Nielsen Forced To Pull Report Offline After It Shows ESPN Losing More Subscribers Than Ever

from the head-firmly-in-the-sand dept

ESPN has been losing hand over fist as consumers shift to streaming alternatives and new “skinny” TV bundles of smaller channels. The company is estimated to have lost roughly 7 million subscribers in just a few years, and a recent survey found that 56% of consumers would drop ESPN in a heartbeat if it meant saving $8 a month on their cable bill (the estimate of how much ESPN costs each subscriber). The losses are largely thanks to ESPN executives failing to see the cord-cutting threat coming. Apparently it’s difficult to identify shifting viewership trends with your head buried squarely in the sand.

Fast forward to this week, when viewer-monitoring firm Nielsen released a report stating that ESPN lost more subscribers than ever last quarter. According to the original Nielsen report, ESPN lost 621,000 homes in a single month, as well as losing 607,000 ESPN2 households, and 674,000 ESPNU homes. Interestingly, ESPN was quick to complain that these numbers were in error:

“The Nielsen numbers represent a dramatic, unexplainable variation over prior months? reporting, affecting all cable networks. We have raised this issue with Nielsen in light of their demonstrated failures over the years to accurately provide subscriber data. The data does not track our internal analysis nor does it take into account new DMVPD entrants into the market.”

As a result, Nielsen was forced to issue a statement saying it was pulling the findings for review:

“Nielsen is investigating a larger than usual change in the November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Universe Estimates (versus the prior month). We take the accuracy of our data very seriously and are conducting a thorough analysis to determine whether or not there is an issue with these estimates. In the meantime, we have removed the November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Universe Estimates file from the Answers portal and ask clients not to use the numbers that were posted Friday. We are working closely with clients and will alert them on the findings of our internal review.”

While it’s entirely possible Nielsen did make a mistake, this isn’t the first time the company has been willing to withhold data simply because the cable and broadcast industry didn’t like what the data indicated. In 2014, Nielsen backed away from including broadband-only household data in the firm’s local TV ratings service because broadcasters didn’t like what that data said. The company spent many years denying that cord cutting was real, then simply changed the name of cordcutting to “zero TV households” when it was forced to actually ackowledge the trend was real.

Again, Nielsen may have flubbed the data and the estimates could be a little too high (given past trends likely not by much), but it’s also entirely possible this is just part of an ongoing attempt by the cable and broadcast industry to shield itself from the reality of evolving markets.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: espn, nielsen

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Nielsen Forced To Pull Report Offline After It Shows ESPN Losing More Subscribers Than Ever”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The cable company’s have been saying the same thing. That few people are cord cutting. I find that funny. The whole point of Comcast now forcing 1TB Caps on everyone has nothing to do with fairness and everything to do with keeping people paying for their TV service, which never counts against your Data. You want to cut the cord and get your TV stuff someplace else, the CAP is meant to stop this. The more people you have in your house, the faster you will hit this 1TB wall. Now you have to pan another $50 to get Unlimited, if you don’t It’s so much for Meg until you hit a $200 wall.

I’ve been past 1TB for that last couple months with 2 people at my house. The 1TB Cap is a JOKE. Again, nothing to do with fairness. Data costs have dropped and dropped and dropped. It’s all about protecting they bottom line.

I had zero interest in ESPN for all the many years I had Cable TV. It’s these sports channels that are the most expensive, and are forced onto everyone. So really the majority of people are subsidizing the few people that watch the sports channels. I heard it was only 4% of the subscribers. Seems low, but why should I be paying for it?
I was paying for a lot of channels I never watched. They set their channel bundles forcing you to get the expensive one just to get the 1 or 2 channels out want, and most of them you don’t. No thanks!!!

DV Henkel-Wallace (profile) says:

Nielsendata are rediculous anyway

They only measure what their customers want, which means advertisers should be reluctant to use the data when figuring out how much to spend.

Case in point: my house was chosen as a "Nielsen household". But we don’t have TV service (Netflix and youtube seem to be more than enough for us). Since we don’t have cable or OTA service, they don’t count us…but every couple of months come round to see if they can survey us.

