( Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)
Data continue to prove that live sports telecasts have become a priority for viewers, especially during prime time.
(Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)

Sports has been a television staple since fuzzy black-and-white images of wrestling dominated the schedule in the 1940s.

Yet today, as we near the close of 2015, sports properties are more valuable than ever, especially in prime time.

“Today, sports is the leading multiplatform and social genre that is consumed in real time,” said ESPN Senior Vice President, Global Research and Analytics, Artie Bulgrin. “This new level of engagement has set sports apart from other TV genres and raised its appeal on a national level. Let’s not forget the impact of ESPN’s growing digital audience; there are times that ESPN’s daily reach on digital can surpass TV.” [Editor’s Note: There will be more on ESPN’s digital growth soon on Front Row.]

To wit, ESPN networks led the industry – broadcast and cable – among viewers a total of 59 times in prime time in the last year, a.k.a., “winning the night.” ESPN alone was tops 46 times, the most of any network. Clearly, it’s a sign of sports’ growing strength in the fragmenting television landscape.

These data continue to prove that live sports have become a priority in the hierarchy of viewing choices – especially during prime time.
– Artie Bulgrin

ESPN’s marquee programming – including the NFL, highlighted by cable’s first playoff game; college football, including last January’s debut of the College Football playoff; the NBA, notably the NBA Finals on ABC which has won the night among all viewers 48 consecutive games; Major League Baseball; college basketball; and the ESPYS – drove viewership to new heights in the 52 weeks ending Monday, Dec. 14.

Demonstrating the “DVR-proof” nature of major live events – as well as the enduring appeal of sports as entertainment options multiply, sports won the night a total of 152 times – 42 percent of the time. And in 2015 – so far – 19 of the top 25 programs on cable in household viewership were sports events – 17 of them on ESPN.

Bulgrin added, “These data continue to prove that live sports have become a priority in the hierarchy of viewing choices – especially during prime time.”

The numbers are even stronger when focused on young men, age 18-49. Among that group, ESPN networks won the night 79 times; sports won the night 196 times.

Clearly, the key to the success starts with acquiring top-level sports rights.

“We have targeted the properties that break through the clutter and draw a wide prime-time audience, delivering a valuable platform to our advertisers, affiliates and business partners,” said Executive Vice President, Programming, Burke Magnus. “Based on this success, we will continue to strategically invest in content, products and technology to further separate our portfolio and enhance our position in the lives of sports fans.”

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