The Pac-12 has devoted tremendous resources pursuing a different business model than that of, say, the Big 10 Network. Pac-12 Hotline has obtained the first public ratings, and it brings into question the network's decisions.
The Pac-12 Hotline has obtained ratings for the Pac-12 Networks — ratings the conference, by policy, does not disclose.
An initial canvass of the material reminded me of a conversation with commissioner Larry Scott last month.
I mentioned that the lack of transparency with the ratings led to the presumption that viewership totals were low for the Olympic sports.
If the ratings were good — if they justified the resources (i.e., the six regional feeds) — then the conference surely would want them in the public domain.
“That’s not the reason we don’t share,’’ Scott explained. “We’re delighted with viewership and exposure.”
Upon seeing the ratings, I can understand Scott’s sentiment — at least when it comes to football.
As the Olympic sports broadcasts are concerned, not so much.
Let’s dig in …
During the Saturdays covered in the ratings window obtained by the Hotline, there were four broadcasts of Olympic sports events on the Pac-12 Networks’ national feed.
Ratings are measured in 15-minute segments, so a four-hour football game would have 16 segments.
The four Olympic sports events in question had a total of 22 measured segments. Of those, 21 registered a zero.
That’s right: 21 of 22 registered a zero.
Technically, that zero refers to a share. But a zero share equals a zero rating.
That doesn’t mean that zero people, literally, are watching. But it means that so few people are watching, it doesn’t register with the rating service.
How many, specifically?
Based on the households involved in this particular metro market and the way shares are calculated, no more than a few hundred people could possibly have been watching any of the 21 segments that generated a zero share.
What about the single 15-minute segment that registered? It had a 0.5 share, and I can’t explain the spike.
The 15-minute segment immediately prior was a zero share, and the 15-minute segment immediately following was a zero share.
(Note: 0.5 is not the minimum share that registers. There are plenty of rated segments over the four Saturdays that have shares of 0.2 or 0.3. But for the Olympic sports, it’s all zeroes except for that single spike to 0.5.)
Several football broadcasts were included in the ratings, and they did quite well:
One game, which featured an in-market team, registered an 11 share, which means 11 percent of the TVs in use at the time were watching that game. A game for an out-of-market team earned a 3 share.
I ran those numbers past two industry sources; both thought they were solid.
Moreover, I obtained ratings for ESPN for the same timeframe. They showed three times the viewership for a Pac-12 football game featuring an in-market team than the Pac-12 Networks received.
This should come as no surprise. ESPN is in 80-something million homes nationally. The Pac-12 Networks are in approximately 20 million.
I also checked in with the conference about the ratings. Through a spokesperson, who cited policy, it declined to comment.
What it means
One of the industry sources I turned to for context made three points after seeing the data:
1. “An advertising model associated with Olympic sports is not viable. The ratings are nonexistent. No one is watching.”
2. “When a football team is on (the Pac-12 Networks) in its home market, it gets a very impressive share. The Pac-12 absolutely has leverage over the cable provider in those instances. The problem is the best games are on Fox and ESPN — and for good reason.”
3. “It was prudent of the conference to have the best (football) games on ESPN and Fox, because of greater reach. You could put them on the Pac-12 Networks, and that (leverage) might help you add distribution. But your brand will suffer because it won’t be as visible.”
One more piece of context on those Olympic sports ratings: Plenty of television shows register a zero. Even some men’s basketball games register a zero when the home market isn’t involved.
But this is the first hard evidence of the lack of viewership for Pac-12 Olympic sports, and that is an issue worthy of discussion for this reason: The conference has devoted immense resources to a business model (six regional feeds) designed showcase Olympic sports that are drawing zero ratings, instead of pursuing a model that would surely be more lucrative and visible.
Had the Olympic sports not been at the center of the business model, the conference could have created a traditional structure, like the Big Ten Network, with a single national network that featured football and men’s basketball, with Olympic sports scattered throughout.
There is zero doubt — and I’ve asked several analysts about this issue — that the single national network would have generated greater distribution and revenue.
Also: It would have been less expensive.
In addition to the production costs associated with all the regional feeds, there are costs to the campuses attached to the Olympic sports broadcasts. Teams are asked to play at less-than-ideal times/days in order to fit with the broadcast schedule, and that hurts attendance. There can be added travel costs if a team has to spend an extra day on the road (example: a Sunday game that would otherwise be played on a Saturday) just to suit the programming needs.
That’s the reason the ratings are relevant: The Pac-12 has undertaken this vast, expensive endeavor in the name of Olympic sports that, at any given time, only a few hundred people are watching.
That is no longer speculation. We now have the evidence.
Maybe the conference and the campuses will conclude the six regional feeds, and the exposure they provide for the Olympic sports, are worthwhile.
Seems like a discussion that should be undertaken.