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Sports Ratings Report for Weeks of November 17-30

Primetime – Nov 17-23
Vwrs
(000)

Change

Lst Wk Lst Yr

#1

=

=

3538

+16%

+11%

#2

=

=

1137

-4%

+3%

#3

=

=

465

-44%

-34%

#4

=

+2

351

+65%

+158%

#5

+1

-1

223

+46%

-3%

#6

-1

-1

160

-9%

+8%

#7

=

=

87

-1%

-5%

#8

=

+1

79

+10%

-4%

#9

=

-1

67

+16%

-26%

#10

=

=

45

-8%

-13%

Total Day – Nov 17-23
Vwrs
(000)

Change

Lst Wk Lst Yr

#1

=

=

1192

-3%

-0%

#2

+1

+1

317

+1%

+10%

#3

-1

-1

301

-19%

-11%

#4

=

=

128

-20%

-28%

#5

=

+1

123

+31%

+64%

#6

+1

-1

97

+37%

-12%

#7

-1

+1

73

-13%

+26%

#8

=

-1

62

+5%

-3%

#9

=

-1

58

+12%

0%

#10

=

=

28

-13%

-7%

There’s a very real possibility I may not need SotB’s Awful Announcing posts (which at this point, include everything I already have except for the rankings) to do the weekly network summaries anymore. TVNewser’s “Cable News Ranker” posts include a document with week-by-week, month-by-month, quarter-by-quarter, and (presumably) year-by-year reports of average audience, average number of households watching, and household “coverage” percentage (a number that presumably reflects the audience estimates that have hardly been reported at all all year)… for (almost) every single Nielsen-rated cable network, as well as each network’s rank compared to the others. To see Nielsen include so many numbers I had thought I was the only one interested in, as well as a number I didn’t even dare to think of but is incredibly useful to put the others in context, that can potentially allow me to include networks SotB doesn’t report information for for whatever reason, blew me away. This may be the most felicitous development since I learned about how comprehensive SotB was being on his blog.

Or, it would be… but there’s a problem. No matter what, TVNewser does only one of these posts a week. So every month It puts up the rankings for the entire month just past but skips a week. Okay, I can just use TVNewser for monthly wrapups, but every three months it puts up the quarterly rankings for the three months just past, and skips that month. I’d bet anything that at year’s end it’ll put up the yearly rankings and skip the fourth quarter, but I don’t think these posts even go back that far, which actually surprises me because I’m pretty damn sure I’ve seen the sort of image that leads the post before, even if it didn’t have this comprehensive document. So it’s vaguely useful for a year-end rating roundup, but that’s it, and no matter what I use it for I can’t do the year-on-year comparisons I’m used to for the near future. (I guess I can accept that it would get pretty crowded if at the end of the year you had the rankings for the last week, and for December, and for the fourth quarter, and for the entire year…)

So this is more of a proof of concept than anything else, taking the November ratings, one of the four all year where I can take the month’s ratings and do a comparison to the previous month. Because I still can’t do the median minute ratings without SotB’s comprehensive information, I would probably still split primetime and total day into two tables given the sheer magnitude of information involved. I’m also assuming “ENN” is short for ESPNEWS, but it’s entirely possible it’s just not on the list; Fox Deportes is the only Spanish-language sports network on the list, and not only have I seen plenty of ratings reported for Univision Deportes and ESPN Deportes (and seen UDN on both the TVMI and TVbytheNumbers lists), I’ve actually seen UDN advertise its weekly summary data of this sort, so clearly not all Nielsen-rated networks are on the list (the disclaimer says it “includes only those cable networks who [sic] supply program names to the industry”, whatever that means – for what it’s worth HBO, which often tops the daily lists with shows like Game of Thrones and True Blood, doesn’t show up either, and neither does FXX, but FXM does).

Regardless, the lack of Spanish-language networks means I’m limiting this list to the same bank of networks I always use. Overall rankings are out of 96 networks for primetime and 98 for total day; note that Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network are each considered to be two networks for Nielsen purposes for their nighttime adult-oriented Nick@Nite and Adult Swim blocks respectively, and only the latter appear in the primetime ranks. Yes, that means MLBN is very near the bottom in both measures. It could be worse; Fox Sports 2 outpaces only Tr3s, MTV’s Hispanic-oriented network, and the dying corpse of G4. (MLBN and FS2 have VH1 Classic, mun2, and Al Jazeera America between them in some order in both measures.)

PT Ovr Rank
Vwr (000)
LM
Chng
HH
(Cvr)
LM
Chng
TD Ovr Rank
Vwr (000)
LM
Chng
HH
(Cvr)
LM
Chng

1

#1

=

2.4

+19%

1

#1

=

0.9

+12%

=

3881

+21%

2.9

+0.4

=

1376

+14%

1.1

+0.1

2

#13

+13

0.6

+76%

2

#28

+1

0.2

+4%

+1

949

+82%

1.0

+0.5

+1

316

+3%

0.3

=

3

#30

-2

0.3

+7%

3

#38

+10

0.2

+26%

+1

540

+4%

0.4

=

+1

274

+32%

0.3

+0.1

4

#50

-41

0.2

-76%

4

#61

-34

0.1

-63%

-2

276

-76%

0.2

-0.7

-2

124

-63%

0.1

-0.2

5

#64

+15

0.1

+49%

5

#70

+13

0.1

+45%

+2

163

+55%

0.2

+0.1

+5

81

+59%

0.1

=

6

#71

-5

0.1

-4%

6

#72

=

0.1

+3%

-1

132

-10%

0.1

=

=

79

+1%

0.1

=

7

#72

-3

0.1

-3%

7

#74

-10

0.1

+2%

-1

132

+2%

0.1

=

-2

76

unch

0.1

=

8

#79

+4

0.1

+33%

8

#80

=

0.0

+4%

+1

85

+8%

0.1

=

+1

59

+5%

0.1

=

9

#83

+4

0.0

+10%

9

#82

-3

0.0

-4%

+1

69

+15%

0.1

=

-1

55

-5%

0.1

=

10

#90

-8

0.0

-43%

10

#92

-14

0.0

-50%

-2

44

-45%

0.1

=

-3

28

-53%

0.0

-0.1

Read More »

