Commentary

Presidential Debates, Sports Take Center Stage This Fall

Top-rated presidential TV debates are on the way -- starting next week -- with the only sports challenging any high-viewing weekly programs.

Not too sure if mixed-martial arts skills (for the former) will be necessary to compete (with the latter). For sure, blocking, tackling and elbowing will be closely observed.

Early projections show the debates could see substantial viewership in relation to sports TV.

Current sports TV viewing results have declined versus year-ago levels, due to major sports leagues -- NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA, NHL -- competing sometimes directly with each other, due to pandemic schedule disruptions.

Also due to the pandemic, there is less-fresh TV programming from TV networks for their usual fall seasonal start in September/October.

Here are some results from a recent study from Antenna Direct, which polled 1,200 Americans 18 year and older who watch television for at least one to two hours per week.

Consumers are slightly more likely to watch the presidential debates (38%) than national sporting events (34%). Looking at genre comparisons: 40% women plan to watch presidential debates; 35% for men.

Men are more likely to watch sports, 47% (NFL, Major League Baseball, an PGA Golf) than the presidential debates, 35%. Just 25% of women plan to watch national sporting events in the next six months.

In 2016, 84 million Nielsen-measured viewers (on 13 TV networks) watched the first presidential debate, the most of any in TV history. The second debate: 66.5 million viewers (11 networks); the third, 71.6 million viewers (13 networks).

Given the overall lack of new TV programming, one would guess the presidential debates would show even higher attention for the TV viewers -- in part due to intense interest in pandemic and economy issues. (The counter argument: Many may want to get away from it all. Maybe Netflix or Disney+ will get a boost.)

Remember the happy (but tiring) industry-phrase content is king? Think of some other programming as low-level princes. For example, this past weekend, ABC’s “Emmy Awards” telecast pulled in another all-time low in TV viewing, a Nielsen-measured 6.4 million TV viewers.

The real beginning of the TV season -- entertainment-wise, scripted and unscripted -- looks to get going the first week in November, just after the election on November 3.

Until then, hope for more “nasty woman” content (or “nasty man”?) to liven things up. That’s the reality of it all, right?

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