Obsession with politics propelled news viewing, already a sizable portion of live and same-day TV universe, to a 12% gain in 2017 compared with 2016, according to a new report. Sports programming, once thought to be unassailable, declined 6% last year even when the Rio Olympics are taken out of the year-to-year comparison.
The findings are contained in a report by Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser, who estimates that news and sports together accounted for 23% of total national TV viewing, 13% of that being news.
“News is important for media owners because of the absolute scale of the genre, its potential for profitability, the political influence that follows from these divisions and because of the significant growth they have recorded in recent periods,” Wieser wrote. “With traditional TV viewing declining on an ongoing basis, the genre represents a key area of growth for the industry.”
The report puts hard numbers to recent events, including NFL ratings getting dinged by anthem protests and an overload of primetime games and public fascination with all things Donald Trump driving CNN, Fox News and MSNBC to new highs. Even for those following the ins and outs, Wieser’s report is full of interesting stats.
Measuring viewing from Christmas 2016 through Christmas 2017, Wieser says MSNBC viewership gained a remarkable 49% in 2017. Fox News remained the top draw in cable news, with 47% market share, but its upswing was just 8% and the share was down from 51% in 2016. CNN added a more modest 4%.
Sports, meanwhile, remains a key media commodity but has entered a complicated phase. If the three-week, multi-network Rio Olympics are kept into the comparison between 2016 and 2017, the downturn reached 12%. Even so, don’t count out sports just yet, Wieser cautions. “The genre still remains an important source of viewing of traditional TV,” he wrote. “In aggregate, it represents an outsized source of costs, revenues and strategic leverage between networks and distributors.”
Disney networks’ sports viewing (meaning primarily ESPN) accounted for 33% of total sports viewing in 2017. But it dropped 8% compared with 2016 (or 9% when the Rio Olympics are counted) despite a 1% uptick in programming hours.
College and pro football accounts for a whopping 42% of overall sports viewing, but that level fell 7% from 2016. The main culprit was the NFL, whose share of total sports viewing slipped 8% to 27%, despite a healthy 9% increase in programming hours — a strategy NFL owners and league brass have pledged to rethink in 2018.