TL;DR: early results for “Speak for Yourself” are indicative of much larger issues for FS1 and are precisely as bad as they look because it’s already pretty clear that shows like “Speak for Yourself” can’t overcome those larger issues.
Several have forwarded along a post on Awful Announcing which takes a middle-of-the-road stance on the ratings for FS1’s “Speak for Yourself.” The case made is essentially that compared to all the other afternoon non-NASCAR studio shows on FS1, the ratings for “Speak for Yourself” are more or less the same and ultimately concludes “It’s not ideal, but it’s far from the disaster many would have you believe.”
Disaster is too strong but the numbers really are as bad as many would have you believe!
Sure, from a narrow view where you only consider the ratings for “Speak for Yourself” on their own merits it’s indeed more of the same and par for the course for FS1. But that’s also why the numbers actually are as bad as they look.
The whole point of hiring Jamie Horowitz, embracing debate, focusing on talent (hiring Cowherd, Whitlock, Bayless, etc) was to create broad-based sports studio shows people will actually watch. So far it’s a huge swing and a miss.
Few if any who follow this stuff closely should be surprised. But though I consider the results a failure so far (numbers even worse than I thought they’d be, and I thought they’d be bad) I don’t pin the results on Horowitz, Cowherd et al.
It’s the situation at FS1. TV is hard in this day and age — really, really hard. Many actual sports fans aren’t even aware, or only marginally aware that there is such a thing as FS1. There’s no shame in that. As has been said before, FS1 didn’t have the luxury of being around a couple of decades or more before the Internet (and then mobile phones) became a big deal.
But the end result is that lots of people don’t know what FS1 is and I can’t see that changing without Fox Sports either spending a squinty jillion dollars on marketing (so far, it hasn’t demonstrated any interest in doing that) or acquiring more major sports rights. Or both. On the sports rights side, rights can only be acquired when deals end. But as long as the current cable carriage economics hold where ESPN garners at least 5 times as much revenue as FS1, FS1 will remain extremely disadvantaged even as rights become available. That will be the status quo unless Fox Sports is willing to overspend for rights and take it on the chin in an effort to grow FS1/hurt the competition. At least so far there aren’t any hints of such willingness.
On the promotion side you can bet Fox Sports will promote the new FS1 shows when the NFL returns in September. That’s something and definitely a lot better than nothing. But there are reasons to be skeptical about whether that sort of promotion really does much to create awareness let alone actual sampling.
Even the value of sampling is questionable. FS1 recently sandwiched a 12 minute “Garbage Time” between the end of a NASCAR race and the pre-match coverage for the Copa America final. That 12 minutes averaged 1.5 million viewers. How many of those found their way to the midnight “Garbage Time” on Wednesday? Approximately none of them. Wednesday’s midnight “Garbage Time” averaged 48,000 viewers.
You can shake your fist in the air that Katie Nolan deserves a better time slot but the point I’m making here is that it’s really hard for FS1 to get traction with its broader-based shows no matter what it does. FS1’s studio shows that focus specifically on NASCAR and UFC have had a better time of it. That’s not a surprise because FS1 has rights to NASCAR and UFC events and while the UFC and NASCAR studio shows aren’t making John Skipper quiver in his boots, they at least pull relatively respectable numbers that don’t need to be explained away as “not as bad as many would have you believe.”
It’s still early days for FS1 but so far it’s looking like FS1 has no shot at brute-forcing its way past its larger issues (time disadvantage, relative paucity of major sports rights and brand recognition) with what Horowitz has planned. I know some get some schadenfreude out of that but those looking for stories about “Speak for Yourself” being cancelled or retooled, shouldn’t hold their breath. At least not until NFL season is underway.
FS1 will give SFY every chance to succeed and ratings-wise there’s no great litmus test about how things are going until the NFL season begins. It’s easy to predict SFY’s numbers will increase when NFL returns in September, and I do predict that. Unfortunately so will all of ESPN’s and ESPN2’s shows. The question is whether FS1 can gain any ground versus its competition once NFL returns. I’d bet against that, but until then, barring some surprising growth for “Speak for Yourself” that isn’t inflated by lead-ins or lead-outs (a la the 12 minute “Garbage time”), there’s not much point in thinking about SFY’s numbers until September.