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 15

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • In the past, three teams could appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; ten teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Packers, Bears, 49ers, Steelers, and Saints don’t have games in the main flex period, and all have games in the early flex period. I don’t know if both of the games scheduled for 12/20 count towards the total, or only the one in primetime. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 17 (December 28):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (7-7)
NORTH
49-4-1
59-5
2 tied at 9-5
SOUTH
310-4
69-5
CLINCHED
WEST
211-3
8-6
CLINCHED 8-6
EAST
111-3
8-6
CLINCHED
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN THE
NFC SOUTH WINGS
SOUTH
46-8
510-4 5-9
5-8-1
EAST
310-4
610-4
9-5
NORTH
210-4
9-5
10-4
WEST
111-3
10-4
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Lions-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Bills-Patriots, Bengals-Steelers (with the first three being most likely). Sadly for any chance of seeing Johnny Manziel in primetime this season, on top of his bad play the Browns’ conference record is atrocious, especially compared to the Chiefs and Chargers, essentially eliminating Browns-Ravens as a guaranteed win-and-you’re-in game for the Browns, though there’s an off chance it’s a loser-out game for the Ravens.
  • Lions-Packers will be selected if: The Packers win OR the Lions and Cowboys lose. If the Lions were to win and the Packers lose the Lions would cinch the conference tiebreaker; both teams hold tiebreakers over Philly so there is pretty much no way for this to be a loser-out game, but either team, with a win, would cinch a first-round bye contingent on winning the division. Even if a first-round bye isn’t guaranteed to be on the line, however, this game would probably still be flexed in with a Lions loss and a Cowboys win if any of the other scenarios fail to play out.
  • Panthers-Falcons will be picked if: The Panthers win AND the Falcons beat the Saints AND the Lions-Packers scenario doesn’t happen. The Saints winning on Monday night and the Falcons losing Sunday actually isn’t a disaster for this game’s chances; the Falcons would tie the Saints in the standings and hold a head-to-head sweep with a win, but the Panthers do need to hold up their end of the bargain, as a loss would leave them dependent on what the Saints do against the Bucs. Both the NFL and NBC really hope this doesn’t happen.
  • Chargers-Chiefs will be picked if: The Chiefs beat the Steelers AND the Chargers win AND the Ravens win AND the Lions-Packers scenario doesn’t happen. Though neither team is in position right now, their respective conference records have them in such good shape for cross-division tiebreakers it could actually hurt this game’s chances for the loser to be out; if the Steelers and Ravens both lose out, the Chiefs would still hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Steelers, and the Bills’ conference record is even worse than that of the Browns so they would be a nonfactor in this scenario.
  • Bengals-Steelers will be picked if: The Bengals lose AND the Chiefs beat the Steelers AND the Chargers win AND (the Ravens win AND the Lions-Packers scenario doesn’t happen) OR (the Lions win AND the Packers lose AND the Panthers-Falcons scenario doesn’t happen). If the Ravens lose either week, this game is for the division with the loser falling behind the Chiefs-Chargers winner, but if the Steelers lose out, they could easily still make the playoffs if the Ravens also lose out and the Chiefs beat the Chargers, and a Browns win this week doesn’t help that because they split the season series with the Steelers (with both also splitting with the Ravens), would finish with the same division record (ahead of the Ravens), and lose the common games tiebreaker. For the Bengals, the problem is all the more acute because tiebreakers don’t factor into it at all; in the wild card race, they can only fall behind the Chiefs, Chargers, or Bills if those teams win out, or the Ravens if they pick up at least one win. Division winner versus 6 seed might still be attractive to NBC, but not if the division winner would hold the 4 seed, or worse, if the game just determines home field for a rematch the following week. So this game actually has a better shot if it’s not guaranteed to be for the division, because that ensures that the loser will fall to third in the division on top of falling behind the Chiefs-Chargers winner. (UPDATE 12/18: Just realized the Bengals are playing on Monday night, making this all the more unlikely and possibly dependent on the Steelers winning. This game may be just plain out unless there are no other options.)
  • Bills-Patriots might be picked if: The Bills win AND the Steelers beat the Chiefs AND the Ravens and Chargers lose AND the Lions win AND the Packers lose AND the Panthers-Falcons situation doesn’t happen. Even then, the Patriots have already locked up the division and a lot would depend on what the Broncos and Colts do; this game would probably need the Patriots to lose and the Broncos to win, and a Colts win would be nice as well. But if all this happens, the Bills would lose a tiebreaker to the Chiefs-Chargers winner with a loss, while the worst-case scenario with a win would be going to strength of victory against the Ravens. All told, chances are NBC will continue its streak of airing all NFC matchups since Week 17 went to all-division matchups in 2010.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 14

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • In the past, three teams could appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; ten teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Packers, Bears, 49ers, Steelers, and Saints don’t have games in the main flex period, and all have games in the early flex period. I don’t know if both of the games scheduled for 12/20 count towards the total, or only the one in primetime. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 16 (December 21):

  • Selected game: Seattle @ Arizona.

