SBJ/20081117/This Week's News

Gap in audience size between cable, broadcast shrinks

Broadcast audiences still bring in bigger audiences than cable, in general, but the difference is open to interpretation. If you listen to the cable networks, they say the gap between broadcast and cable is shrinking. Broadcasters say it’s still significant.

Take the NFL, for example, where NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” is averaging a 10.0 rating so far this season, compared with ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” averaging a 7.8 U.S. household rating. But that gap has been closing. Ten years ago, the broadcast network ABC pulled a 13.9 rating for Monday night and cable drew a 6.1 rating for Sunday night.

Broadcasters might point out that the closing of the gap coincides with ESPN’s distribution gains. Ten years ago, ESPN had 77 million homes and now it’s close to 98 million.

MLB provides another example. This year’s ALCS on TBS (an average of 5.474 million homes) outdrew the NLCS on Fox (an average of 5.321 million homes), showing cable can command similar audiences. The ALCS was a  more competitive series, featuring seven prime-time games on TBS, compared with the NLCS’s four prime-time (and one day game) on Fox.

Fox probably would rather compare this year’s ALCS Game 7 on TBS with last year’s ALCS Game 7 on Fox. The broadcast network drew 19 million viewers for the Indians and Red Sox in 2007, versus TBS’s 13 million for the Red Sox and Rays last month.

— John Ourand

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