Either our house is part of their representative sample or it isn’t. You can’t keep trying to count us but not be willing to take a zero in the dataset.

Anonymous Coward says:

Subversive Propaganda

“…Nielsen released a report stating that ESPN lost more subscribers than ever last quarter.”

We at ESPN refer to it as “Lügenpresse.” We may need to invade, errr, acquire, and punish, uhmm, reeducate Nielsen in order to ensure greater fidelity of their reports with what WE KNOW TO BE REAL TRUTH.

[Gosh, I miss HTML markup.]

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Subversive Propaganda

Try using markdown (it’s the first checkbox below the comment box). It’s pretty easy to learn (I did it for Reddit). They even have a link in the comment box options to help you out.

I wonder if they had someone trying something fancy/malicious with HTML that was breaking the site. That’d definitely be a reason to switch to a simpler markup language.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Subversive Propaganda

Here’s a quick primer on the three ‘main’ markdown formatting things you’re likely to use:

italics has one asterisk before and after what you want italicized.

bold has two asterisks.

[for links, put what you want displayed as the ‘link name’ here](and then copy the actual link and put it here)

It took a bit to get used to myself, but the basic stuff is actually fairly easy to remember once you start using it and/or someone links to a cheatsheet like the one below:

Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

Nielsen whole model is based on stats for the /Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers so they can sell air time to advertisers in line with the programs they have airing on their respective platforms via the numbers of viewers tuning in (or out)

The rub is that Nielsen metodolgy is based ondata from uers it picks out to be it’s chosen household to send data back to it, sounds simple and fool proof right? Wrong! Even though Nioelsen gets the data there is nothing stopping someone from manipulating the data sent to Nielsen, and you have to remember Nielsen takes that data from it’s chosen testers and then uses it to calculate that actual user data into a formula to come up with it’s results.

Now there is known cases were the data some of Nielsen’s testers have sent back cause a shows viewership numbers to go up thru manipulation, case in point involving Bubba The Love Sponge Clem’s radio show ( link to story below )

So how does anyone really know if the supposed ratings really reflect the true numbers Nielsen and the various entities of /Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers base their viewrship programming are accurate? Your average citizen isnt really going to care unless a show they like watching is facing cancellation, otherwise the viewer doesnt give a toot.

The Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers care about what the numbers are becuase that is what they are selling to the buyers of ad time and what those spots are worth based on the viwership of said program and of course the time it on.

So There is a little more collusion going on between the Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers and Nielsen then what we ar led to believe IMHO. Each has a vested interest in making sure those numbers are high as possible to keep revenue streams as high as possible.

If one person can manipluate the ratings and Nielsen doesnt catch it, then there is nothing to say that more arent doing this and that puts the ratings Nielsen puts forth in their reports are really a true measure of what real viewership to a program is.

Of course the Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers dont want bad numbers to be reported, it effects the money they get when buyers seek to buy an ad spot on a given shows time spot. No Buyers is going to spend any more money than they have to if a programs numbers are down, they are going to want that spot cheaper since the numbers of viewers/listeners is down.

The Ad industry spends a ton of money to get their ad at a specific time heard/watched to audiences for what they believe to be fair for the time slot and program, but the Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers dont want ad buyers to know how much cord cutting has gutted their viewership.

The NFL is a prime example of programming that has faced a downturn in viewership, and the price they are getting from ad buyers is still high but no where near as high as it once was and is still falling due to declining viewership.

So am I suprissed that the Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers are putting pressure on keeping negative information on viewership/ subscriber loss to a minimum, not at all.

The new era of ways that people can get the various forms of media and the advances in those platforms are the furture, the /Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers/ Music and movie industry are loathe to give us even a nicel of the ways they have had control and have been able to wring every nickel they can while they can and will do what ever they can to keep things staus quo

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

All the Cable and Satellite Boxes, Tivo are sending Data back on what is being watched! Not everyone has these things, so it’s not foolproof. So you’re filling out a log book on what is being watched.

What little football I would watch OTA, like the SF 49’er’s. I just refuse to watch any of it. After the whole knee thing during the national anthem. I have no respect for those people. If I went to a live game and saw that, I’d walk out! I wouldn’t care if it was a High School game.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...