Time Spent Watching TV Sports Declines, ESPN, Fox Dominate A Shrinking Pie

ESPN and Fox continued to build on their dominance of the TV sports marketplace over the past year, but in a surprising development, it seems they are taking a bigger slice of shrinking pie. The amount of time consumers spend watching sports on broadcast and cable networks declined for the first time in recent history, according to an analysis released this week by TV buying giant Magna Global USA.

The finding, which comes from the 2004 edition of Magna's annual TV Sports Report, shows that the average U.S. TV household spent 3.04 hours per week watching sports on broadcast and cable networks during 2003. That's the lowest amount recorded in the past six years of data contained in the report. The high was reached in 1999, when the average TV household watched 3.55 hours of sports per week.

The amount of time men spent watching sports dipped to 2.58 hours per week in 2003, down from 2.90 hours in 1999. This analysis excludes Olympics-related coverage, though the report also contains those estimates.



"After consistent increases in the amount of time spent viewing sports on the broadcast networks and basic cable throughout the 1990s, we've seen a slight decline -- although it grew slightly in 2002 before dipping again in 2003," concludes the Magna report.

The development is ironic given that the number of options for watching TV sports continues to grow, but that in an indirect way may be a factor limiting the growth of ad-supported broadcast and cable network sports. A significant amount of that expansion has gone to regional sports networks, pay-per-view and satellite TV services that are not reflected in the analysis.

The Magna analysts noted that if these disparate sources were factored into the analysis, "we'd likely see an overall increase." Even so, those gains would likely have come at the expense from the major ad-supported TV sports players, which have shelled out hefty sports rights fees to lock up the premium nationally televised sports.

The biggest of those now, from a national TV ratings market share point of view is ESPN, which captured 16.73 percent of all household sports rating points in 2003, followed closely by Fox's 16.31 percent share. However, among men 18-plus, a demo commonly used to target TV sports ad buys, Fox dominates with a 17.41 percent share of market versus ESPN's 17.09 percent share. If the ESPN2 and Fox Sports networks are factored into the mix, ESPN corporately dominates by a wide margin. And if ABC, which ranks third among all sports networks, is thrown into the ESPN/ABC Sports mix, its' not even a close contest.

The Magna report also reveals a dramatically shifting playing field among TV sports networks. ESPN 2 now ranks as the fifth biggest TV sports networks, just behind CBS, but ahead of NBC. NBC, of course, will carry the 2004 Summer Olympic Games this year, which will likely push its relative standing up.

Share Of Network Sports Rating Points

-----Households----- ----Men 18-plus----
2001 2002 2003 2001 2002 2003
ESPN 14.14 14.21 16.73 14.69 15.05 17.09
Fox 14.74 14.09 16.31 16.01 15.61 17.41
ABC 12.22 11.95 15.96 12.29 12.21 15.91
CBS 15.57 14.51 15.40 16.08 15.05 15.45
ESPN2 8.08 7.45 8.98 8.14 7.56 8.73
NBC 11.81 10.39 6.31 11.10 9.87 5.48
TNT 4.37 3.58 4.47 4.37 3.56 4.58
Spike 5.53 3.92 4.22 5.55 3.86 3.93
UPN 2.85 2.12 2.13 2.45 1.82 1.80
TBS 3.09 2.68 1.55 2.99 2.61 1.44
USA 1.63 1.22 1.39 1.31 1.01 1.18
Fox Sports 0.72 0.65 0.73 0.77 0.70 0.77
FX 1.01 0.93 0.68 1.13 1.05 0.79
Other basic 4.25 5.08 5.14 3.14 4.49 5.44

Source: Magna Global USA analysis of data from Nielsen Media Research.
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