Back in the day, ESPN used to be a place where you could go for some pretty good sports coverage. Now, it seems that the few people that still go there get bombarded with political talk more than anything else.
How good or bad ESPN’s viewership numbers were for the past year depend on whether you believe there are 53 weeks in a year or 52 weeks.
Put another way, do you believe 2017 began on Jan. 1 — or on Dec. 26, 2016? The answer to those questions is important because, depending on your basis of measurement, ESPN either saw an increase in viewership last year or a decrease.
Maury Brown of Forbes analyzed the total day viewership (defined as 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.) numbers for ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports 1 and NBC Sports Network for last year. He found that ESPN’s viewership declined by 7 percent, while ESPN2 saw an even larger drop of 22 percent.
Brown believes the primary reason for ESPN2’s big drop is the decision to move the morning talk show “First Take” from ESPN2 to ESPN. Meanwhile, the morning “SportsCenter” was moved from ESPN to ESPN2.
Brown reports the news was also bad for NBC Sports Network, which had a drop of 18 percent from the previous year.
Meanwhile, Brown said FS1 enjoyed a modest 2 percent increase in its viewership, the fourth consecutive year the network has enjoyed a bump in viewers.
So if Forbes is reporting bad news for ESPN, why are the folks at ESPN bragging about an increase in viewership last year?
Because it depends on what your definition of a “year” is.
The industry standard for measuring TV ratings are the numbers compiled by Nielsen Media Research, which does weekly surveys of TV viewership. Nielsen’s definition of a viewership week begins on Monday and ends on Sunday.
For purposes of compiling viewership numbers for 2017, Nielsen’s first survey week of the year ran from Monday, Dec. 26, 2016, through Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. The final week ran from Dec. 25 to Dec. 31.
That’s why, for ratings purposes, 2017 had 53 weeks instead of the 52 found on the average wall calendar.
ESPN benefited from the added week because it allowed the network to count an extra week of college football bowl games from last year as part of this year’s ratings, including last year’s College Football Playoff semifinals.
Throw in that extra week and — voila — ESPN can tout a 7 percent increase in viewership from the previous year.