Week 17 (December 28):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS
NORTH
48-4-1
58-5 7-6
2 tied at 8-5 7-6
SOUTH
39-4
68-5 7-6
7-6 7-6
WEST
210-3
8-5 7-6
8-5
EAST
110-3
2 teams at 7-6
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (7-6)
SOUTH
45-8
59-4
5-8
EAST
39-4
69-4
9-4
NORTH
210-3
9-4
9-4
WEST
110-3
9-4
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Browns-Ravens, Lions-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Bills-Patriots, Bengals-Steelers. Cardinals-49ers is out because it depends on the outcome of the Seahawks-Cardinals game even in the exceedingly unlikely scenario where it’s relevant, and if the Seahawks won the NFL would want to make the two NFC West games simultaneous even if there were no other options.
  • Chances of Lions-Packers: 60 percent. This is probably the odds-on favorite, but a lot depends on whether or not the NFL would want to take this game if the loser might still get a wild card spot. The Lions won the first game, so they just need to stay within a game of the Packers for the division to be on the line, but the best-case scenario for this game involves both teams slipping so they can’t fall back on a wild card spot. On the other hand, if both teams excel and the NFC East teams slip the winner could be guaranteed a first-round bye, which could outweigh the loser still getting a wild card spot. The fact that this is by far the most TV-friendly option also weighs in its favor.
  • Chances of Panthers-Falcons: 19 percent. Since moving to the all-division-games system for Week 17, the Sunday night game has a long tradition of hosting a division title game for the suckiest division in the NFL, but that looks to be unlikely this year. Falcons-Saints or Saints-Falcons would be a lock if they played each other, but instead this game’s chances depend on the Saints going on a losing streak while the Panthers and Falcons win. The Saints really only need to lose one more game than the Panthers or Falcons, though; a lot’s riding on the Week 16 Falcons-Saints game and how much the NFL would be willing to subject America to this game if there are other options available.
  • Chances of Browns-Ravens: 5 percent. There’s an exceedingly slim chance this game is for the division if the Browns win their next two, the Bengals lose their next two, and the Ravens win one more game than the Steelers. More likely, though still not likely, is that this game is for a wild card spot, but that would require the Browns to win one more game than the other 7-6 teams and the Chargers to fall behind in the wild card race as well. It does help that even if the Browns don’t beat the Bengals, they’d still hold the division tiebreaker over the Ravens with a win Week 17.
  • Chances of Chargers-Chiefs: 5 percent. The Chiefs were swept by the Broncos, so they’re already eliminated from the division, but the idea of this game being for a wild card spot is intriguing. As with the Lions, the Chiefs won the first game with the Chargers and so only need to stay within a game of them, but the AFC wild card race is very crowded when you consider the 7-6 teams. It’s highly unlikely the Chiefs can be guaranteed a wild card spot with a win; they’d need to at least outperform the teams I have listed ahead of them. Combine that with this game’s lack of marquee value and it’s a real long shot.
  • Chances of Bills-Patriots: 1 percent. There is exactly one scenario where this game even has a shot: the Bills win their next two, the Patriots lose their next two, and the Dolphins lose to the Vikings Week 16, since this scenario assumes they’d beat the Patriots. That doesn’t even get into the wild card situation.
  • Chances of Bengals-Steelers: 10 percent. This might have the best shot of any AFC game, but it’s still unlikely. It’s another game where the NFL would have to weigh the possibility of the loser getting a wild card spot. The most likely scenario might involve the teams being in wild card position going in but the loser guaranteed to fall behind the Browns-Ravens or Chargers-Chiefs winner. The lack of name value also hurts it.

The Hunt for Your Favorite Team’s Games

If you were a fan of the Oregon Ducks, the #2 team in the country, and you wanted to catch all your team’s games, you would have had to watch them on all of these channels:

  • South Dakota: Pac-12 Networks
  • Michigan State: Fox
  • Wyoming: Pac-12 Networks
  • @Washington State: ESPN
  • Arizona: ESPN
  • @UCLA: Fox
  • Washington: Fox Sports 1
  • California (from Levi’s Stadium): Fox Sports 1
  • Stanford: Fox
  • @Utah: ESPN
  • Colorado: Pac-12 Networks
  • @Oregon State: ABC
  • Arizona (Pac-12 Championship from Levi’s Stadium): Fox

If you were a fan of the USC Trojans, you would have spent time on all of these channels:

  • Fresno State: Fox
  • @Stanford: ABC
  • @Boston College: ESPN
  • Oregon State: ESPN
  • Arizona State: Fox
  • @Arizona: ESPN2
  • Colorado: Pac-12 Networks
  • @Utah: Fox Sports 1
  • @Washington State: Pac-12 Networks
  • California: ESPN
  • @UCLA: ABC
  • Notre Dame: Fox

If you were a fan of the #3 TCU Horned Frogs, you would have been watching these channels:

  • Samford: Fox Sports Southwest (or if not them, SportSouth, a handful of Plus feeds, or FCS Central)
  • Minnesota: Fox Sports 1
  • @SMU: CBS Sports Network
  • Oklahoma: Fox
  • @Baylor: ABC (or ESPN2)
  • Oklahoma State: Fox Sports 1
  • Texas Tech: Fox
  • @West Virginia: ABC (or ESPN2)
  • Kansas State: Fox
  • @Kansas: Fox Sports 1
  • @Texas: Fox Sports 1
  • Iowa State: ABC

If you were a fan of the Texas Longhorns, you would have been watching these channels:

  • North Texas: Longhorn Network
  • BYU: Fox Sports 1
  • UCLA (from JerryWorld): Fox
  • @Kansas: Fox Sports 1
  • Baylor: ABC (or ESPN3)
  • Oklahoma (from Fair Park): ABC
  • Iowa State: Longhorn Network
  • @Kansas State: ESPN
  • @Texas Tech: Fox Sports 1
  • West Virginia: Fox Sports 1
  • @Oklahoma State: Fox
  • TCU: Fox Sports 1

This isn’t limited to the Pac-12 and Big 12, two conferences whose rights are split between two different companies. The best teams tend to be plastered all over their conferences’ biggest channels, but if you were a fan of the Florida Gators, you would have been watching these channels:

