The Dip That Wasn’t

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Everybody is kinda freaking out because allegedly live sports TV ratings are dropping. Both the NFL and the English Premier League have reported major “dips” in viewership. However, I’m very skeptical.

Something much bigger is at work.

For decades, various forms of media and entertainment have sold flawed metrics to sponsors. First, newspapers often overstated (via creative measurements) their circulation and subscriber numbers to sell ads to companies. Coca Cola really had no clue as to how many people really got the NYTimes delivered back in 1965 – and how many of those people read the entire paper – and how many of those people saw the ad – and how many of those people then bought a Coke.

The internet upset the old newspaper model by fucking with the subscription “pay to read” model, allowing disruptive startups with less cash to exist, and also by suddenly allowing companies and brands to accurately gauge traffic and ad impressions and click-thrus. We can now get a good idea of how many people have read a particular article and seen a particular ad. The print media can no longer exaggerate numbers or oversell itself when dealing with brands.

The same thing has started to happen in radio. With podcasts, content creators and brands now have a better idea of how many people actually listen to a particular episode and may hear an ad. Before, a station or program could claim that they had thousands of local listeners, but nobody really knew. Brands just assumed if you were on one of the “bigger” radio stations during the AM or PM commute time, folks were tuning in.

The old “Nielsen Ratings” system for TV viewership was pretty laughable, in retrospect. Imagine all the flaws in half-assed political polling, and multiply that by a hundred. As more sports viewing has migrated to streaming, suddenly channels (and brands) can know almost exactly how many individuals are watching a particular game at a particular moment.

Thus, the so called “dip” in viewing by the NFL and EPL is probably not a dip at all: it’s just better and more accurate viewership numbers. Does this mean they oversold their numbers in prior deals? Probably. But rather than the sky falling, I think we’ll see a smaller dip each year for a few more years, and then hit a bottom.

Unless of course eSports among the younger generation totally swallow all conventional sports and sports-viewing in the next decade. Then y’all are fucked (not me: I’m decent at FIFA and still hella hard to kill at Halo).

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