Studio show ratings and I don’t care (even Get Up!’s & High Noon’s)


Some of you wish I cared more about studio show ratings. I don’t.

“I know you love High Noon, you must care about those ratings!”

Nope. I’m worried Spotify will throw stupid money at Bomani and that the cult of E-Sports will assimilate Pablo. I’m worried they’ll become lost to me that way, but I don’t care about High Noon’s ratings.

Or Get Up’s or First Take’s or Undisputed’s, First Things First’s or Around the Horn or PTI or Men in Blazers!

The case for not caring, part 1: a lot of the people who care are crazy

Observationally, so much of the  “this show sucks!” commentary comes from a place of “how dare you put a show on TV that *I* don’t want to watch!?”

The prevalence of people who will not rest until every program, on every network at anytime of day is something they want to watch is surprising. They’ll never be satisfied and there is no healthy public conversation to be had with people who believe every show on TV ought to be something they want to watch.

The case for not caring, part 2: the ceiling is the roof!

Sorry, that should’ve been the floor is the ceiling.

Everyone has heuristics to save their brains time and energy. One of mine is that the ceiling for the ratings of the daytime Monday-Friday studio shows is so close to the floor (0 viewers) that it doesn’t catch my attention.

Generally, we’re talking about stuff in a range from zero to far shy of a million viewers.

Observers on the internet often go through mental gymnastics to improve shows like Get Up!  I believe they are earnestly doing so in ways that would make the show more watchable for the observer. But with the ceiling being so close to the floor, does that have much to do with what happens with ratings?

I vote no. I’m not saying it has no impact, just that with the ceiling being so close to the floor, how big of a difference can show tweaks (major or minor) make?  

The case for not caring, part 3: studio shows lose money and stay on the air ALL OF THE TIME

Once upon a time I tried to make a case where FS1’s Undisputed could make money only averaging around 200,000 viewers.

I couldn’t.

In fact, even when I added in the encore replays and credited Undisputed for improvements to other day parts it was still losing millions of dollars a year.

The only way I could prevent big losses was by allocating some of the affiliate fees — the ~$1.25/month that Comcast, Spectrum, DirecTV etc pay Fox per household receiving FS1 — to Undisputed’s budget. If I could allocate even a penny a month of the $1.25 it would work!

But studio shows definitely don’t get affiliate fee allocations. The TV execs I asked about it snickered/sneered at me for even suggesting it.

I was left shaking my head and figuring that even at 200,000 viewers Undisputed would still lose around -$5 million per year.

At the time I did that analysis Undisputed was much closer to 100,000 viewers/day. Undisputed averaged 176,000 on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 which bodes well for the fall. But it bodes well in a trendy way not in a money-making way.

The good news is that the ratings trend ain’t awful. The bad news is heading into its third season it’s still probably losing $5 million/year.

Much more interesting to me…

From Fox’s perspective, there’s another good news case: Skip Bayless leaving for FS1 and Undisputed very significantly messed with ESPN’s mind.

We focus on daily ratings for a simple reason: they’re available. Daily. That’s it. That’s the whole reason. Sadly for the impatient like me the more interesting stories take longer to play out.

ESPN wound up prioritizing First Take by moving it from ESPN2 to ESPN. That worked out well for First Take and ESPN but it decimated ESPN2’s morning and daytime lineup and ESPN2 still hasn’t recovered.

Was that worth it? Honestly, I don’t think it was, but you can’t ferret that out from daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly ratings. We need the HBS business case study and a new James Andrew Miller book.

I like Jim’s books a lot so I’m happy he’s got fodder for a “Those Guys” sequel even after the great Origins podcast chapter on ESPN.

ESPN toppled a lot of dominos by moving First Take.  Again, to me the overall result looks palpably worse. Keep in mind the First Take domino led to the cancellation of His & Hers on ESPN2, which led to the formation of SC6 on ESPN, etc.

Similarly, there’s a domino ESPN knocked over when it prioritized how Mike Greenberg felt which led to breaking up Mike & Mike and to the creation of Get Up!

Jim Miller’s sequel will be good reading.

Finger in the wind

Media consultant and former Fox Sports EVP Pat Crakes has said for round number purposes you can look at the expense of a show like Get Up! and conclude it needs to average 500,000 viewers a day before it makes money. That jibes with what I saw when I looked at Undisputed, which expense wise, I have on the same tier as Get Up!

It’s a finger in the wind so it’s not precise but it’s good enough for me to play the game of “I wouldn’t be surprised if High Noon costs 40% of Get Up!”

Another reason I’m not worried about High Noon’s ratings. Daniel Ek, you keep away from Bomani!

Appearances vs Salespeople

A lot of people in the media just can’t stand the appearances of shows like Undisputed and Get Up! losing millions of dollars a year on the heels of layoffs, web site shutdowns, etc. That view is prevalent and it’s understandable. I have no hope of reconciling the appearances for those in the media.

The only way I can even reconcile the appearances for myself is by assuming that TV executives have a lot of cognitive dissonance about salespeople and how these decisions get made. That cognitive dissonance doesn’t result in transparency or forthrightness from the executives who made the decisions. I try to have empathy, I figure they can’t really reconcile it either.


I said salespeople. Not just ad sales people. Agents are salespeople too!

If I could have @RobTornoe draw an editorial cartoon for me on the “Get Up!” situation it would be a bunch of ESPN execs splayed on the floor with tricycle tracks on their backs while Nick Khan happily rides around on a tricycle with Greeny, Beadle and Rose standing around looking happy.

I think that cartoon is scaled correctly. Khan is doing his thing happily, not menacingly and it’s a tricycle not a semi-truck.

For those wondering where the podcast is: technical difficulties + not hating taking some time off. It’ll be back by late August. Short of an untimely death there’s no chance I’ll retire the podcast before Ben Cafardo in ESPN PR makes an appearance. 

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