  • Idaho: ESPNU
  • Eastern Michigan: SEC Network
  • Kentucky: SEC Network
  • @Alabama: CBS
  • @Tennessee: SEC Network
  • LSU: SEC Network
  • Missouri: ESPN2
  • Georgia (from Jacksonville): CBS
  • @Vanderbilt: SEC Network
  • South Carolina: SEC Network
  • Eastern Kentucky: SEC Network alternate feed
  • @Florida State: ESPN

If you were a fan of the Wisconsin Badgers you would have been watching these channels:

  • LSU (from Houston): ESPN
  • Western Illinois: BTN
  • Bowling Green: ESPN2
  • South Florida: ESPNU
  • @Northwestern: ESPN2
  • Illinois: ESPN2
  • Maryland: BTN
  • @Rutgers: ESPN
  • @Purdue: ESPNU
  • Nebraska: ABC
  • @Iowa: ABC (or ESPN2)
  • Minnesota: BTN
  • Ohio State (Big Ten Championship from Indianapolis): Fox

And if you were a fan of the Miami Hurricanes you would have been watching these channels:

  • @Louisville: ESPN
  • Florida A&M: ESPN3
  • Arkansas State: ESPNU
  • @Nebraska: ESPN2
  • Duke: ESPN2
  • @Georgia Tech: ESPN2
  • Cincinnati: Fox Sports Florida (or if not them, one of a handful of other RSNs or ESPN3)
  • @Virginia Tech: ESPN
  • North Carolina: ACC Network (CBS4 in Miami (incidentially pre-empting Air Force-Army and potentially encroaching on Georgia-Florida), ESPN3 if no station in your area)
  • Florida State: ABC
  • @Virginia: ESPN2
  • Pittsburgh: ESPN2

Every one of these schools has their games spread across at least five different networks. As mentioned, the better teams in the conferences with fewer partners have it better; Oregon and TCU had exactly five networks each (as would have #1 Alabama had I included them), #4 Florida State had all but one of their games on ABC or ESPN, and #5 Ohio State had ten straight games on either ABC or BTN, but if you’re not one of those top teams following your team is an exercise in hunting down what network has your team’s game this week. And I haven’t included any teams outside the power 5 because you’re less likely to be following them on TV, but rest assured it isn’t because they don’t have to go through this; if anything they may have it worse. To follow all of Boise State’s games, you would have had to watch ESPN, ESPN2, ABC (or ESPN2), CBS Sports Network, ESPNU, and for the Mountain West Championship, CBS. Lesser Mountain West teams would likely have needed to find where their game was streaming on the “Mountain West Network” at least once; Conference USA teams, including Marshall, had to hopscotch between Fox Sports 1, CBS Sports Network, FSN, Fox College Sports, and whatever station was airing the American Sports Network game(s), with ESPN swooping in for the conference championship game, all just for conference games; the MAC and Sun Belt faced the prospect of watching most of their games on ESPN3; and all the Group of Five conferences except Conference USA faced the prospect of at least some games on ESPN3 or ESPNEWS.

I mentioned last week that the oversaturation of the cable network market is made apparent when cable networks play format musical chairs in a desperate attempt to attract an audience, but don’t think the relative health and lavishing of attention and money on the sports network market doesn’t mean it’s not immune to this problem. There is ultimately a very short list of sports and sports events that will attract substantial audiences to a network. College sports is much more decentralized than professional sports, allowing all the general-purpose sports networks (except NBCSN) to make a serious effort to grab a piece of the rights to whatever college conferences are popular enough to draw audiences. Whatever conferences’ rights they can’t get, they lure their most popular schools to play road games against schools in conferences whose rights they do have. That may be good for the chances of getting strong nonconference games (ESPN’s dominion over college football has resulted in them arranging attractive non-conference matchups for the purpose of their own ratings, but power-conference teams have also taken road trips to C-USA schools they wouldn’t otherwise visit so FS1 can have them, or to schools in conferences CBS Sports Network has the rights to), but it means fans often find themselves jumping from network to network to find the one that has their school’s game this week, lured to networks desperate for their eyeballs – before we even get to conference-owned networks or, in the case of the ACC, Big 12, and non-power five schools, the multiple platforms for games that would otherwise air on a conference network.

The relative centralization of pro sports, where each league rarely has more than one or two rights partners, means this is less of a problem there, but that’s not to say it doesn’t exist. The situation in the NFL, with two networks airing most of the games of each of the two conferences with some of them getting siphoned off to NBC, ESPN, and CBS/NFLN, is fairly simple, just in terms of why certain games are on certain networks based on their time slots, and in the other major sports most of your team’s games will air on their respective regional sports network, with a few occasions when you have to switch to the national partner, which is an event marking you as a good team and can be fairly easily predicted by what day it falls on. (The NHL has NBC and NBCSN; the NBA has ABC, ESPN and TNT. MLB is the least simple; it’s okay in the regular season with Fox, ESPN and Fox Sports 1, but then TBS and MLBN join in during the postseason under a scheme that doesn’t quite make sense because of baseball bungling their last contract negotiations.) In college football, only the worst, least-attractive teams can count on appearing on the conference network or other regional partner on a regular basis; for the others, not being on national television is the exception and not the rule, and unlike with the NFL, that means switching between several different partners seemingly at random with no correlation with time slot (as if it wasn’t bad enough the time slots themselves are only being determined two weeks in advance), for reasons that only make sense if you pay close attention to how the meat of the college football schedule is made, and doesn’t always make sense even then.

Could this problem get worse in the future? It depends, for example on whether or not the cable bubble starts to burst or how future contract negotiations play out with FS1, NBCSN, or CBS Sports Network becoming bigger players, or whether or not entities recognize the potential for confusion from switching back and forth between networks. But with the Big Ten set to rack in a big payday from being the last big contract up for bid for several years, I hope their fans know what they’re getting into. If ESPN and Fox share the rights, as I expect and sort of hope, this is what you have to look forward to.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 13

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • In the past, three teams could appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; ten teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Packers, Bears, 49ers, Steelers, and Saints don’t have games in the main flex period, and all have games in the early flex period. I don’t know if both of the games scheduled for 12/20 count towards the total, or only the one in primetime. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 16):

  • Selected game: New England @ Indianapolis.

