to cable services that are, let’s face it, more costly by a factor of multiples than what people are willing to pay.  And even though such in-market digital games would be available only by authenticating “your” existing subscription, anyone who has a friend who subscribes to Netflix or Hulu knows that login credentials can be shared with as many people as the subscriber knows.  In other words, cable companies in particular know that in-market availability of games will cost them subscribers, revenue, and ultimately profits.  And they certainly don’t want that.

The restriction against viewing local games reaches epidemically ridiculous proportions in that it even includes a prohibition against watching out of market delayed broadcasts on the satellite and cable provider itself, or even “classic games” from decades before.  I live in Chicago, and I can’t view old Yankee classic games on YES, or Orioles classic games on MASN, because of the deal between MLB and distributors.  Why this is, I don’t know exactly―maybe it’s one of those things that distributors don’t really need, but like to have anyway just so they can negotiate away something not so important to retain the thing that is most important in cases like this―that most important thing being, of curse, live streaming of games to local markets.

But make no mistake: as much as Baseball and The  Networks want to make the product available to everyone everywhere, distributors have just as much desire to keep local viewers in the dark during local games.  Because they believe they have a very fat ox waiting to be gored when that happens, and unless some business arrangement or technical system is undertaken to address it, they have no interest in falling on that ox’s horns.

One Option for Cubs in Post-WGN-TV World: Run Their Own Multicast Channel

Ed Sherman has written a couple of pretty good articles, both at his website and in the Chicago Tribune, about what the Cubs might do if they opt out of their agreement WGN-TV to carry 70-75 games per year: operate their own multicast channel.

(To be clear, this is a different deal than the WGN radio situation, in which the Cubs dumped ‘GN for WBBM-AM and the CBS promotional muscle behind it.)

A multicast channel is what “over the air” (OTA) TV has become in the wake of the move to all digital television for US stations in 2009.  Now the main TV channels are all “dash ones” (e.g., 2-1, 5-1, 7-1, etc.), and many of these channels carry subchannels (e.g., 5-2, 5-3, etc.) that feature additional programming, usually old TV shows and movies, cooking shows, or infomercials.

With options for OTA relatively scant—the Cubs can’t move the games over to Comcast SportsNet Chicago (CSN) because, frankly, CSN doesn’t want ’em, and no channel that’s a network affiliate can be expected to take them on—the Cubs would either have to go to a another local channel with less reach (such as WCIU-TV 26 or WPWR-TV 50); go crawling back to WGN and accept their newly suggested arrangement with less guaranteed money and more revenue sharing; or, again, start their own multicast channel, which sounds cool at first thought but would have the potential problem of not getting sufficient carriage by satellite and cable providers to warrant the startup and operational expense.

The Cubs have seemed to put themselves in a fairly bad bind, and the underlying reason for the bind is that, to be blunt, the Cubs suck (or at least they are perceived to suck), sporting one of the worst records in the majors this year.  Add to that the huge gamble being taken by the club to allow the big league club to flounder while relying on certain recent draft picks to take them to the Promised Land, a gamble that have led a lot of longtime Cubs fans to cool their ardor toward the team, and the prospects for the Cubs to generate significant TV revenue looks a lot more iffy now than it did when they presumably sketched out the idea on a bar napkin at a quarter to two in the morning one night some years ago.

Here are links to Sherman’s articles:

Cubs exploring multicast TV outlets for games

Multicast station? Cubs could leave WGN TV for highly unconventional outlet

Chicago Broadcast Update: And the Hits Just Keep Coming?

This morning’s Chicago Tribune has a front page story on the potential for the Cubs moving their broadcast (i.e., over-the-air) games, currently on WGN-TV, to another station in the market beginning with 2015.  Possible other TV affiliates, according to the article, might include WPWR-TV (channel 50) and WCIU-TV (channel 26), the latter of which already carries eight overflow Cubs games on behalf of WGN-TV.

I don’t believe the article is breaking any news here, since last year the Cubs exercise their right to pull out of the current WGN-TV deal after the 2014 season, given the current rash of ever-escalating rights deal being signed by teams.  But given the events of the last few days, the paper saw fit to make hay on the story and resurrect to take advantage of exquisite timing.

That said, it is valid to bring up, and the article points out why: for a supposedly big market team that is the darling of so many fans across the country, let alone the city and the state, the Cubs make far less per game on TV rights than other teams of its size.  For example, the article points out that the Los Angeles Dodgers make about $2 million per game in TV rights on their new deal, while the Cubs make just $500,000 per game that runs on Comcast SportsNet, their RSN partner, and about half that for games running on WGN and WCIU, which makes up about half the schedule.

Read all about it here:

Chicago Cubs seeking new TV home, may leave WGN-TV