Rise In Showtime's Boxing Audience Helps Net Level Playing Field With HBO
It has been “a banner year” for sports on Showtime, as a “newfound commitment to boxing” has seen the net’s ratings increase, according to Chris Mannix of SI.com. The net’s boxing telecasts have increased by 24% from last year and by 64% since ‘11. The rise has “positioned Showtime, perhaps for the first time, as a virtual co-leader, along with HBO, in the boxing broadcast industry.” Mannix conducted a Q&A with Showtime Sports Exec VP & GM Stephen Espinoza. Below are excerpts from the conversation.
Q: Taking Floyd [Mayweather Jr.] away from HBO was a major coup for Showtime. Looking back, how were you able to do it?
A: It was the result of a couple of things. One, the CBS platform was a big attraction for Floyd. Being able to be exposed not just on the CBS television network, but bringing in CBS Outdoor, CBS Interactive, CNET, TV Guide, TV.com and the whole range of assets, including the CBS Sports radio network, an outlet he didn't have access to. That was, from a business standpoint, the fundamental attraction.
Q: Are you outspending HBO?
A: The perception (that Showtime is spending more on boxing than HBO) is accurate. If you look at the number of events, the number of fights, the stature of the events that each network has done, I have to conclude that the budgets are very similar, or that ours is even larger.
Q: Why was investing so much in boxing the best course for Showtime Sports?
A: I've never been one to subscribe to the "boxing is dying" fallacy. I think boxing is stronger now than it has been in maybe the last 20 years. You have more networks televising more hours, both in English and Spanish, than we have seen in recent past. We have a depth of talent that exceeds what we have had in the last 20 years, particularly in the mid-range weights. Demographically, boxing still draws an attractive audience. It's one of the few sports that as a premium network we can participate as a leader in the sport.
Q: The viewership numbers are an obvious measure of success. But are there other metrics you look at internally?
A: The first criteria for measuring whether we are doing things right is looking at the quality of our fights. If we are not doing great fights, it doesn't matter what we are doing for ratings because what is the point of getting a bunch of people to tune in for something that wasn't entertaining. Once we have established great fights, then it is a combination of a couple of things. It's ratings. We don't look at absolute numbers since HBO has a significant advantage in the number of subscribers. We look at the trends. We look at viewership growth. We finished 2013 with the highest average viewership for championship boxing since Showtime started being Nielsen rated, in 2004. We are on the right trajectory, audience wise (SI.com, 12/23).
GROWTH CHART: In Las Vegas, Steve Carp wrote "whether it was HBO, Showtime, ESPN or the NBC Sports Network, Las Vegas provided numerous opportunities to highlight the sport’s reigning stars and introduce the next generation of greats to fans.” HBO VP/Sports Operations & PPV Mark Taffet said, “The good news is the sport is growing. Fans aren’t necessarily looking for something new; they’re looking for a time-tested tradition of a great style who gives the fans a great show.” Espinoza said, “This year, we caught onto something almost magical. When the fighters see the great matchups, they get motivated, and they want to get involved.” HBO -- which has distribution in 28 million U.S. homes -- and Showtime (22 million homes) “reported spikes in boxing viewership.” HBO “had the five highest rated non-PPV shows in 2013, all averaging 1.3 million viewers or better during peak viewership.” The increased viewing numbers also are “trending toward younger fans.” Perhaps many MMA fans also have “included boxing in their viewing habits because there were so many good, competitive fights, and, in the end, all they’re looking for is an action-packed scrap” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 12/24).