Week 12 (November 23):

  • Selected game: Dallas @ NY Giants.

Week 13 (November 30):

  • Selected game: Denver @ Kansas City.

Week 14 (December 7):

  • Selected game: New England @ San Diego.

Week 15 (December 14):

  • Selected game: Dallas @ Philadelphia.

Week 16 (December 21):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ Arizona
  • Prospects: At one point this game looked like it was going to be lopsided, but now at 8-4 v. 9-3, the winner of this game looks to have pole position in the NFC West.
  • Protected games: Colts-Cowboys (CBS) and Lions-Bears (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Steelers is the only game involving two teams over .500, with Ravens-Texans lurking about.
  • Analysis: Chiefs-Steelers is 7-5 v. 7-5, Ravens-Texans 7-5 v. 6-6. The best either can hope for is parity with the lesser of the two teams in the tentative. Even if the game becomes lopsided again, you have to imagine the tentative game bias will carry the day. Barring something completely unexpected that will give away another of the NFL’s arcane/unwritten rules, we will have an entire season of no flexes until Week 17.
  • Final prediction: Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals (no change).

Week 17 (December 28):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS
SOUTH
48-4
58-4 7-5
6-6 6-6
NORTH
38-3-1
67-5
3 tied at 7-5
WEST
29-3
7-5
8-4 7-5
EAST
19-3
7-5
2 teams at 7-5 7-5
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN THE
NFC SOUTH WINGS
SOUTH
45-7
58-4 3-8-1
5-7
EAST
39-3
68-4
8-4
NORTH
29-3
8-4
8-4 7-5
WEST
19-3
8-4
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Browns-Ravens, Lions-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Bills-Patriots, Bengals-Steelers, Cardinals-49ers.

Sports Ratings Report for Week of November 10-16 and Weekend Sports Ratings for November 22-23

Primetime – Nov 10-16
Vwrs
(000)

Change

Lst Wk Lst Yr

#1

=

=

3048

-0%

-12%

#2

=

=

1183

-6%

+23%

#3

=

=

836

+113%

-5%

#4

=

=

213

-11%

-26%

#5

=

+1

176

-11%

+100%

#6

=

-1

153

+47%

0%

#7

+1

=

88

+13%

+6%

#8

-1

+1

72

-15%

+6%

#9

=

-1

58

-17%

-24%

#10

=

=

49

+40%

+36%

Total Day – Nov 10-16
Vwrs
(000)

Change

Lst Wk Lst Yr

#1

=

=

1226

-4%

-11%

#2

+1

=

370

+25%

-6%

#3

-1

=

313

-3%

+18%

#4

=

=

161

-10%

-17%

#5

=

=

94

-45%

-17%

#6

=

+3

84

-2%

+53%

#7

=

-1

71

0%

0%

#8

+1

-1

59

+18%

-5%

#9

-1

-1

52

-15%

-15%

#10

=

=

32

+52%

+45%

This post is a week late because TV Media Insights didn’t have its numbers for last Sunday until today, and TVbytheNumbers never put up Saturday numbers at all, which is okay because TVMI included several college football games from the afternoon. If I had numbers from Sports Media Watch for daytime broadcast games, I’d roll this post into this week. I did incorporate household ratings (and in one case, all the numbers) for cable college football games from the weekly Awful Announcing posts. Numbers for ABC and Fox primetime college football games from the weekend I’m only certain of to the ten thousands place, as TV Media Insights listed all shows on the Big Four networks Saturday with a multiple of ten thousand viewers.

NFL Network seems to be seeing some lasting impact from CBS’ coverage of Thursday Night Football. Both of the NFLN-exclusive games we’ve seen so far improved on the same week last year and Chiefs-Raiders did not, so take this with a grain of salt, but NFLN has seen year-on-year gains in primetime of at least 23% and total day of 18% each of the past two weeks.

Finally, I went with a Top 25 for this week’s month-old ratings in part because I wasn’t quite sure what parts of HBO’s boxing card to include. UniMas actually attracted more viewers than ESPN for the USA-Honduras friendly, surprising for a match involving the US but not Mexico.

Click here to learn more about how to read the charts. Click here to see the charts.

How Broadcast TV is Like a Bus

[Free-to-air TV is] kind of like the horse, you know, the horse was good until we had the car…The age of broadcast TV will probably last until 2030.

-Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, speaking in Mexico City on Monday while downplaying the significance of Nielsen rating Netflix and Amazon (something I’m not sure how it would work or that it’s a good idea).

Here was my response:


Well before the car caught on, mass transit systems were already being built in the world’s biggest cities, although most of them used the established rail technology. An early horse-drawn “streetcar” was open as early as 1807, and in the United States in 1832; the first horse-drawn bus line opened in 1824. The first leg of the London Underground opened in 1863; an early precursor to the New York City subway using pneumatic tube technology was built in 1869, a year after an elevated line up the west side of Manhattan opened. By the time World War II hit, even Los Angeles, that car utopia, had one of the great public transportation systems in the world, as Who Framed Roger Rabbit put it.

Then in the postwar period the American dream, as defined as a cheap house in the suburbs supported by the freedom of the car, became the norm for most middle-class (white) Americans. The streetcars that lined America’s streets were replaced with buses that offered more flexibility to change routes, but that also proved their undoing; the perceived potential for bus lines to change at the drop of a hat meant it couldn’t support the transit oriented development that had typified urban development before the war. (That said, despite what Roger Rabbit would have you believe, the demise of the streetcars probably can’t be chalked up to a car industry conspiracy, but to real inherent drawbacks of streetcars as a technology; for that matter, the inability of buses to support development had as much to do with not putting much more investment into them than sticking a pole in the ground as anything else.) Outside of New York, as middle-class whites left the city and turned it into a refuge for the poor, so mass transit came to be seen as little more than a form of welfare for the poor. (This was far less the case outside the United States and Canada.)

