Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The price of pay television: record low Open Championship ratings

The question over pay-television's control of the industry while shutting broadcast network affiliates and independent channels showed how pay-television means lower ratings, lesser quality, and more higher per-subscriber fees. Exhibit A has been for many years ESPN, where for more rights fees sporting events on broadcast networks such as the Chase, the Open, and the BCS, have moved to pay-television for more rights fees.

And for extremely low ratings too even if it's an upset winner.

When calculated for the difference between broadcast network ratings and cable ratings, the rating for The Open Championship at St. Andrews was clearly less than 2.0 – earning a 2.1 cable rating (there is inflation in a cable rating, based on percentage of homes with that channel available; for ESPN, it is based on the 86.2% of television homes with ESPN – not the 100% of homes with television. Watch for the Chase and BCS to receive similar inflated ratings for cable.

The move to pay-television only is hurting, and NBC affiliates sent a warning to Comcast that in acquiring NBC, they cannot move any NBC properties to USA or Versus. These affiliates rely on major sporting events to pay extra advertising revenue. Local ESPN Broadcast affiliates are paying the price for losing the Open and Chase. An IndyCar event in Toronto surely could have been moved to a 3 PM green flag to let the Open finish on network television. And television reruns on Sunday afternoon won't help with ratings when sports are on NBC, CBS, and Fox.

The record low ratings for the Open, regardless of who is in the final pairings, shows the real culprit is the move to pay-television. Lower ratings for more money means fewer people are watching. How senseless will it be in September when ESPN2 airs NASCAR Countdown and ESPN Cable airs the Chase event for all nine Sundays? That's millions of dollars in revenues lost by local ESPN Broadcast affiliates. Is the NBA Finals the next event to move to pay-television?
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