Sunday, June 10, 2007


If you thought the numbers for Canadian drama were disheartening, climb a little higher on the dial, where the ratings for sports tell a much more ominous story...

Friday Night Baseball - Sportsnet - 247,000 Viewers

Soccer - CBC - 99,000

Nascar Dover 200 - TSN - 94,000

NBA Playoffs - TSN - 85,000

CBC's coverage of the Stanley Cup final averaged 2.5 million viewers, an 18-per-cent dip from last year.

At the February 28th NHL Trade Deadline -- when big name players change hands and teams make it clear they are either making a run for the Cup or throwing in the towel, Canada's sportscasting fraternity pulls out all the stops to chase every rumor. Election style coverage rules the day. This year Sportsnet even deployed a bevy of hot babes to deliver bulletins. The result...

TSN - 150,000
Sportsnet - 52,000
The Score - 9,000 (ouch)

And for those keeping track, these numbers were down 40% from the previous year.

Below the border, where 2.5 million fewer people were watching television overall, the picture is not much rosier. Hockey may be a poor yardstick, with NBC recording its lowest Prime Time ratings (in any category) for the Stanley Cup Final -- a final that was down 28% from the previous season. But the anecdotal Hockey evidence is worth considering...

In Tampa, NBC's affiliate canceled Game 3 for a charity telethon. And in an earlier round featuring Atlanta and the NY Rangers, Atlanta recorded only 8800 local viewers for the final game -- less than the number of season ticket holders in that city.

But numbers for other Sports in the US are down too. Basketball is off by as much as 17%. Weekend audiences hover around the million mark for Golf. NASCAR, currently the most popular sports event on network television, seldom tops 6,000,000 viewers and quite regularly matches the fan totals of Wrestling's Friday Night Smackdown.

In this environment "Studio 60" would be a runaway smash!

Yet, within one of the most targeted TV demographics (Men 18-25) the decline in viewers is even steeper.

And why exactly is this important to those of us more concerned with the nuances surrounding Tony Soprano's departure and the story lines of "Grey's Anatomy" and "House"?

Because it tells us Guys have finally come around to watching "Desperate Housewives" and "Sex And The City" re-runs?


Because it indicates that the last great cornerstone of broadcasting and advertising is crumbling. The most dependable cash cow is going dry. Men are not watching sports.

Beer companies, car companies, Corporations who pitch fast food, electronics and all the other traditional guy buys are discovering that an audience once dependably parked on the couch, for whatever game somebody sweaty was playing, has left the building.

And that means a huge chunk of the $8.8 Billion paid upfront to the networks at the beginning of last season, won't be there this year, meaning fewer dramas at smaller budgets must surely follow.

I believe there are a lot of reasons men have a declining interest in professional sport. Ticket prices limiting the real game experience to fewer people. The corporatization of leagues and athletes. The endless branding and re-branding of uniforms, playing fields and stadiums.

My first sleep deprived night in Australia, I watched a Rugby game. When somebody asked who was playing, I answered "Vodaphone" and "Sony", the only names that had been visible on the players' jerseys.

But the biggest culprit are the Sports Networks themselves. Any given 24 hours of sports television usually features only one or two live events. The rest of the time is spent with endless analysis, speculation and debate combined with repeated showings of the same highlight reels and sportscasts.

At a certain point you just can't take anymore, no matter how rabid a fan you are.

Economically, Sports Networks rely on that kind of cheap programming to survive (along with tractor pulls and Poker). Because, truth be told, they lose money on the games.

The Toronto Maple Leafs recently sold some of their rights to Sportsnet for $700,000 per game. That's $200,000 more than last year, a season in which Sportsnet is said to have lost as much as $400,000 per Leaf game. Now, of course, none of these things happen in a vacuum, and the network is still making money. But with rising fees and disappearing viewers, that won't be the case much longer.

This decline in male viewership has been gradual but steady, with the prevailing wisdom being that men are more likely to be surfing the internet, watching DVDs or gaming. Not to mention that Porn is a lot more accessible than it used to be.

Since male demographics were the first to embrace TiVo and the PVR, some analysts suggest they're simply time-shifting their sports. And to some extent that may be true -- but then, the message is even more troubling. Because they're sure not pumping up the numbers on "Smith", "Drive" and other male targeted shows while they're waiting for the game to load.

And most guys only PVR a game because it affords the opportunity to skip commercials and create your own instant replays. You can't bank your favorite team's games like you can a season of "24" or "Battlestar Galactica". Well, you can, but it turns you into somebody wearing sans-a-belt pants and socks with sandals.

Spoilers for a series episode are annoying. Knowing the outcome of a game, virtually unavoidable in this day and age, makes watching even an hours-old event pointless for anyone who isn't obsessing over their Fantasy League stats.

The point is, the paucity of male viewers for non-sports programming is so accepted now that the prime-time schedule is practically awash with estrogen. New shows for the coming season include female centric series such as "Cashmere Mafia", "Lipstick Jungle" and "The Womens Murder Club". ABC, once ruled by Monday Night Football, now features "Dancing with the Stars", "Sam I Am" (about a woman recovering from a coma) and "The Bachelor" on that evening. Fox has published a mid-season slate which includes a night of "Nanny 911", "Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy" and "When Women Rule The World".

In other words, not a lot of places on National networks for most guys who aren't watching sports to go. That's not to suggest that the nets are telling men they're not wanted. We're just not even expected anymore.

Every development executive I've spoken to in the last year has been primarily interested in content that's female centric or with female leads. Although, a couple have also been seeking shows featuring Lesbians -- so maybe they haven't totally given up on getting our attention...

And maybe TV can get along fine without men. At least -- until women start leaving to find out what we're up to.


Lee said...

What did you have to go and post the girls at the end for? I've forgotten what the rest of the article was about now.

Juniper said...

... and with the girls at the end, I even forgot which blog I was on... am I back at Will's blog?

Great post, as always, Jim!


Cunningham said...

I for one would like to see the demographics for shows that have (on the surface) a strong male presence:

(on these last two I can also see the estrogen factor)
CSI - all of them

Have they been declining in male viewership? And as an experiment I wouldn't mind seeing the numbers on ALIAS as it went from season to season... there may be some theories we could postulate from the data.

wcdixon said...

Nice pics!

Lee said...

Definitely a Russian flavour to the blog lately. Are you feeling alright? Not too depressed, or anything?

jimhenshaw said...

You might be right, Lee. I just realized that the minute summer hit, I was locked into an ice cold arena to shoot a figure skating film and now as the sunny days take hold I'm in a dark, windowless edit suite all day with an editor who could pass for Uncle Vanya.

Then there was a dead seagull in the parking lot, the other night...

Never mind. I'm sure all be well once Masha and I get to Moscow.

Anonymous said...

Go to St Petersburg, Waayy better town than Moscow.

Also check out the film Russian Ark