In recent years - really decades at this point - a combination of dissatisfaction with the suburban lifestyle compared to the urban lifestyle and awareness of the destruction of the environment caused by car dependency (not to mention the impact our dependency on oil has on global politics) has resulted in a nascent “urbanist” movement and a transit renaissance, and members of my generation increasingly are shunning the suburban lifestyle their parents sought and clung to so fervently in favor of a return to the city (which some cities are reacting to better than others). Much of this movement has involved the advocation for and construction of new rail systems, be they streetcars, “light rail”, or heavy rail, but for the most part the very people that advocate for revived transit systems still tend to ignore or disdain buses (even the people running the transit agencies that run the buses), even though buses do much more of the (often unglamorous) heavy lifting of moving people across the city than the shiny new rail lines. (That “bus rapid transit” is often supported by people who just want to kill rail plans and don’t actually have a real BRT proposal doesn’t help, especially when much American BRT is barely any better than plain old buses and if you make them sufficiently better, you might as well put in rail.) Meanwhile, many people have suggested that any number of new technologies, be they electric cars, self-driving cars, even more “flexible” “demand-responsive” systems, or “personal rapid transit”, might help reduce our oil consumption or otherwise obviate the need for mass transit, but the ability to transport large numbers of people in a small amount of space is too valuable, especially in dense cities, for the need for transit to ever fully go away.

Some of the similarities to broadcast television should already be obvious. Like transit, for many years, decades even, broadcast TV was the norm – indeed the only form of television there was. Like buses, broadcast television has become increasingly neglected and dismissed as welfare for the poor as two different, more appealing visions, the multitude of channels made possible by cable and the freedom of scheduling made possible by the Internet, have become ascendant. Like buses, broadcast TV is doubly shunned both as a part of the larger category of mass transit/linear television and as a particular kind of linear television; like buses, broadcast TV is disdained even by the people who run it in favor of cable, despite being home to the most popular programming on television (even if cable as a whole is more popular), and like transit, linear television is subject to all sorts of dreamers like Reed Hastings or this guy who see it as wasteful and “inflexible” and think that technology can obviate the need for it and render it obsolete, ignoring its ability to serve large numbers of people in a minimum of space (in this case, spectrum or bandwidth). And like buses, broadcast linear television is ignored by the very people leading my generation’s societal movement against the dominant paradigm of the past, the “cord-cutting” movement against cable, who understate just how much of the unglamorous work of delivering video is done by linear television, and how much they are asking of the Internet. (Remind me to tell you about all the other times the Cordkillers podcast I linked to above has rooted for broadcast television to go away and have its spectrum reappropriated to deliver the Internet. And incidentally, the “back-to-the-city” movement stands to put a lot more people within range of TV stations.)

Broadcast television may be old technology, but mass transit is even older, and it’s still around because it does what it does better than anything else that has or possibly will come along. Linear television isn’t simply a technological stopgap until a better technology comes along; it has its own benefits, as AT&T and Verizon have recognized even as they drive existing broadcasters off the air, and one ignores those benefits, or what broadcasting will look like in the future, at their peril. Media companies may prefer a post-cable future where all video is consumed on the Internet for a variety of reasons, but Reed Hastings might want to be careful what he wishes for, or at least predicts, because if linear television completely goes away and all consumption of content moves to the Internet, the inevitable result will be that ISPs will have that much more incentive and ability to subject Netflix to interconnection blackmail and other violations of the spirit of net neutrality.

Sunday Night Football Flex Scheduling Watch: Week 12

NBC’s Sunday Night Football package gives it flexible scheduling. For the last seven weeks of the season, the games are determined on 12-day notice, 6-day notice for Week 17.

The first year, no game was listed in the Sunday Night slot, only a notation that one game could move there. Now, NBC lists the game it “tentatively” schedules for each night. However, the NFL is in charge of moving games to prime time.

Here are the rules from the NFL web site (note that even with the bit about the early flexes, this was written with the 2007 season in mind, hence why it still says late games start at 4:15 ET instead of 4:25):

  • Begins Sunday of Week 5
  • In effect during Weeks 5-17
  • Up to 2 games may be flexed into Sunday Night between Weeks 5-10
  • Only Sunday afternoon games are subject to being moved into the Sunday night window.
  • The game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night during flex weeks will be listed at 8:15 p.m. ET.
  • The majority of games on Sundays will be listed at 1:00 p.m. ET during flex weeks except for games played in Pacific or Mountain Time zones which will be listed at 4:05 or 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • No impact on Thursday, Saturday or Monday night games.
  • The NFL will decide (after consultation with CBS, FOX, NBC) and announce as early as possible the game being played at 8:15 p.m. ET. The announcement will come no later than 12 days prior to the game. The NFL may also announce games moving to 4:05 p.m. ET and 4:15 p.m. ET.
  • Week 17 start time changes could be decided on 6 days notice to ensure a game with playoff implications.
  • The NBC Sunday night time slot in “flex” weeks will list the game that has been tentatively scheduled for Sunday night.
  • Fans and ticket holders must be aware that NFL games in flex weeks are subject to change 12 days in advance (6 days in Week 17) and should plan accordingly.
  • NFL schedules all games.
  • Teams will be informed as soon as they are no longer under consideration or eligible for a move to Sunday night.
  • Rules NOT listed on NFL web site but pertinent to flex schedule selection: CBS and Fox each protect games in five out of six weeks starting Week 11, and cannot protect any games Week 17. Games were protected after Week 4 in 2006 and 2011, because NBC hosted Christmas night games those years and all the other games were moved to Saturday (and so couldn’t be flexed), but are otherwise protected after Week 5. As I understand it, during the Week 5-10 period the NFL and NBC declare their intention to flex out a game two weeks in advance, at which point CBS and Fox pick one game each to protect.
  • In the past, three teams could appear a maximum of six games in primetime on NBC, ESPN or NFL Network (everyone else gets five) and no team may appear more than four times on NBC. I don’t know how the expansion of the Thursday Night schedule affects this, if it does. No team starts the season completely tapped out at any measure; ten teams have five primetime appearances each, but only the Packers, Bears, 49ers, Steelers, and Saints don’t have games in the main flex period, and all have games in the early flex period. I don’t know if both of the games scheduled for 12/20 count towards the total, or only the one in primetime. A list of all teams’ number of appearances is in my Week 5 post.

Here are the current tentatively-scheduled games and my predictions:

Week 11 (November 16):

  • Selected game: New England @ Indianapolis.

Week 12 (November 23):

  • Selected game: Dallas @ NY Giants.

Week 13 (November 30):

  • Selected game: Denver @ Kansas City.

Week 14 (December 7):

  • Selected game: New England @ San Diego.

Week 15 (December 14):

  • Tentative game: Dallas @ Philadelphia
  • Final prediction (made last week): Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles (no change).

Week 16 (December 21):

  • Tentative game: Seattle @ Arizona
  • Prospects: 7-4 v. 9-2 is less lopsided than before, but even if Arizona had won that game, what do you flex it out for?
  • Protected games: Colts-Cowboys (CBS) and Lions-Bears (FOX).
  • Other possible games: Chiefs-Steelers at 7-4 v. 7-4 is the only game involving two teams over .500. That’s not overcoming the tentative game bias.

Week 17 (December 28):

AFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS
SOUTH
47-4
57-4 6-5
5-6 6-5
NORTH
37-3-1
67-4 5-6
3 tied at 7-4
WEST
28-3
7-4
2 tied at 7-4 7-4
EAST
19-2
7-4
2 teams at 6-5
NFC Playoff Picture
DIVISION
LEADERS
WILD CARD WAITING IN
THE WINGS (5-6)
SOUTH
44-7
58-3
4-7
EAST
38-3
67-4
8-3
NORTH
28-3
7-4
7-4 7-4
WEST
19-2
2 tied at 7-4
  • Tentative game: None (NBC will show game with guaranteed playoff implications).
  • Possible games: Panthers-Falcons, Browns-Ravens, Lions-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Bills-Patriots, Bengals-Steelers, Cardinals-49ers.

2014 College Basketball Postseason Ratings Roundup

This post is going to be a little more useful than last week’s. Here are ratings for all 67 games of the NCAA Tournament, every game of the NIT on traditional television, and every game or coverage window of the women’s tournament. The top four games of the tournament all involved Kentucky; their Elite 8 and third round games both did better than the other Final Four game, though curiously the much-hyped matchup between Kentucky and Louisville not only did worse than all those games, but another third-round game involving North Carolina. Kentucky was also involved in the most-watched second-round game. Only two NCAA Tournament games not on truTV did worse than the most watched NIT game, the championship game. Meanwhile, the top seven women’s games involved at least one of the two undefeated teams, Connecticut or Notre Dame.

CBS numbers from Sports Media Watch, Turner and ESPN numbers from Son of the Bronx. 18-49 numbers, when available, from TVbytheNumbers and The Futon Critic. Click here to learn more about how to read the charts. Read More »

Cable Network Musical Chairs and TNA on Destination America (Huh?)

Discovery Communications has long been at the forefront of new technology; their HD Theater channel (which eventually became Velocity) was one of the first HD channels, and before that they were one of the first companies to take advantage of the explosion of channels digital cable opened up. In 1996, Discovery opened no fewer than five new channels: besides Animal Planet, which Discovery was able to get in nearly as many households as their main network, Discovery launched Discovery Kids, Discovery Civilization, Discovery Science, and Discovery Travel and Living. Of those four, not one still has its launch name, and only Discovery Science didn’t change its name multiple times, becoming the Science Channel in 2002 - and even that doesn’t count addition, subtraction, and changing of articles and descriptors. Discovery Kids became a joint venture with Hasbro and relaunched as the Hub, but reverted to Discovery Family earlier this year. Discovery Civilization, originally Discovery’s answer to the History Channel, became a joint venture with the New York Times, rebranded as Discovery Times in 2003, and began adding more shows about current events and “American people and culture”. In 2008, after the Times had dropped out of the venture, it became Investigation Discovery, primarily a home for “true crime”-type shows. But that’s nothing compared to what happened to Discovery Travel and Living, which went through no fewer than two major shifts in focus.

By 1998, it had become Discovery Home and Leisure, Discovery’s answer to HGTV. In 2008, after it had become clear that the channel wasn’t standing out in the crowded home improvement channel marketplace, Discovery relaunched it with much fanfare as Planet Green, the first network dedicated to the environment and ecological living. Discovery infused $50 million into original programming for the channel, but it went nowhere, especially with its launch coinciding with the onset of the Great Recession, and by 2010 programs unrelated to the network’s ecological theme began creeping into the schedule. By 2012 the channel was clearly just limping along until Discovery could find a new format to replace it with and put Planet Green out of its misery. That new format turned out to be Destination America, a channel targeted towards “middle America” with a collection of America-centric shows, best described as a make good for Discovery selling the Travel Channel in 2007.

And now? Now Destination America announced on Wednesday it will be adding TNA’s Impact professional wrestling when TNA’s contract with Spike expires at the end of the year.

All this got me thinking about the fate of G4, which Comcast launched in 2002 as a channel about video games. In 2004, it absorbed the TechTV channel and became known as G4techTV for a short time. It started becoming a more generically male-oriented channel similar to Spike, but by 2009 was starting to decline, and in late 2010 DirecTV dropped the channel citing limited interest, effectively putting the writing on the wall. Comcast entered talks to sell G4 to the UFC or WWE to become their own networks in 2011, but those talks fell through, and in 2012 Comcast wound down G4′s once-popular (or at least cult-following-holding) remaining original programming, X-Play and Attack of the Show! At the end of the year, it looked like G4 had found its next incarnation when it was announced it would rebrand as Esquire Network.

Then in September 2013, barely two weeks before the much-postponed rebrand (originally slated for April) was to take effect, Comcast, now through its NBCUniversal division, announced that they would rebrand Style, not G4, as Esquire Network, citing Style’s considerable target demographic overlap with other networks in the NBCU portfolio, specifically E! and the networks Bravo and Oxygen Comcast acquired in the merger. Esquire Network, by contrast, was seen as filling a hole underserved elsewhere in the company or on all of cable television (some of Style’s female-skewing shows would remain on the male-skewing but metrosexual-oriented network), and G4, for which Esquire represented a more natural evolution of, was at least a part of the company that wasn’t nearly as duplicated as the glut of female-oriented networks Comcast had. But the move of Esquire to Style was no reprieve for G4, which by that point had declined to 62 million homes to Style’s DirecTV-infused 75 million. Comcast allowed its carriage agreements to lapse and even dropped G4 from its own lineup, and recently word came out that G4 would disappear from those few channel lineups that still had it at the end of this month.

That Comcast would move the Esquire Network rebrand off of G4 and onto Style, but then let G4 fade out of existence rather than do anything else with the channel space, effectively pissing off two fanbases for the price of one, never made sense to me. As the cases of Destination America and G4, not to mention Fox’s national sports network shakeup of 2013, show, big media companies are loath to attempt to start a new network from scratch, preferring to rebrand an existing network that isn’t doing much of anything but has spots on channel lineups already secured. Of all the companies I mentioned in Part IV of my Nexus of Television and Sports series that control most of your channel lineup, none has actually launched an entirely new full-time English-language cable network other than one of the Epix channels since the Fox Business network in 2007 (and the Smithsonian Channel shortly before that), unless you count the 2010 launch of Fox Soccer Plus to replace bankrupt Setanta Sports. Smaller entities launch networks from scratch only because they don’t have existing channel space to begin with, and even then most of the ones that have come along in recent years owe their existence to the condition requiring Comcast to carry minority-owned networks as a result of the NBCUniversal merger, with the possible exception of 2012′s beIN Sport; by my estimation, the network in the most homes to be founded since 2007 other than beIN Sport is the American version of RT in 2010.

For most of the networks launched in the midst of the digital cable boom of the late 90s and 2000s, they find themselves in a game of format musical chairs, desperately looking for something, anything, that will attract an audience and catch on, and if they don’t they become the target for the next channel idea the suits come up with. When Oprah Winfrey wants to have her own network, Discovery merges Discovery Health into the somewhat redundant FitTV and gives Oprah the space freed up. When Fox wants to launch a spinoff of the National Geographic Channel focused on animals, they shut down Fox Reality to do so. Fox even decided to launch its new FX spinoff FXX concurrently with its sports shakeup last year on Fox Soccer, even though that placed it in a limited number of households and not only in a channel neighborhood with sports channels, but in many areas on a sports package. In this light, it is mystifying that Comcast would allow themselves to let a channel space wither away so casually, even one in as few homes and without DirecTV carriage as G4. Heck, Destination America, a little over a year ago, was pegged at under 60 million households and it’s hardly withering away.

Nothing better illustrates how badly oversaturated the market for linear television channels is. What has become apparent over the last seven years plus is that people will follow the content (or at least that’s what Destination America hopes); the channel it happens to be on is just an address, and whatever else happens to be on the channel is immaterial, and the people that own the channels just want to secure one of the limited number of things out there that have or will attract an audience to their channel. Which brings me back to TNA.

TNA, for those who don’t know, has spent most of the new millenium desperately trying to be a competitor w ith WWE. It got its start in 2002 running pay-per-views on a weekly basis, which pretty much no one else was doing, allowing it to very much live up to the pun in its name. Eventually in 2004 TNA secured a deal to run a weekly show on Fox Sports Net, allowing them to move to the monthly pay-per-view model used by the WWE, but that show was cancelled after a year, and iMPACT! (as the show was called then) moved to a webcast for a few months before being picked up by Spike, which had just lost WWE’s flagship Raw program. TNA never really went anywhere on Spike, but it attracted a consistent, strong audience of over a million viewers every Thursday (and Monday in a brief, disastrous attempt to go against Raw, and Wednesday in recent months), and when Bellator MMA moved to Spike after that channel lost the UFC TNA was instrumental in helping build an audience for it. However, relations between TNA and Spike soured in recent months to the point that Spike would not even negotiate a renewal of TNA’s contract, merely letting TNA stay on the air until it found a new partner, a partner that proved far inferior to what Spike could offer.

Wrestling has long been an innovator when it comes to technological change - wrestling was a big part of what built WTBS in the 70s - and TNA’s adoption of monthly pay-per-views and going to the Internet when FSN didn’t renew their contract, even if it was a necessary result of circumstances, is a big part of that. In that light, and in light of the launch of the over-the-top WWE Network earlier this year (even if subscriber counts for it have failed to meet expectations), it’s somewhat disappointing to me that TNA would shack up with a marginally-distributed network, one without much of an identity at all but to the extent it has one meshes questionably well with TNA’s content, rather than blaze a trail on the Internet in an environment friendlier to webcasts than the last time they tried it. Heck, near as I can tell TNA will completely disappear for the rest of the year with Spike airing a collection of “best of” shows until TNA makes its Destination America debut in the new year. There are a number of reasons to suspect TNA is in the midst of a long, slow decline, and while I don’t know that moving to the Internet would have stopped it in the long or short term, I certainly don’t think moving to a marginally distributed cable network at a time when cable as a whole may be on the decline will help.